Even the most mundane object can spark a story idea.
The Big "What If..."
People often wonder how in the world I come up with my story ideas. It seems simple enough to me. I look around at things that interest me and wonder, "What if..."
The idea for Broken Blue Willow came to me after the death of my grandmother on my mother's side. She had collected many types of dishes, including the Blue Willow Ware pattern. I remember the hutches, tables, and walls populated with dishes of many shapes and colors. I also recall the stories of how she feared I would break her dishes because I wasn't the most careful of children. (Yes, there is a lot of Jana in the character of Em. Write what you know.)
A while after I received the dishes, one of them broke. I don't remember how it happened, but I remember immediately counting down how many were left. I thought about how bad I would feel when the last dish broke, knowing it would happen eventually (though is hasn't happened yet, thankfully). Gone would be the last object from my grandmother's house that she had actually used. Her hands had washed those dishes. She had served guests with those dishes. The ghosts of her actions with those dishes would be gone forever. The idea of objects holding the energy of the previous owner began to take shape in my mind.
What if...a girl broke the last dish in a set of enchanted Blue Willow Ware?
Researching the Pattern
I knew I needed to discover more about the history of the Blue Willow Pattern. What did the landscape image mean? I knew the willow tree to be significant, but what about the two birds? The people?
I came across several poems, legends, and songs about the story behind the Blue Willow pattern. Then I found a video that tells the story in a brief yet entertaining way.
There are many other videos and recordings of the story and I think I've seen them all. Each version is slightly different, but the main points of the legend thread throughout.
Below is the full poem of The Willow Pattern Plate, written by Horace Hutchinson in 1912. I included the first verse as an epigraph in my novel.
The Willow Pattern Plate
Now I had information I could really sink my teeth into. I set about asking more "What if..." questions about the legend. My brainstorming ideas naturally went down a darker path. What if there was more to the story than most people knew? What if someone made up the entire story to manipulate a child through fear? What if the dishes were not enchanted, but cursed?
Four Dishes Left...
I currently have four pieces left of my grandmother's Blue Willow Ware, two of which I use on a regular basis, because I believe that objects should be used or why bother keeping them? I employ a small saucer in the kitchen. I used to brew tea in the teapot, but it began to leak. One of the large bowls is great for serving salad, but the other large bowl has developed a hairline crack, so it has been decommissioned for food use. However, that little flaw gave it the character needed for the cover of my book.
Ideas Are Everywhere!
As you can see, story ideas are everywhere. Think about objects you may own and their histories. Who owned them previously? How did you obtain them? What special meaning do they hold for you? If you imagine the objects carrying all of that energy with them, and mix it with an aspect of your own personal experience, I bet you could come up with quite a story, too.
I write novels and poetry and this blog.