Sunday, April 20, 2014

Writing: Starting With the Mystery Element

This old tin box was one of the elements that inspired my current WIP.  When I first saw it at a yard sale, I didn’t know who the characters in the story would be or where the story would be set or even what time period, but I immediately was inspired to use the box and its contents as a clue. Why? Because just looking at it made me want to know more—like what was inside it and why had it been kept for so long? It really had very little value and was only moderately attractive.

I did know the deceased elderly woman who had owned the box. The woman's family had been moderately well off and she'd been quite attractive as a teen.  Also years ago the woman had told me that she’d been sent to finishing school in a larger nearby community. There she'd had a hot romance that ended in a turbulent and very brief marriage to a wealthy man.  After that she’d always lived alone in her family home.

I opened the box at the yard sale, then instantly bought it for two bucks and took it home.

Inside was a collection of valueless mementoes--but they all were neatly dated and labeled.  For a while I thought about organizing them by date, and then writing a midcentury historical romance based on them. Instead they became the backstory for my current WIP—a contemporary mystery where a teenage girl is trying to unravel a secret from her family’s past.

My main character spotted the closed box several chapters ago.  In the next scene, she finally gets to open it and look inside.  It’s been a lot of fun thinking about how napkins, soap bars and sugar packets can become vital clues. Also, knowing I was going to use these clues even before I had a plot or characters, challenged me as a writer.  But for me, the challenge is part of the fun.  

How about you? Do you know what the vital clues are before you start writing a story?  And how about your closets, do you have mementoes tucked away—things which someday may inspire stories?


  1. I love the idea of a box of obscure clues! Your pic is great - it makes me want to know what all those notes say. I'd really like to know more about the woman's hot affair and short marriage, too. Sounds exciting!

  2. She was a very interesting woman. When I first met her, she was in her late 70's and hitchhiked everywhere. It really made me wonder what happened during the years the mementoes are from--something beyond little notes and dates.

  3. What a great way to get into a story! I love that you have an entire narrative here, just waiting for you. :-)

  4. It also made me think about the things I keep and the story someone might get from going through them :)

  5. This is such a great idea. I don't have a tangible clue like this, but one I made up that is driving the current mystery I'm writing. But to be able to hold it in your hands--that's got to make for great writing.

  6. It does. But, whether it's tangible or not, it's fun to see how clue (s) can drive the story.