Ideas... from where?
Updated: Sep 5
In the last post, I mentioned that there are three frequently asked questions, and I answered number three. I like to have a sense of order about things, so here's my response to the first question - where do you get your ideas from?
The short answer - everywhere.
Now, for the longer, more detailed answer.
I've written four novels, one published, one on its way in 2021 with Scholastic Australia, and the other two sitting in the cabinet, each in a box, waiting patiently. I also have a junior series that is gathering pace.
All of them have started the same way.
Before the idea, comes a name - the name of the main character/s, and after the name comes an opening line, or a picture forms and then comes a main idea.
Unpacking Harper Holt started with Harper's name. I could picture her. A few days later the opening line arrived - very early in the morning - and then the idea that she was moving. (Btw, after the editing process, on the way to publication, the original first line is no longer is the first line - however I did manage to keep it and reposition it in another chapter - after all, I'm emotionally attached to that very first line).
Everything We Keep started with the main character's name (you'll find out all about her in 2021) then a picture formed of where she was sitting, on a front step, and what she was doing - waiting. For what? At that time, I had no idea.
Then a series of events happened and there it was, the idea. (the series of events is a story for another post).
Book 3 (still searching for a title - another topic to talk about) started with not one, but two names, two characters sitting side by side, one was really sad. Later that same day, as I was walking home from work, an idea arrived. It was fast. I started writing the very next morning. Book 3 was written in three weeks.
Book 4: character's name, where she was - sitting on her bed after a game of hockey - by the end of the first chapter the idea presented itself, not from me but from another character who was there at the right time.
Junior series: names, location, then the idea.
So, they all start with the name of the character, a situation and then comes an idea.
Where it goes from there is not up to me (and this might sound a little bit weird ... before I experienced it myself, I had heard other writers talk about this and I thought it was a little bit weird) because the characters take control. I have no idea where they are going until about a chapter before or, as has happened quite a few times, as the sentence is being written.
While each book has main idea of what is going to happen, at the beginning, through the process of writing lots of other ideas come - and go - depending on where the characters are heading.
Don't get me wrong - I am doing the writing and I do put in things from my everyday life. My favourite biscuit often gets a mention, minor characters are named after our beloved dogs, or friends who have helped throughout the editing, stories from my childhood, and travel get reworked. Characteristics of people I know end up in different characters or blended into one. Sometimes ideas come as I go about my day; I write them down and weave them in later.
Here's an example: I got feedback (on Book 3) from freelance editors I use (you know that's going to be another post) and they presented an observation. Something was missing from the main character - why was that?
It was something that I hadn't noticed - that's what good feedback does - points things out that you may have overlooked.
The next morning I was walking the dogs and strolled (with one blind dog and the other with three legs, we stroll) past our local swimming pool, where a few dedicated local residents were doing laps. I stopped and watched for a few moments - and by the time we finished our walk, the main character was now a swimmer.
The thought stayed with me all day and luckily for me, two of those early morning swimmers are neighbours. That evening I was able to talk, at length, to one of them about what it's like - lap swimming - the feeling of it, the emotion, can you scream underwater? (she actually tested that for me - my neighbours are great!) How many laps can you do in an hour?
I took lots of notes.
Later, via text, they both sent me more thoughts - my understanding grew and from there so did my character. (I have added the importance of friends, when you are a writing, to my list of things to post about. Having said that - friends are important even if you're not writing.)
Early the next morning I began to rework my manuscript - inserting swimming. To my surprise, another character appeared - just walked onto the pool deck and dived in. Like I said - it's weird sometimes.
I suppose what I'm saying is that maybe you don't have to wait for the right idea to come along. Maybe there's a character floating around in your mind - and with that character comes the idea.
I gather things - not ideas but other stuff - words, phrase.... A lot comes from listening and watching to what people say, how they say it, how they move, from stories people tell...
Being a people watcher has its benefits.
I was on a train -ages ago - and two people got on and were talking, not loudly but loud enough for those of us near them to hear. They talked about about Melbourne's changeable weather, getting home before the rain that was sweeping across the bay reached their suburb, what to have for dinner, how the end of the working week couldn't come fast enough, their kids' schools, what's on sale.
It all ended up in the first draft of Everything We Keep - changed to suit the story but the basics are there.
Ideas are everywhere - closer than you think - and the good ones don't leave you alone.
However, for me, it's the characters that drive the story - they seem to know where they're going - and my job is to just write it.