Inspiration can come in the strangest guises. It could be something you read in a newspaper or magazine. It could be a painting, or a wonderful photograph. It could be that odd-looking person walking down the street or that neighbour who insists on having arguments with their spouse outside so that the whole street can hear their issues. Every writer has a different answer, but which comes first; the character or the plot?
My first question is always 'why did whatever happen?' which means I have the beginnings of the plot and the beginnings of a character at almost exactly the same time. The first character I focus on is my victim. Why did he/she die? I don't write locked-room puzzles, the method is always very straight forward. It's the people that fascinate me. Why was murder the result? Was it for revenge? For money? For love? A combination? What was the situation that made somebody realize that murder was the only solution? This question will lead me to my plot...and of course, many more characters.
Peter Shaffer's play "Equus" was inspired by him reading a newspaper article about a similar crime. He never read anything else about that particular case, that one small article was enough to get his creative juices flowing. I've overhead snippets of conversations in the library or having coffee with a friend that have started my writer's brain bubbling. I love to watch people's body language. You can tell if someone is uncomfortable with a conversation by watching their reactions. See their weight start to shift back and forth from foot to foot? Did they just cross their arms? Are they looking at the other person or are they unable to make eye contact? And then when I get home the questions start: Why.....why....why?
Where do you start? Is it with a plot? An ending? A particular character? A setting?