The Wacky World of Story Ideas by Delle Jacobs
One of the questions most commonly asked of authors is where they get their ideas. Since we're writing about life, ideas for stories can come from anywhere. But sometimes they appear in very quirky ways. SINS OF THE HEART definitely fits the quirky category. Here's how it happened:
When I'm deeply immersed in writing a story, my dreams change, and begin to tell me stories. Usually very adventurous stories. One night after a very long, strenuous battle with my work in progress, I suddenly sat bolt-upright in bed with an idea unlike any of my usual ones.
The heroine paints romance book covers (surprise: I do book covers too), and is struggling for her first big break. Looking out her apartment window, she sees this incredible hunk by the swimming pool. Hunk leaves. Inspired, she sketches the most magnificent man she has ever drawn, and submits it. It's bought and is a huge success. But then hunk returns and finds her interesting. She then realizes she over-did the resemblance and he isn't going to like it.
Two things wrong: (1) That's not how it happens with covers and (2) I don't write contemporaries. It's a good basic idea. But can I turn it into a historical?
I imagined an artist, A.B. Forrest, (Abby) doing book illustrations for 1899 era romances, hiding behind a man's identity because women artists can't get contracts. Living in remote Cornwall, she ships her drawings to the London publisher she's never met. Early one morning she's by the sea painting birds when she spots two men in usual male swimming attire (nothing) romping in the surf. Thrilled by the excellent male bodies, she sketches them, adds discreetly positioned scenery to cover the more delicate parts, and ships the illustrations to London. To-- guess who. The man who'd been on holiday and remembers that scene all too well.
But that's still not my story. I need a Regency, not a Late Victorian story. And there's also this other plot in my head that can't seem to pull together. So I went to bed and slept. Sure enough, my dreams mixed the two up and SINS OF THE HEART was born. Here's the resulting opener:
There was no place on earth like the Cornish Coast at sunrise.
Breathing in the briny sea air, spiced like cloves by the sea pinks on the cliff sides, Jane stood beside her friend and scanned the ripening stripe of dawn. Gulls swooped and screeched as they dove and circled, and on the horizon, silhouettes of ships in full sail headed out to sea. Her pulse quickened, imagining distant adventures in exotic ports, with unknown dangers . . .
But for her, there would be no adventure. She was plain Miss Jane Darrow, safe in her quiet haven. She had nothing more daring to do than to stand at the edge of a cliff, her pale curls whipping in her eyes as she looked down to the surf pounding on the rocks below. All the same, she loved to let the wind toy with her imagination as it fought her for possession of her wide-brimmed bonnet.
Jane turned, leaving Lydia at the cliff's edge. Smiling to herself as her gray skirt billowed in the wind and exposed the secret Belgian lace on her petticoat, she spread the pink Welsh shawl with a flick of her wrists and anchored it with the willow basket.
"Shall we eat, Lydia?" she called.
Lydia glanced back, a smirk playing on her lips. She turned again to sweep her brass spyglass along the horizon.
"Lydia," Jane called again, but it was useless to talk against the stiff April winds.
She smiled, watching Lydia's sky blue dress whip about like a flag. Blue was Lydia's favorite color, and once had been Jane's too. But the plain dove gray of a lady's companion was good enough for her now. She was lucky, in fact, to have that much, for if it had not been for Lydia and her mother . . .
"Halloo," said Lydia in a hushed tone. She crouched into the gorse at the cliff's edge and twisted the scope to adjust its focus on the secluded cove below the cliff.
Jane pruned her mouth, hiding a giggle. Who but Lydia could be so excited about coots and cormorants?
"Now there's a flock for you, Juliette. Marvelous plumage."
Jane frowned. "Don't call me Juliette. You forget too easily, Lydia."
"Hmm. No more easily than you, my dear. If you insist on being Jane, then I shall have to be Lady Beck to you, and that is silliness if I ever heard it. My. Magnificent wingspread. Mmm, look at that breast. Struts like a peacock, that one. But that one back by the trees, I'd say, looks like a ruffled grouse."
"Grouse?" Jane reached into the basket for her sketchbook. "Don't be silly. Even I know one does not find grouse so close to the sea."
"Ah, but you should see the peacock."
With a sigh, Jane gave up her thoughts of breakfast and picked up her sketchbook. She crossed the crest of the promontory to the leeward slope where a rosy sweep of sea pinks flowed like a bright blanket down to the crescent of golden sand in the tiny cove.
"Anyway," said Lydia, "I did not say he was one, only that he looked like it. Then, perhaps more of a puffin, but a rather flubberdy-dubberdy one. A gannet, maybe, with that yellow tuft sitting on his head like a bad wig."
Whatever was the matter with her? If anyone knew the difference between a puffin and a gannet, it would be Lydia. Even Jane, for all her studied ignorance of birds, knew better.
"Shh," said Lydia as she approached. Her hand waved Jane back. Lydia knelt on the rock, balancing herself on a twisted limb of scrubby oak, spyglass still trained below. She patted the rock beside her.
Jane's curiosity mounted. Following Lydia's beckoning hand, she scooted in, balancing her sketchbook in one hand and tucking her skirt up with the other as she moved.
"Such elegant plumage," whispered Lydia. "I do believe it's a godwit," she said, and giggled. "He does look as if he has the wit of a god, although clearly he lacks the black tail."
Puzzled, Jane edged closer and peered around Lydia's shoulder. She gasped.
Plumage indeed! Or a lack thereof. At the strand line stood two men. A third, the yellow-tufted one, obviously a servant. The other two, completely nude, dashed headlong toward a rushing wave, whooping and screeching like raucous gulls as the whitecap slammed into them.
The wave flattened and receded, and Jane blinked and looked again, just to be sure she was not deluding herself. The two discernibly male nude bodies pranced about on the wet sand, slapping their thighs and dancing about as if they had stumbled barefoot into a snowdrift.
"Oh, my!" Jane snickered, sketching as fast as she could, as the lean male bodies dove beyond the crashing waves, only to be carried tumbling back to the sand. Involuntarily, she shivered, thinking of the frigid water. They thought that was fun! She wondered if they understood the danger. Waves like that, or even bigger ones, were known to wash a grown man out to sea, never to be seen again.
"Oh, my, indeed," Lydia responded. "I should like to see him take flight, wouldn't you?"
"Which one?" Jane reached for the spyglass.
Lydia jerked it back. "Not yet. I want to see if--"
"Lydia! You are spying on them!"
"Of course I am, darling. How many opportunities like this does a widow get? You don't get all that many occasions to watch men dance about in the altogether, either, you know."
"Really. I thought you didn’t want anything to do with men."
"Not men, darling. Marriage. There’s nothing wrong with looking, especially at such finely plumed specimens. You should take a look."
"I don't see how I can if you insist on keeping the glass to yourself. Give it to me, Lydia. I need it to catch the detail."
"Not until I'm finished. Be still. They'll see us. And then, where would we be?" With a muted squeal, Lydia yanked the spyglass beyond Jane's reach. She shifted sideways closer to the edge and propped it on a thick branch of the scrub oak.
Jane huffed. Lydia never did anything by halves. "Be careful. You're awfully close--"
"Silly. Oh, you should see this." Lydia scooted forward again, elbows propped on the crooked branch.
"If you would just let me have the glass--"
A faint crackle, like damp wood on a fire, turned into a loud snap as the limb splintered.
"Oh!" Lydia pitched forward and caught handfuls of scraggly limbs. The limbs cracked. The spyglass spun through the air, tumbled down the slope and disappeared.
Jane's heart screeched to a halt as she lunged after blue cloth, but the muslin slid through her fingers like water. Lydia plunged into the gorse, arms flailing, rolling, bouncing through the springy brush. For a fragile moment, Lydia seemed suspended, then the frail shrubs shattered again, and she rolled on.
Jane screamed and screamed and screamed.
Lydia lay still, on a ledge halfway down the slope.
"Lydia!" Jane screamed again, searching the jagged face of the cliff for a path down. "Help! Someone help us!"
Something in the far corner of her mind mocked the absurdity of crying out to naked men for help. But Jane didn't care. Spotting a break in the shrubbery where gray granite poked through, she tossed her shawl aside. Heart pounding in her ears, she swung around the jutting stone and probed with her toe until she found a crevice.
Please God please God please God . . .
She edged downward, nightmarishly slow, brush snagging her dress and scratching her arms. Gravel crumbled beneath her boot as she clung to the snags of gorse, praying they would not break and send her tumbling like Lydia down the cliff. As she found her footing again, the breath she took burned into her lungs like thick, hot smoke.
She could see Lydia where she lay and heard her moan.
"I'm coming, Lydia! I'm coming!" she cried, and shouted again for help, but had no notion if anyone was still there to hear her. She dared not waste her time hoping.
The slope gentled to a narrow ledge, wide enough to walk along it. To her left, Lydia rolled to one side, but then shrieked and fell back, clutching her arm.
Heart pounding, ankles twisting, her skirt tangling, Jane scrambled through clumps of wild pinks. At last, she knelt beside her friend.
Lydia groaned, cradling her arm. Scratches covered her face and arms. Somewhere on the slope above, her shawl and bonnet had disappeared, and the sky-blue dress she loved so much was torn in a hundred places.
"My arm," Lydia whispered. "I believe I've broken it. My head. Oh, Juliette, my head."
"Don't try to sit up." With ginger touches, Jane tested the scrape on Lydia's head. It didn't seem too bad, but what did Jane know? What if her neck was broken? How could she tell? The arm certainly looked broken at the wrist, for it was beginning to swell, forcing Lydia's hand to jut at an awkward angle.
How she might get Lydia out of here, Jane couldn't imagine, but until she wrapped the arm, she couldn't do anything. Jane fingered the ruffle of her petticoat with its Belgian lace trim, remembering briefly how dearly it had cost her. She hissed in a deep breath, and gritting her teeth, she ripped it off.
"Oh, Juliette, not your Belgian lace!"
"It was torn anyway," Jane said. She smoothed the gathers out of the ruffle, then wrapped it round and round the bleeding arm, densely enough to form a fabric cushion and serve as a crude splint. The last of it, she made into a sling, and slipped the knot behind Lydia's head.
"How stupid of me, Juliette," Lydia winced as she tilted her head toward the little cove below. "I don't suppose we escaped their notice."
Jane truly hoped they had not. She would never manage to get Lydia off the cliff alone. Maybe they would just go for help instead of parading their bare bodies up and down the cliff.
Behind her, she heard a rustle in the gorse, and glanced back, feeling relief flood her as she spotted a man, complete in garments, working his way up the cliff.
She sat back and turned to call to him.
Cold fear slammed into her.
Dear heavens, could it get any worse? She ducked her head, tugging down her bonnet's wide brim to hide her face. Maybe he didn't see her. Or remember her. But he would. Just as she could never forget those icy, soulless silver eyes.
So tell me, have you ever had dreams or day-dreams or ideas you think ought to be made into a romance?