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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