The question I get asked the most from readers is, “Where do you find inspiration for your thrillers?” I think it’s asked frequently because many readers wonder how could a seemingly normal person think up such twisted and dark storylines? Are we just daydreaming about murder? Are we watching true crime shows? Where is this darkness coming from? For me, I get inspired from everyday norms and experiences. I’m not actually out here stalking, backstabbing, manipulating, or slicing and dicing. Some of the most mundane experiences can be turned into a thriller plot line if you look at it the right way or ask the right ‘what if’ questions.
Asking the ‘what if’ is a great way of finding inspiration and building an intricate thriller plot. For example, right now, I’m sitting at my laptop in my office looking out at a street in Chicago lined with cars and houses. What if I was working on a novel about a woman who escapes a kidnapping? What if as I looked out the window, a woman emerged from of my neighbor’s houses screaming for help? What if what was playing out right in front of me in real life was freakishly similar to the story I was drafting? See where I’m going with this? You can take an everyday life experience—like looking out a window—and turn it on its head.
For my upcoming suspense novel, One of Us is Dead, the plot was inspired by a normal exchange I had. I was sitting in a salon chair, and my hair stylist mentioned something I had previously told her… something personal, that I didn’t even remember saying. I can’t recall what it was, but I looked to her and said, “Wait. I told you that!? I can’t believe I told you that!” She responded, “Oh, yes. You wouldn’t believe the things people say when they’re sitting in this chair.” It was a normal exchange, but it was also a light bulb moment. I looked around the salon and heard people chatting with their hairstylists about their problems, personal issues, conflicts, etc.… and I thought a salon is the perfect setting for a thriller. You sit in a chair for sometimes hours chatting with your stylist about anything and everything. It’s an environment that evokes conversation, and at the center of it all is the hairstylist. They hear everything. They see what you’re doing on your phone—whether it’s sending a text, drafting an email, or scrolling through social media. By the time I got home from that hair appointment, I had half the story plotted out in my head and a strong thriller concept. A salon owner gets entangled in the lives of her elite, wealthy clients. When one of them ends up dead, it’s only her and her accumulation of town gossip that can help the police solve the murder.
I have another thriller releasing in 2023 that also came from a normal experience. My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb’s all over the world. Sometimes we have the place to ourselves. Other times, we just book a room within a stranger’s home. One time, we were staying at an Airbnb and there was a guest occupying another bedroom, a woman in her twenties. I thought to myself, I would be way too scared to stay in an Airbnb alone with a total stranger. And then I asked the question, “What if an Airbnb guest and the host fell in love?” Obviously, I write thrillers, so I probed more. What if the host’s infatuation turned to obsession? What if she feared he wouldn’t let her leave? What if he felt she was hiding something from him? All those questions and that life experience led to me writing a twisty, suspense novel and a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when you open up your heart and your home to a total stranger.
If you’re looking for inspiration for a suspense novel, you don’t have to look far. Pay attention to your everyday experiences and to the exchanges you have with the people around you, because you might find that you’re just a couple of ‘what if’ questions away from a twisty, thriller plot—grown right out of your own ordinary life.
About the Author:
Jeneva Rose is the Amazon Charts, Apple Books, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of The Perfect Marriage. It’s been translated into a dozen languages, and the film/tv rights were optioned by Picture Perfect Federation. Her upcoming suspense novel, ONE OF US IS DEAD, releases April 26, 2022 by Blackstone Publishing.