Has your mind gone blank? Are you at a complete loss for a new story idea? Kali Anthony talks about hunting for bright shiny new ideas and reveals how stories can be found everywhere.
Since writing this article our very own PHS Senior Editor, Kali Anthony, has received THE CALL and SOLD her FIRST BOOK to Harlequin Mills & Boon Presents/Modern!!! We couldn't be more thrilled for her and hope you will join us to congratulate her either here or on Social Media! Everyone at the PHS knew this day would come, Kali!
Writers get asked many questions. How much do you earn? (Not as much as JK Rowling). Do you practice your smexy scenes with your husband/wife/partner/significant other? (Eew! Go away you freaky person lacking all polite social boundaries). But one of the most vexed questions for all of us is,
Where do you get your ideas?
This question was brought into sharp focus recently during a Twitter exchange with an author, who was worried her ideas had run dry, until a new sparkly one lobbed into her head completely unexpected and to feelings of much relief. I’d been on the cusp of having to start a new story myself, and none of my previously sketched out ideas held any appeal. Problem is, I didn’t have any new ones either. Too caught up in the drudge of day to day to let my imagination off the leash. I’d no inspiration, nothing. And in a moment of panic, realized I hadn’t had any new ideas for a loooong time.
Until I did. Because in the hours I contemplated a complete lack of any fresh thought on my part, a new idea blew up in my head like a firework with characters and conflict and all of the good things you need when you want to write. And it got me wondering.
Where did this idea come from?
Honestly, I had no clue.
I figured it was important to try and work out, because setting up the right mental space for these new ideas to form, is vital when you want to create something new or sustain a career as an author.
So. I gave it some thought and realized the new idea came when…
You know, a good storyteller would force you to wait for the answer, so I will too. Makes the journey worth it in the end or some such thing. Sorry, not sorry.
Funnily enough, there were huge benefits for getting my new and sparkly idea. All sorts of other light bulb moments happened. Problems with the story in the book I’d already finished, miraculously resolved themselves because I knew how to solve them. Stories I’d been tinkering with in my head, where the characters and conflict were fuzzy, suddenly became clear as a clean window. (In the pursuit of honesty, my real windows are not clean. My mental windows occasionally are, and this was one of those rare times.)
Back to the point of the piece.
I hadn’t been thinking about writing when my new idea came to me. I’d been thinking about Beauty and the Beast. Contemplating the movie because I realized I’d never seen it and didn’t know what the story line was other than there was a happy ending, and I’m all about those. My lack of knowledge stemmed from the time my mother took me to the pantomime as a four year old and the beast TERRIFIED me so I ran screaming and we had to leave.
But I was all grown up now and my ignorance of this story seemed like a major failing on my part, so I jumped on to the internet to see what all the fuss was about. As I read summaries of the tale, a visual of characters flashed into my head. Hero first, then heroine, then scenario, first line and conflict.
Woohoo! I had a new story.
In contemplating how my ideas are generated, I remembered that one story cropped up after reading a line from a Jack Reacher novel about identifying terrorists. My story had nothing at all to do with terrorists. It wasn’t a suspense and was all about happy endings. Yet the premise fell upon me as if gifted from heaven, including a wicked first line for a story which I will write, some day.
If you would like a book on the subject, there are a few. One of my favourites is The Idea Factory by Valerie Parv. Out of print now, but worth tracking down. Before I started writing my husband gave me his copy, and it’s a craft book I’ve gone back to when stuck, with chapters such as: The Perfectionist Trap, Daydream Believers, Eureka Moments on Demand and Your Creative Environment. The book reminds me that we can all struggle, but in the end it’ll be okay. You just need to trust your clever brain.And I recognized a lot of my ideas started like that. Popping up when I was thinking other things. But how do you harness that information to make the ideas flow regularly?
For mine, ideas generally come from reading widely. But you could take old stories and write them anew. I enjoy thinking about tropes and how I might handle them. Some of my best ideas (if I do say so myself!) have come from tropes I’ve not traditionally enjoyed so I wrote them as a challenge to myself (forced marriage or secret baby/unexpected pregnancy anyone?)
Maybe you’re a visual person. Have you tried Pinterest? I found a picture of a person I liked the look of, and wondered about them. Why did they look like that? What put the emotion on their face? What was their story? All of a sudden a story started writing itself. As for other ways of finding inspiration, you can listen to authors about how their stories come to them.
Many talk about getting great ideas in the shower (keep a waterproof notepad handy), in the car (I pull over and dictate into my phone) and on a walk (I hope like heck I remember the idea at the end of my meandering).
Suzanne Collins apparently came to her story, The Hunger Games, whilst watching TV and channel surfing. On one channel, was a program about the Iraq war. On another, a reality TV programme with young people. The lines between those two blurred and a bestseller was born.
Audrey Niffenegger first came up with a title, The Time Traveller’s Wife. Then she wondered about the story behind the title, which formed when she imagined a scene which was to be the last one of the book.
And all of us know the story of Harry Potter. JK Rowling sat for four hours on a delayed train journey, without a working pen, thinking about a boy wizard who had popped into her head, fully formed. And the rest, is glorious history.
So next time you’re worried about where your newest idea might come from, relax. Read a paper, watch some TV. Have a shower, take a train ride. Your brightest, best idea might only be only a daydream away.
Kali Anthony is an aspiring author and senior editor for The Pink Heart Society. You can follow Kali on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
How have your bright ideas come to you? Have you come up with any in odd and unusual ways? Let us know here or on social media using #BrightIdeas. We’d love to hear from you.