Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Ideas Hit: The Magic Seeds of Story

When I get a new idea for a story, it comes in weird ways.

Like a random line will pop into my head:

"Usually the hiccups are not life threatening."

... and then I have the fun of creating a story around that idea. Why are the hiccups life threatening this time? Is my MC just really, really dramatic?

Another way I get story ideas is from morbid daydreams. I've had these since I was a child. I'd be sitting in a lecture or something, and suddenly I'd imagine I was being attacked on a date, or a giant spider was skittering toward me, or I was being threatened at the point of a gun. Now what? Yes, I realize I may be unstable. I like to think I'm just imaginative, like Anne of Green Gables or Tootie on Meet Me in St. Louis. If I get an idea this way, I don't have to worry about creating a conflict since the conflict comes already formed.

There's also the occasional regular dream that inspires a whole book. The cool thing about dreams is they can be about one tiny moment in full detail or they can cover a large space of time very quickly. Sometimes, miraculously, they do both. This makes outlining REALLY easy. :)

It's rare for me, but sometimes I'll get a character idea while I'm doing the dishes or jogging around the block. Like one time I was running back up the walkway in front of my place when a tiny dog surprised me. It had no leash or owner in sight! As a jogger, I'm deathly afraid of dogs without leashes or owners. Yeah, even the tiny ones. Then, out of the blue, a college-age guy turns the corner and calls out, "Mack! Come here!" The idea of a little dog like that sharing a name with a burly truck made me laugh (might have also been the relief that the little bugger wasn't going to eat me slowly and painfully). Someday I'll write about this guy who a) bought a tiny dog and b) gave it a really big name. It's not a story idea, but it's a start.

Reading is a surefire way to get creative juices flowing. I'm not the first person to notice this. Reading makes you want to write. Often, I'll read a traditionally bare-boned fairy tale with my kids and my mind automatically goes to fill in the details with intriguing questions. Was the ogre in Puss in Boots really bad? He lived in a castle, so he was some kind of ruler. Was he a tyrant? In what ways did he use his shape-shifting powers to wreak havoc on the peasants? Somehow the cat was able to kill the ogre and take over his castle on behalf of his own master, the Miller's son. Did the ogre have any family who live abroad and visit once a year? Are they all shape-shifters? What will happen when they come for Christmas looking like normal people? Fairy tales are fertile starting ground for all kinds of ideas.

Singing along to my favorite 1980's music. Power ballad lyrics get me every time. That emotion will often inspire scene ideas or a romantic plot arc (not the exact same romantic plot arc in the song).

There are many different ways these magic seeds pop into our lives. I think most of us have a plethora of ideas floating through our heads at any given time. Here's your friendly reminder to WRITE THEM DOWN as they come. Rush over to the computer and put them in your Ideas folder, or keep a pad of paper by the dishwasher.

You never know when the muse may leave you and you'll need a magic seed to get started again.

Hmm, that's got me wondering about a modern retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk... (if it hadn't already been done recently).

How do your initial ideas come?


  1. Mine are often "what if" questions. But actually, the book I'm revising was inspired by a place!

  2. Really? So cool! Whenever a setting inspires the story, I know it's going to be rich and interesting. Can't wait to read it! (p.s. How's that The Clearing sequel coming along?)

    An impatient fan

  3. Love the hiccup question :) Will your write that story, because I would totally read it!

  4. I'll write it just for you, Angie! :) Thanks for brightening my day!


Speak up! You will be heard...or read.