N is for Nails (Skim to the underlined genre or style that best suits you.)
Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so the ideas I will be posted below are free for you to use.
Nails may not be romantic on their own, but they sure can lead to Romance if your heroine just moved to a new place. Imagine that she’s anxious to make her new abode look homey. She’s got her favorite artwork ready to hang on the walls, and she even has a hammer, but she can’t find anything more than thumbtacks. It’s a small town and a Sunday–good luck finding anything open. The grocery store, yes, but nails are not in the aisles. Determined, she hustles over to the next-door neighbor, remembering the little old lady who waved from the porch the day before. Such a sweet old lady. She’d probably be more than happy to hand out a few nails. But when the door opens to a green-eyed man wearing tight-fitting jeans, your heroine forgets what she came for.
In a Mystery it’s fun to keep the readers guessing, but you’ve got to dole out clues or you’ll lose them. It’s possible somebody was murdered with one of those huge four-inch nails that look more like spikes, because they would be deadly if thrust right into somebody’s jugular. But you might want to use them as clues in your story, instead of as the weapon. Either could work. If the victim died of suffocation because somebody gifted her with a pine box for eternal sleep (before her scheduled time), then the nails used in the coffin could be a clue. Maybe a couple of them had a small blotch of red on them, and one such stained nail was found by the librarian’s desk (a sister-in-law to the victim) when the sleuth was there for research and a few questions.
What is it? Red paint? Fingernail polish? Now your sleuth is going to get a sample of that paint or polish from the nail, and maybe be one step closer to the truth. If it’s paint, your sleuth might remember seeing somebody else with red paint splatters on his or her baggy clothing, which means this person was working on a project of some sort (or he’s an artist!). Your sleuth will follow the clue and have a chat. This could be the killer, or it could be somebody supposed to look like the killer. So, who is it? The evil librarian, the artist, or someone we’d never suspect?
Literary stories often involve a physical process of doing/creating something, and that process parallels the inner process of growth going on in a character’s mind. Building something can be a process. It can work like layering, a common technique in literary work. So your character has enough nails that by the time he’s done building what was to be a simple frame room, he might have an entire house. Something usable. Something that can withstand a lot of time and weather. What can that mean on the outside to a particular character? And what will the interior process mean when with each new nail securing the dwelling, the character comes closer to a realization about himself, and about life?
A nail in Children’s stories? Consider middle graders competing in a bicycling race. Either your protagonist or one of the other characters wants to boot out the most serious of competitors, and so he stabs a nail into the competitor’s bike wheel. Would your protagonist do that? You’d first have to make him likable and create a situation where readers will understand such an action, even if they don’t agree with it. But maybe it isn’t the protagonist who is so ruthless. Maybe the protagonist is the victim. How would he tackle the problem?
To make this story really interesting, you need something important at stake. I don’t think a little trophy is enough, although to some it might be. But maybe there’s a money prize, and the character who did the cheating only wanted the money because he or she really believes that it might save Grandma by getting her better care in a hospital strictly for cancer patients. Now the character has a strong motivation to win. Whether this is your point of view character or not, the dishonest action will have an emotional impact for the reader. If it isn’t your point of view character, will the point of viewer, once wise to what’s going on, lose the race on purpose? Make it a hard choice with something at stake on both sides and you’ll have a captivating story.
What ideas can you pull off the top of your head? If you can offer some ideas in genres I didn’t cover, such as horror, sci-fi, or fantasy, please share! Readers will appreciate it.