Every day somewhere, some poor writer comes up with a wonderful idea he or she hopes will become the beginning of a story. Where do these ideas come from? Where do they go? It’s one of the questions many non-writers often ask writers.
“Were do you get your ideas?”
The truth is they can come from everywhere and some of them will go nowhere. Unfortunately another truth is, there is no telling where an idea will come from or how it will it develop. It would be wonderful if an idea for a book could come marching out of a writer’s brain fully developed and ready to be written down for that next great best seller. Instead an idea often starts just as a little seed. From there it needs to be carefully cared for and build or developed until it can become a short story, a novella, a full book, the beginning of a saga.
Some writers say they come up with ideas in the middle of the night and keep notebooks by their beds to write them down. Others keep notebooks in their cars. You never know when inspiration will strike.
But there are a few traits that set writers apart, and that help to turn those ideas into books. For the most part you will find that writers are:
Sometimes downright nosy
Curiosity is important because a writer might hear a news story and instead of accepting it as just another event, the writer might start asking “what if.” What if the murder was not all it seemed on the surface? What if the hit and run was at the back bone of a spy plot? What kind of love story was behind the star crossed lovers who re-kindled a teenage romance 40 years later? Bestselling author Harlan Coben tells book signing audiences that his current mystery Caught came about as a result of wondering what happens to an innocent man who might be arrested as a result of those televised sex-sting operations.
Being introspective is another important trait because a writer must go beyond simply observing emotions on the surface. The writer might watch an event or overhear an exchange in a coffee shop and start thinking of how those emotions might be expressed or brought to the surface in scene. A writer will think through feelings and must come up with a way to describe them for hero or heroine in their next book.
A writer must be observant because no two writers will witness a simple event the same way. Again, a news event might go from being simply a car crashing into a building or running off the side of the road. A writer can turn it into a seminal event in a person’s life or show how it can change the lives of several people – think the Oscar winning movie Crash of a couple of years ago.
And then there is that part about being just plain nosy. Mystery writer Robert Crais loves to tell audiences that you don’t want to get into a personal conversation near him. He says he’ll eavesdrop in restaurants and coffee shops without apology because he always picks up some good writing ideas. Sometimes it’s as simple as picking up an accent or inflection, but sometimes he can come up with a good story idea or two.
For a writer, something simple that might happen to the old neighbor next door, like a stranger suddenly coming around everyday can transform into tales of any genre. While a “normal” non-writer might just see it as a relative or a friend coming to call, a writer might turn it into something different. To a mystery writer the visitor might be planning to kill the old lady after talking her into leaving him her money and house. A romance writer might think the lady is having an affair with the nice looking gentleman that perhaps she loved in her youth. A sci-fi writer might think the gentleman caller looks otherworldly, robotic. Have the aliens landed? A fantasy writer might think the two elderly people are using that appearance as a disguise and change into werewolves to go out marauding at the next full moon.
Yes, a writer will see each situation differently. But the final trait a writer has is to be a story teller. The writer will see beyond just the general idea. To a writer the idea becomes a plot, a story that can move the reader, charm the reader or hold the reader in its grip until the final page. The idea transforms into a character moving through a fictional world that must be invented by the story teller.
When readers ask where ideas come from, it’s difficult for a writer to say, because for writers, they are all around us. We see ideas everywhere, just as we see stories and plots in everything around us.
Yes, today, some writer, somewhere will come up with an idea for a book… and it will probably come from something simple…
Sue Viders is the author of more than 20 books, numerous articles and columns for both artists and writers. Her writing book Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes, is used in many college and university writing courses. Her book, 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters is gaining use as a practical workbook. Her newest book is an ebook that outlines how to take an idea from the beginning through finished book.
She also developed Deal a Story; an interactive card game that can help writers work on their creativity and is based on her Heroes and Heroines book.
Becky Martinez is an award-winning former broadcast journalist and published author. Her latest book, Deadly Messages published by The Wild Rose Press in February 2010 was an Aspen Gold finalist. She has had several short stories published and contributed to an anthology. She was also one of the co-authors of Ten Steps to Creating Memorable Characters, a workbook for writers
The Plotting Wheel, presented by Sue Viders and Becky Martinez runs from February 28, 2011 through March 27, 2011