January 12, 2011

Story Ideas - Where do they come from?



As a writer, the question I get asked the most is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’. The answer to this question is very simple. It is also a bit complicated. Confused? Hang in there, I’ll clarify.

Story ideas come to me all the time, from lots of different places. Sometimes it is as simple as a line in a song sparking my imagination. Usually a line of dialogue comes to me first. From there, I begin to imagine just who said it, the hero or the heroine. Or maybe it’s something the villain says. I begin to see the scene unfold. (Yes, as odd as it sounds, my stories come to me like movies in my head.) I have written an entire book around one particular scene.

In fact, this is how After Midnight came to me, as the opening scene—a woman, alone in a bar after closing time, playing the piano.

That’s it. That’s all I had. From there I had to figure out who the hero and heroine were. Why is the heroine sitting in a darkened bar playing a piano? What drew her to play again after years of silence? And finally, how does the hero fit into this picture?

However, not every story idea starts with a line of dialogue. Sometimes it begins with a question. For Not Without Risk, it was this question:

What if a killer set his sights on you and the only way to survive was to revisit a past you swore never to look back on?

For me, story ideas that come to me in the form of a question are easier to flesh out than those where I ‘see’ the scene in my head or that begin with a line of dialogue. Why? Because when I have one question, it’s simple to come up with a second question:

What if you then had to trust the type of man experience told you was untrustworthy?

Then, a third:

What if you fell in love with that man, is love worth the risk?

So you see, for me at least, answering the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is not easy. I get my ideas from everywhere - people, movies, a line in a song, or a news report. From there they either become dialogue, scenes, or questions I feel the need to answer.

Still confused? I think I am. Which brings me to my favorite quote — so true in my case.


"Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing." ~ Margaret Chittenden

13 comments:

Ann Yost said...

Sarah - this post really hit home with me today as I'm officially starting a new book and I can't decide which plot or even which genre to choose! Maybe something will come to me in a nap.

Sarah Grimm said...

Ann - I'm a 'pantser' so whenever I find myself in your position, I usually just start writing. Eventually the characters tell me which way to take the story. LOL

Sarah Grimm said...

I meant to add that sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, I usually learn something new about both the characters and the story.

Leigh D'Ansey said...

Hi Sarah - ideas are always floating around in my head. I'm not certain what makes me hone in on any one in particular. Sometimes a picture or a face or something I read or overhear might bring an idea to life. I do keep an 'ideas' file which could be as long as a paragraph or as short as one or two words.

Leigh D'Ansey said...

Hi Sarah - ideas are always floating around in my head. I'm not certain what makes me hone in on any one in particular. Sometimes a picture or a face or something I read or overhear might bring an idea to life. I do keep an 'ideas' file which could be as long as a paragraph or as short as one or two words.

lizarnoldbooks said...

Great post, Sarah. "What if..." is all I need in just about any situation to get started. It's developing enough of the idea that tells me I've got what I need to continue. Newspaper stories have always fascinated me and provide thinking fodder, but my latest novel grew out of a dream and when I get my guest post finished for you this weekend, you'll find out more!
Liz Arnold
Message to Love
The Wild Rose Press

Sarah Grimm said...

Liz - Looking forward to it!

Sarah Grimm said...

Leigh,

I also have an ideas file. Like you, some of them are just phrases, and then some of them are a few paragraphs of conversation.

Judy said...

Great post, Sarah! I read so many books and wonder where in the world the authors got the idea to write them!
I draw many of my ideas from newspaper stories, facts gleaned from years of genealogical research, specific periods of history in which I'm interested, and just seeing an interesting face on the street. I keep an 'ideas' folder on my computer and also a literal folder with news articles, notes, pictures, etc.

writerwellness said...

Not everybody likes this idea, but I get ideas from my journals.
Joy
Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity
Who Dares Wins Publishing

Rachel Lynne said...

Hi Sarah,
Great post! I'm glad I'm not alone in 'seeing' things! I'm working on a story right now that came to me while my daughter played on the beach at Tybee. I'm staring out at the sea and out of the blue a woman comes up to me dressed in 18th century garb. Go figure, she wants me to help her clear her name and save her life: can you believe the woman was accused of piracy?
Of course, no one else could see her so I chose not to mention the conversation with non-writers: didn't relish the thought of a padded cell!

Sarah Grimm said...

Rachel-

I've never 'seen' anyone in period garb before, but my kids have caught me talking to my chracters before. LOL

They're so used to it that know they ask, "Where you talking to me or someone in your head?"

Joanna Aislinn said...

I can totally relate to your story kernel ideas, especially the snippets that come out of nowhere. It's organizing those snippets into a story that becomes this pantster's challenge.

Thanks, Sarah. Loved the quote at the end, too. So very true, lol.

Joanna Aislinn
Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
NO MATTER WHY
The Wild Rose Press
www.joannaaislinn.com
www.joannaaislinn.wordpress.com