Let’s Talk with Nancy J. Cohen

Plot Ideas

by Nancy J. Cohen

“Where do you find new plot ideas for series books?” is one of the responses we received from our Booklovers’ Bench reader poll. For me, this has never been a problem. One book seems to segue into the next as though my characters’ lives are naturally evolving. For example, in book ten of The Bad Hair Day Mysteries, hairstylist Marla Shore and her detective friend, Dalton Vail, finally get married. It took them that long to overcome the emotional baggage each person brought to their relationship. Does this mean it was time for the series to end? No way.

In the next book, they move into a new house together, just as a young couple would in real life. Unfortunately, their neighbor-from-hell is found dead next door. Then Marla and Dalton go on a delayed honeymoon to an Arizona dude ranch owned by Dalton’s uncle. Here we meet his extended family and discover the skeletons in their proverbial closet. Back home once again, Marla is forced to confront her aversion to having children. You get the idea? One story leads into the next. The key is providing enough personal issues and secondary characters to keep things moving forward. For example, I have another plot idea written down that involves the photographer from their wedding. This illustrates how minor players in one story can have a bigger role in another.

We also apply our own experiences in creating new story ideas. We’d had some remodeling done on our house. What if Marla’s mother decides to redo her bathrooms and something happens to the foreman on the job? Plots are out there. It’s having the time to write them all that is the issue along with finding the inspirational spark.

For me, a story has to be about more than the mystery. There has to be an exciting bit of knowledge for me to learn or a historical angle or a local issue that drives my interest. Without this spark, the story won’t come alive enough for me to write it. And that’s the element harder to find sometimes than the basic murder mystery.

Have you ever run into a situation that you thought would make a good story?

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Comments

  1. New story ideas come from life experiences. I’ve opened myself up to new adventures to have those experiences for myself, but also to include fresh scenarios, feelings, and perspectives in my stories. Having a number of characters gives the opportunity to include those interesting quirks and adventures.

    • That’s great, Jeanne. And we view our experiences differently as writers, don’t we? Everything becomes fodder for our books. Thanks for visiting today.

  2. tinawhittle says:

    I love how your sleuths work together (I am a huge fan of romantic couples solving crimes together). The same qualities that bring two people together can either make them work well together or have them at odds — the best stories show both. Excellent post!

    • Thanks, Tina. I like romantic couples that solve crimes together too or at least they can have playful banter between them while they work. That’s one reason why I liked Castle so much when it was on TV.

  3. I’m so glad to read Nancy’s post today. Her series always feels fresh. Marla and Dalton, her sleuth and detective husband, are a good match with baggage, backstory, and chemistry. I also love that this series is set in a hair salon. We’ve probably all overheard things we shouldn’t at the beauty shop. Nancy, however, you’ve done me a slight disservice. I was thinking to end my paranormal cozy series at book 7 because I’d like a break from the paranormal side of things. It is easy to end the series here because I’ve tied up all the series arcs as well as the mystery of book 7. The tough part is saying goodbye to that whole cast of characters. I’m feeling nostalgic today as I think about The End. I hope I won’t regret my decision to return to writing a traditional cozy series.

    • If you feel you’ve finished the series, then it’s time to move on. I could say the same for my Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Marla completes her character arc in Trimmed to Death. But I still have a novella or two in mind before I consider where to go from there. Marketing plays a part in the decision-making, too. You have to do what’s best for your career.

  4. I so agree, that it’s the “other stuff” happening that makes me want to go back to a series. Using relationships is always a good springboard.

    • The characters are the key, in series as well as standalones. But in a series, the canvas is broader and we have more people to draw into the story.

  5. Haha. Don’t know if I should admit this, but I had a boss for a short while, a period we called the reign of terror. Sorry, I had to kill him off in one of my books!

  6. Before I retired last October I was a paralegal. Some of the stories I’ve heard would be great cozy mysteries. I’m becoming more open to cozies in which the protagonist has a family because now I realize there are things one can say at the kitchen table during dinner that can’t be said in the office and these things are important to the story.

    • Having a sidekick for the sleuth is important also. She needs a sounding board to review suspects with and to inspire her to consider new angles. A cozy is more about the relationships than the crime.