The late, great Douglas Adams was often asked “Where do you get your ideas from?” to which he would reply “A small mail-order company in Cleveland.” It may not be useful advice for those looking to start out as a writer, but it does illustrate the fact that it’s not usually possible to say where that creative spark of inspiration may come from.
When I’m writing a murder mystery, the starting point is usually an overall theme, usually a time, place or an occasion. If I’m writing for a large group there is usually a uniting set of interests within the party and this can get the juices rolling, so that for a group interested in, say, fashion, I may set the story in a fashion show.
Once the theme is set, characters will begin to come to mind. The joy of writing a murder mystery is that generally the characters are rarely subtle: stereotypes are often preferred as it makes the story fun to perform and allows the audience to understand the motivations and concerns of the suspects quickly. Going back to our fashion show example, we would therefore begin to sketch out a list of possible attendees – designers, models, journalists, stylists, organisers etc – and then flesh out their character, motivations and attitudes.
Note that I haven’t mentioned a word about “plot” yet – that’s a consideration far down the line, and one for another post and another day.