Wednesday, 3 January 2018

How I get my writing ideas

One of things I get asked constantly when I admit to my profession is either a) how do you get the ideas for your stories, or b) do you run out of ideas?


The second one is easy. No, I never run out of ideas, ever. Getting them formulated into a story is another matter, but I never run out of ideas.

The world is a wonderful place, teeming with suggestions for marvellous books. They may not be used but if they are, I'm as excited as a kid at Christmas for the potential of what they might be.

Let's start with the first one. How do I get the ideas? Here are some examples.

  • from the world around me
  • from the media
  • from lines from songs (warning - getting ideas for a story are fine, but be careful about using song lyrics in your story in case you infringe copyright.)
  • from other books (warning - like the song, take ideas but plagiarising the story deserves fleas in your nether parts)
  • from objects like paintings
  • new places/ journeys
The ideas formulate into either,
  • a scene; beginning, middle or end
  • a title
  • a character
  • story arc
I rarely get a story arc. It's always a snapshot in the book.

Examples that have made it into my books:

Hairy Harry's Car Seat - initial idea was from a friend of my daughter talking about a seat in a car covered in dog hair, which led me to an 'empty seat' in the rearview mirror.
The Sky is Dead - a comedian talking about looking up and not seeing any stars led to a man laying on his back as he fades into unconsciousness, unable to see the stars.
Morning My Angel - a friend used to greet me every morning on the computer with "Morning angel."
Chance to be King - from few words in an old song became the idea of a man's past catching up with him.
Frankie & Al - I read an article about team-building exercises, and remembered my experiences in the 80s.


Examples that are waiting for their time in the sun:

  • Sitting in a pine forest, sunlight filtering through the branches, and *something happens*. The world stops, children stop laughing, birds stop tweeting.
  • Nine Mile Ride. It's a road, and I had an apocalyptic idea from driving down the road.
  • what happens if you run down that dark alley?
  • Mr. Right and Mr. Right-Now walks toward you.
  • what is your last conversation with someone?
  • A pilot of a spaceship watching the screens showing the planet where he's going to crash.
I keep my ideas in a folder on my computer, other authors use notebooks, boxes etc. Sometimes they take years to get their turn, but when they do, it's like meeting an old friend. Ideas are like nuggets of gold, a whole world out there just waiting to be written.

Occasionally, it doesn't matter what ideas I have, nothing is inspiring me. I'm not above typing writing ideas into Google and looking at other's people's blog posts with tropes and ideas. We all need a help from those who walk the walk, and the smallest thing can set off a gem of an idea. It doesn't matter if you've not written before. Just take an idea and run with it.

I do want to discuss one no no for me. Ideas I won't use - other people's lives down to intimate details. It doesn't matter if they're friends or family, it's still an invasion of their privacy. I did it once as a new writer and as soon as I could I changed the details. It makes me cringe to think I used their lives in my fiction. Never again. 

My epiphany moment was waking up to see Captain Jack Harkness kissing the real Captain Jack in Torchwood. It unlocked so many ideas for me. That was ten years ago. Now I just need 36 hours in the day to write them all.


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