I get my ideas from the dark place under the bed where nameless groaning monsters once lurked, turning every night into a battle between terror and the demands of a full bladder.
I slept with the light on until well into adulthood. I am not proud of this, but it’s indicative of some wiring I was born with that makes writing fiction easier for me than it might be for some other people: I have a busy imagination. The question “What if?” has long been my bosom companion, and the petty inconveniences of reality and logic do not bound the answers that come to me in response to “what if?”
You are glowering at your screen, perhaps, because that’s all lovely, but it’s not very helpful in terms of the question. I’ll try again. Romance is character-driven fiction, so what I’m stalking in the world of ideas, are characters who have unhealed wounds. Characters who are emotionally stuck fast, usually because they’re clinging to coping mechanisms that once served them well, or at least allowed them to survive, but are now consigning them a lonely, fearful, half-life.
To find these characters, I think about how we hurt, how we get stuck. I pay attention to the stuck people I meet, I pay attention to the times in my life when I was stuck, or when I did something REALLY stupid, because I’d confused avoiding pain with living life. I also look at when I’ve felt the most torn.
I asked my brother Dick once how to make a man really, really suffer, and his response was brilliant, “Make him choose between the competing demands of honor.” Make a hero choose between protecting his mother or his legitimate younger brother, the title’s sole heir. Make him choose between his duty as a soldier and his duty as a son, between telling the truth and protecting the innocent. Tear his heart in two. Works for any character.
If I dwell on those questions long enough, some feckless character usually come stumbling up from the imagination’s root cellar, and off we go. I get my ideas by dwelling on how we suffer, and then figuring out to make the suffering go away.