Thursday, September 18, 2014

Where do your ideas come from?

And what do you do with them?

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! It's Lisa here and I may or may not be hyped on too much caffeine right now. I didn't come here to tell you that, though. Actually, I have a question for you: What's up with your story ideas?

Ever since I wrote my first book, it's been like an idea tree started producing abundant fruit in my head. Do you always have random story ideas filling your mind too? What do you do with them? I know you can't just write them all...can you?

So if you can't sit down and write them all right away, how do you store them away for another day? (Yes, I realize I'm rhyming, but I can't stop myself).
My other question is, what if your idea tree stops producing? If you've ever been without a good story idea, how did you get the inspiration for another?

I love movies, so a good movie always gets me thinking of What ifs, and that's really all a story idea is for me: What if such and such happened to two kids instead of this married couple that's in this movie?
Also, there's always a steady stream of What ifs going through my head regardless of movies. I have two teenage daughters...enough said. Where do you get your What ifs?

As far as what I do with these ideas, I try to temper my enthusiasm every time one catches. You know what I'm talking about. Most of the time those story ideas blow in and out of your mind so quickly that you won't even remember having the idea in the first place. It's gone like a dream when you wake up in the morning. And sometimes the story or the characters won't leave you alone. My thinking with that, though, is you can't just fly into writing the story because guess what's going to happen in one hour. Another story idea. Oops, which one do you want to write now?

The best route for me is to sit on an idea for a while (not literally:). Contemplate. Brainstorm. Write it down of course. If you're still excited about it days later, try for a first chapter. Still looking good? A loose outline is next. Still excited? That baby is getting written. Watch out, world! Here comes some kickass characters.

Karlie: I'm always working on four things at once. This is probably not the most efficient way to get it done, but I stay fresh and focused that way. And ideas...let's just say I'm not going to run out anytime soon. I've literally got almost fifty Microsoft Word files that only hold new ideas - some a line or two, some a few scenes, some plots, etc., etc. But before I start working on them in earnest, I use Lisa's method and just sit on them, working out plot lines. I might jot down a line or two so I don't forget it, but I won't really start writing until I have at least a basic idea of where I want it to go.

Dan: Ideas tend to come to me when I'm doing something mindless and banal, like waiting in line or driving on the highway. Most of them start with a what if; the first thing I try to ask myself afterward is who would make the best POV character. Because I know I'll have to be in that person's head, and obviously I want him or her to be right in the middle of the action.

I have a variety of writing notebooks and always try to get the inspiration down on paper. And I date it! For example, I found the page where I first laid out the seed of my currently-represented book, and it was dated 10/6/2012. I go back to those notes when I'm revising, or when I hit a creative brick wall. Often there's a plot thread or character sketch that I can use to get things going again.

Caitlin: For me, ideas are the easy part. It's finding an idea that I am willing to spend hundreds of hours writing AND that has legs that's the tricky part. That's where outlining and synopses come in. If an idea keeps pestering me for a few days, I'll draw up a synopsis. If I like that, I'll share it with my writers group or possibly my agent to get some thoughts. And yeah, like you all say, I have way more ideas than I can write, so a lot of prioritizing comes into play (though I'll usually let myself indulge if I'm feeling really creative with a lower priority project).

I actually don't stress about writing ideas down quickly. Funny lines. Real life dialogue. Descriptions. A reminder to myself that I need to pay my rent. Yes, these are all things I rush to tap into my Droid or jot down! But for whole novel ideas, I'd rather let them germinate and breathe for at least a few days. And if I "forget" them, then they probably weren't going to hold my attention for the whole novel writing process anyway.

Those are good responses, guys. What about about visitors? What's your process? Comment below!


  1. Nice post! My story ideas start with a trigger. Sometimes a phrase I read, but usually a line in a song. Like "sleep among the dead," "don't wake me" or "thinks she's an outsider."

    Then come the "what if" questions, like some of you said, but mine are "what if...REALLY?"
    What if someone really sleeps in a cemetery?
    What if someone is really such an outsider, that they are not even the same species as everyone else?
    What if someone really preferred dream-life to awake-life?

    When my brain begins filling in all the details to make the scenario work, it's usually a sign I can run with it.

    1. I like that you don't just ask "what if" but "what if...REALLY..." :) Taking the figurative and making it literal is a great way to examine story possibilities :)

    2. Mostly the what if this happens thing, sometimes I use aspects of my own life to start a story, but usually it's me asking my husband what if this. Then I get thinking and the details of how it could be a story comes around and next thing I know I've got another story started. (I have somewhere around 15 stories at various stages of being written) This year I've decided to take one that I wrote but lost (thankfully didn't lose the notes) for NaNoWriMo, and am actually doing research to get ready.

  2. I carry a little notebook with me at all time in case inspiration strikes. The latest note is two words: "patiently deadly."

    If I get inspiration out of the blue, I either get to my laptop as fast as I can or write it down fast and furious in the book. Either way it usually starts out in chunks, raw emotions or snippets of dialogue.

    I get my best inspiration after working out or hanging out with neat people. Yoga works best because it's usually working out with a bunch of neat people :) . People inspire me and sweat shakes ideas loose. I'm one of those people who works best spinning off ideas from other ideas, so passionate people, books or movies are always great source material.

  3. Laura, I like your WHAT IF REALLY process. :)

    Writingsprint, I never considered that exercise could shake ideas loose. Gah, it's yet another reason I should work out more regularly.