The beginning of a whole new year seems like a good time to think about new ideas. Specifically, new ideas for stories to write. We all have our favorite sources for new ideas. Some pull story ideas from breaking news stories, some from their own personal experiences or struggles, some from the lives of those they know, some from all of the above and more. Next week I’ll share some ways to spark new ideas, but first I’d love to hear your “best practices” in this area.
How do you find new ideas for books?
Look forward to hearing from you!
Since I focus on speculative fiction, my story ideas generally come from provocative “what if” questions.
“What if an arrogant man was turned into a dog and forced to live with people he loathes?”
“What if someone’s dirty laundry sprouted a new life form that demanded to be fed a bag of Doritos every hour on the hour or else it would destroy the entire city of New York?” (Ok so maybe that one stinks–pun intended)
“What if Atlantis was the capital city in the time of the worldwide flood?”
“What if Count Dracula was really just drinking grape juice that whole time, and everyone thought he was creepy only because he had Asperger’s syndrome?”
If you want to do some “concepting,” I’d suggest writing as many “What if” questions as you can in a half hour. Start by writing, “What if,” then choosing a subject, then describing some action the subject takes, or that is taken on it, and suggest or pose the question on what impact this might have. It’s been helpful to me!
Christine L. Henderson
I write devotionals so the ideas come to me from reading the Bible, listening to sermons and noticing the kindness and joy in others.
With my fiction writing, I keep a notepad handy to write down my thoughts when watching a movie or reading a book. Something will inspire me and I’ll think, “What if that character did this instead?” I’ll add those note ideas to my story ideas board. I especially like to reimagine fairy tales.
The Bible’s a pretty good source for storylines…though an update of the Jacob-Leah-Rachel situation would probably not be a good candidate for CBA.
I tend to revert back to my Craftsman class with Jerry Jenkins where DiAnn Mills was my mentor. To start this new class, I had to read the headlines of three different newspapers and then ‘read between the lines.’ The lesson challenged me to ask the what if questions until my thoughts captured an intriguing story. In addition to this technique, as I call it, listening to people talk, watching the news, and watching my favorite detective shows help add useful ideas to my romantic suspense writing.
This is an interesting topic and I am curious about how stories come to other writers. For me it can simply be a single sentence of dialogue that pops into my head or it can be the expression on a stranger’s face. I have gotten story ideas from images in books or magazines and most definitely from research. Story ideas also come to me from the news and stories come to me from conversations. I guess as a writer I am constantly observing everyone and everything!
Yep, definitely with you there, Linda! Most of my inspiration comes from just watching the world around me and letting my imagination run with it ?. And those random sentences that just pop into your head and bring a whole story along for the ride.
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Karen, I find ideas through real life. Since I am focusing on self-help books, I listen to what people say about their needs, ask around to see if others have the same need, and then start my research. That’s the method I used for Suddenly Single and for my two next books, which are sequels for folks with different needs.
Great discussion point, Karen! Where do my ideas come from? Hmmm… well, there’s this little place in Ohio. J/K! 😀
Actually, my ideas come from things that flood my imagination. Maybe it’s a character or a real-world event. Maybe it’s a weary face on a park bench, an entirely ho-hum face perhaps, that I then then envision once commanded armies or seduced kings. Or in the case of my novel, FINDING FAITH, I asked one simple question: “What would happen if a church hired a PI to find a missing pastor?”
Since a lot of my works are adventure thrillers, I pull ideas from headlines. There is plenty happening in the world to evoke ideas in wrtiers. The trick really becomes execution. How do I get my readers to CARE about it? So as I deal with the seed of that idea, be it a character I would like to be or a cool locale I’d like to visit or whatever the stimulus, I expand on that idea by writing about it until I have a clear vision.
And beg pardon while I take the conversation just one step further. I do something that Steve Laube, ironically enough, taught me probably eight or nine years ago now. I write a single sentence, two at most, that sums up the idea. Then I get to work!
Sorry, one more thing to just answer a bit more succinctly your question: “How do you find new ideas for books?”
* Read a newspaper or magazine covering world events
* Flip through a world atlas <== lots of FUN!
* Take a long drive
* Listen to the radio or music
* Take a flash fiction challenge
* Write a short story (to gauge it's novel potential)
I don't watch television programs or news, generally, only because for me reading or listening helps invoke THOUGHT better than a visual stimulus like TV. But that's just me.
Sources for my fiction writing include: current events and building suspense around those events. A second source comes from traveling. What sights did I see that could create a unique scene? A mysterious river? A cave? Then the research begins to help me evaluate if history will support my ideas that will generate interest for readers. If so, the writing begins.
It’s fascinating to see how different people get their story ideas, Karen. I’m glad you asked.
My first story idea was triggered by current events. We support a ministry whose members are mostly converts in areas under attack by ISIS. They routinely risk dying (and some have) to rescue people of any faith from ISIS. Their devotion to Jesus is paramount.
The parallel to the risks involved in following Jesus in Roman times was striking. One night a story came to me set in the time when Christians must sacrifice to Caesar or die. It follows the transformation of a Roman aristocrat from a man dedicated to destroying the followers of Jesus to becoming one himself after he experiences the love and devotion of the real Christians who rescue him in more ways than one.
It’s a complex story with multiple strong, well-defined characters. Some of those and some of the minor characters have taken on lives of their own and become the leads in later stories in the Light in the Empire series. Each story tells of deep cultural conflicts and difficult friendships that turn into love and open the door for a main character to choose to follow Jesus, even when it might prove deadly. The third one I wrote was the first one I published to catch the interest in Roman Judea due to Ben Hur. I’m working on getting the first ready for release, and there will be at least 5 more that share at least one character with a previous story.
Each story has taken form while I’ve been working on a previous one. Sometimes the whole plot comes in a day, sometimes it takes a week or so to fully materialize Then I work to turn the skeleton into a fully fleshed-out manuscript. I can tell I’ll be writing Roman for at least two more years to complete, polish, and publish what I already have plotted, but only God knows what I’ll write after that.
Karen, you doll, I love this question! I’ve been writing/editing/directing Sunday school materials and children’s books all my life. But haunting my writing folder are solid starts to three historical novels based loosely on my old dad’s pioneer experiences as a young boy in Western South Dakota. I’ve moved them to Colorado because my home state has such fascinating history and research travel is easy. Since a brain injury I’ve lost some confidence in my ability to pull off this trilogy, but I believe my love for Dad’s early stories and Western history will take me back to them one of these days.
I love the responses to your question so far. At this moment, I’m writing from my vantage point through cancer. Working title: ‘The Other Side of Illness’. My husband was diagnosed in November, 2015, and the downward spiral to Stage 4 has been the unexpected source of storyline. Difficult, but helps me process my emotions, while helping others who feel alone in the midst of struggle.
New ideas for books/stories? We trained our kids to be creative looking for new uses for products.
The Burqa.My story, “The Burqa Bride” is using the burqa for advantage.
The Portrait. “Portrait of Secrets” What if the portrait caused the death of the loved one?
Red Riding Hood. Used to prevent auto accidents.
once I have a “new” application, the story follows.
Love your ideas! Keep ’em coming, folks.
I write devotionals and short stories, no books as yet. Ideas for devotionals come from nature, personal experiences and reading. Personal experiences and memories of different books I’ve read provide material for short stories.
I read two books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Before I closed the cover of “The Horse and His Boy” spiritual applications of the characters’ adventures started zooming into my mind. The same thing happened with “The Magician’s Nephew”. I wrote down the points to remember them for personal use, not for any writing. This post reminds me that they may show up again, possibly in a devotional or short story somewhere down the road.
Janet Ann Collins
I often get ideas as I’m falling asleep at night or waking up from dreams. I remember family history stories and my own childhood experiences (I write for kids) and add on “What if…? factors. And, of course I get ideas from things I read or see in the daytime, too.
Janet, I’ll have scenes and dialog in my brain when I wake up, too.
Can’t beat everyday life for inspiration! I’m one of those people watchers who loves to imagine the story behind everyone I see.
The other main place I get inspiration is through dreams. I’ve always had very vivid dreams and love all the characters and stories which turn up there (except when I’ve been pregnant ? Dreams are just plain weird when you’re pregnant!). Some are whole stories, others particular characters and others just ideas but they’re all great inspiration.
Oh, and names. Does anyone else ever read a name (of someone you don’t know, like on a gravestone or an honour roll list or something) and instantly have a character with that name come to life? Call it an overactive imagination but it happens all the time to me. Even the name tag of the guy who served me at the checkout last week!
Karen, because I write primarily historical fiction, I find most of my story ideas from unique or mysterious situations in history that I run across. I try to imagine how the situation might have turned out more dramatically, and I consider what kinds of characters might interact best in that enhanced situation.
My ideas usually arrive in that la-la time between sleep and wake. The dream muse is very to me.
YOU ARE AWESOME AND I BELIEVE IN YOUR DREAMS!!!