Ideas: Where Do They Come From?

Like all authors ever, I’ve often had people ask me the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The question is always about ideas for novels. But right now, halfway through the month of November’s #bloglikecrazy blogging challenge. I am suddenly struggling to come up with blog ideas. The first two weeks went well. Even when I thought I had nothing to write about, when I sat down and got on with it, I found that I did. Suddenly that has stopped, and now I’ve gotten to that staring-at-a-blank-screen stage of writing. Maybe writing today about ideas for novels will help me to take some of my own advice, if it can be adapted for blog posts.

People who are not fiction writers think that coming up with an idea for a book is the hard part. For me and most of the writers I know, that’s not true. Readers confuse ideas with plots, and they like to imagine that the plot of a novel springs fully formed from the mind of the novelist, like Athena from the head of Zeus, shiny and new and ready to be dictated to the page. Though I’ve certainly heard of that happening — though not to any writers I know — it’s really not the norm. Writers get ideas from newspaper articles, overheard conversations, funny things their kids said, memories, history, or other novels.

The truth is that writers think of ideas all the time. Ideas are easy. They come from anything you notice, hear, learn about, or question. Anything that intrigues you.:

  • Have you ever wondered what you would choose if a genie gave you three wishes?
  • Do you love the history of, say, the American Civil War, ancient China, or Tudor England?
  • Have you asked yourself what could drive a person to commit a horrendous crime you’ve just read about?
  • Can you imagine what it would be like to discover a sibling you never knew you had?
  • Do you dream of traveling to Iceland, or the Amazon, or Mars?
  • Have you ever wished you’d been born to parents who were royalty, or movie stars, or explorers?
  • What else do you want to know more about?

Those are all ideas. No, they’re not stories. Not yet. Not even close. They’re just ideas. You may have dozens of ideas in your mental, physical, or electronic idea file. (I recommend having such a file in physical or electronic form, so you have a place to go when you’re casting about for what to write on.) Most of the ideas in your file will never go anywhere, but that’s OK. There are more where those came from. The hard part isn’t having ideas; it’s recognizing them when they come, and then, when the time is right, turning them into plots. Ideas are easy. Plots are hard. At least, they’re hard for me, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m more of a character-driven writer.

How do you turn an idea into a plot? Despite all the books I’ve written, I’m still working on this one. I’ll save that idea for a future blog post.

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