Amber Morn
Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her 19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Visit her blog at Forensics and Faith, and her website at Brandilyn to read the first chapters of all her books.

Hatching a Plot

Don’t discount whatever odd event or word that gives you pause...

Often I’m asked, “Where do your ideas come from?” My answer: “Life.” As a novelist I see fictional what-ifs all around me. An incident on the street, a phrase on the radio, a TV news bit, even a line from someone else’s work may trigger a what-if.

Still, I’m not exactly brimming with story ideas. What-ifs might hit me numerous times a day, but few of them stick with me. When something does stick—however bizarre or meaningless it seems—I write it down. Something about that incident or phrase has caused a reaction deep within me. I may not know for a long time—even years—how I will use it in a story. But use it, I will.

If you’re a novelist, I urge you to pay attention to those gut twinges. Don’t discount whatever odd event or word that gives you pause. This is not the time to edit. This is the time to record. Then let it sit. See what becomes of it.

When I was in my early twenties, I read John Milton’s Paradise Lost for the first time. In Book Two, Satan and his followers, kicked from heaven into darkness, argue about whether they should try to storm heaven’s gates and overthrow God. One phrase, hatching vain empires, absolutely hit me between the eyes. In this excerpted context, Beelzebub, second in power only to Satan, suggests a different revengeful scheme:

. . . the King of Heaven hath doomed this place our dungeon . . .
Nor shall we . . . invade Heaven,
whose high walls fear no assault or siege . . .
What if we find some easier enterprise?
There is a place . . . of some new race, called Man . . .
Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn . . . where their weakness . . .
Seduce them to our party,
that their God may prove their foe . . .
Advise if this be worth attempting, or to sit in darkness here,
hatching vain empires.

Hatching vain empires. The combination of words intrigued me. And the truth they spoke! How often, I thought, do we engage in the dark and meaningless pursuit of hatching our own little vain empires instead of pursuing God’s will for our lives?

Thirty years passed. I never forgot that phrase. I became a novelist. I wrote suspense, and in total to that point in 2007, I had written fifteen books. I needed an idea for my sixteenth. The phrase hatching vain empires rose in my mind. I reread Paradise Lost, struck anew by the audacity of Satan’s plan—and how mankind fell for it! Satan and his cohorts well understood the futility of hatching vain empires. Bragging about storming the gates of heaven was empty talk. God was

too powerful to be overthrown. Yet what did Satan accomplish when he tempted Adam and Eve? He taught mankind to do the very thing he knew to be futile—to hatch our own vain empires. He presented man with this “gift” of death disguised as life (“You will not surely die . . .”).

The concept grew in my head. I didn’t have a character yet or a plot. But I began to wonder what a modern-day suspense could look like with this concept as its underlying theme. In time I created twenty-two-year-old Kaitlan and her elderly, muddle-minded grandfather—once known worldwide as the King of Suspense. And the what-if came: What if this bitter old man, who can no longer write after a brain injury, had to create the suspense plot of his life to save his granddaughter from a cunning killer?

At first the plot seemed far removed from the original concept. But as I wrote, and symbolism wove its way into the story, I began to see how the plot embodied the theme. I finished the book, ultimately titled Dark Pursuit, believing the surface suspense story would satisfy my readers, while knowing those who saw beneath the surface would find much more.

Hatching vain empires. A three-word phrase read thirty years ago, hitting me hard. I’m glad I paid attention to the phrase, let it speak to me. The result has now come to fruition with the release of Dark Pursuit last month. Now as I plot another book (my twentieth), a few disparate and quite odd incidents are sloshing around in my head. They haven’t solidified into a full plot yet. But they will.

Read the Reviews for Dark Pursuit

Dark Pursuit