Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Coming Up With Shiny New Ideas

It seems like one of the most common question for any writer is: Where do you get your ideas? (I know I'm in awe of writers like J.K. Rowling and Melissa Marr who create entire worlds!) So I thought I'd share some of the ways I come up with my ideas. Here's the one that works best for me:


Really. One of my all time favorite quotes on writing (which I've probably shared here before) is by Toni Morrison and it says:

If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet. Then you must write it.

It's this quote, more than anything that has pushed me into writing the books I'm writing rather than leaving them as scribbles in a notebook.

Sure, I get ideas from dreams, from watching the news, from music, from reading a book and wishing it had turned out differently. Sometimes I get really excited by them and start a notebook (and now that I have the super awesome-tastic Scrivener, a Scrivener file) for fleshing it out. But by and large, the ideas that have stuck with me to become stories are the ones I wanted to write even before I knew what they were.

For instance, my WIP SLEEPER came from an intense desire to read a book where a girl kicked serious butt. I couldn't find one, and I knew that I wanted to write one, but I had no idea what that story was going to be. Would it be Urban Fantasy? Contemporary? Futuristic? Magical? I had no clue. Only the desire to create something that involved butt-kicking action and excitement.

And this is where the sheer force of will comes in. I focused on what I wanted. I ignored other shiny ideas that were perhaps more complete, but not exciting to me. I asked myself questions. Who is this butt-kicking girl? Why is she kicking butt? How does she feel about being so butt-kickingly awesome? Whose butt is she kicking? And finally, as I let those questions marinate in my subconscious, she began to speak to me. And her voice was more clear than any other character I'd created. She told me the story of how she came to kick butt, and how it made her feel and before I knew it I was sitting down at my laptop and spitting out 7500 words all in one sitting! I was scribbling copious notes in my notebook about who she was, who her friends were, where she lived, what she wanted, and a surprisingly complex plot. It was all there.

From the desire to write the story, to knowing my MC and writing those first 7500, it took maybe two weeks. Does it always happen that fast? No. But are the ideas I come up with this way better than the ones that just pop into my head? So far, yes. They're the ones I'm most excited to write. It's weird, since any idea I come up with obviously comes from me. But somehow the ones that I create out of a desire to do something specific feel more powerful. Like I earned them somehow.

So I guess what I'm trying to say here is if you don't have totally brilliant shiny new ideas falling on your head like rain, don't be discouraged. Think about the kind of story you want to tell and focus your energy on that. Ask yourself questions about why you want to tell that kind of story, what you hope to achieve, how you want it to make readers feel. It will come, and it'll probably be your best one yet!

What about you? What tricks do you use to get your ideas to the point you have to write them?


  1. You make a great point but I'm not sure I can enlighten your readers any further. I've only written one novel and the idea sort of came about like this:

    "What if that reform school I went to as a kid had been awesome instead of sucking? What if they had taught us Kung-Fu and Calligraphy instead of how to dig ditches?"

    There's more to the story now of course, but that is how it all started.

    I guess for me that means that my ideas come from twisting my own reality into something cooler - or at least this one did.

    Thanks Valerie!

  2. As my dreams aren't often based in reality--this reality anyway--I'm driven to write about what I've experienced. BOUND and my shiny new idea came from intense dreams--I knew I HAD to write them when I woke up. I definitely agree with that quote.

    Actually, I thought the dreams would be awesome movies, but since I'm not a screenwriter I'm turning them into books instead. :)

  3. I love that quote.
    I'm pretty much the same way. I write what I'd like to read. GREYSKIN started with an opening line and I had no idea where I was going to go with it or who my MC was. Originally, I had thought it would be a boy. Instead, she's a tomboy.
    Sometimes your own creations surprise you.

  4. I'm with you. A lot of writing is will power and filling a need. It's also sitting your behind in the chair and turning on the computer. Though, the kernel of an idea can happen any where, any time. Many of mine have come while I'm in the shower. Maybe it's the steam. :)

  5. My WIP, FAKE, which is the most vivid and urgent thing I've written so far, came from my obsession four or five years ago with sites like MySpace. I just thought about how many people make accounts on these sites and totally reinvent themselves, or (in my case) create a monster and get really addicted to being someone else. I'd never read anything like this, or even heard of it being written about. So, yes, I wrote what I wanted to read :)

  6. Matthew - What if is my favorite game to play when it comes to ideas!

    Kristi - I WISH I had dreams like that. It happens so rarely though.

    Lacey - I thought your MC was going to be a boy too! I need to be braver and write before I know where it's going because wow that worked for you with Greyskin!

    Kathi - I do all my best thinking in the shower! I think it's the white noise of the water.

    Becca - Ooh, your WIP sounds really intriguing!


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