Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Did You Come Up With the Idea for Your Work-in-Progress?

Inspiration is something that really fascinates me. It's quite the magical and mysterious process, whereby either synapses and brain gunk align just so or the idea fairies flutter down from the magical idea kingdom and knock you over the head with idea wands. You know. Depending on your belief system.

What I find interesting about inspiration is that it's something that's mainly outside of our conscious control. It would be pretty nice if you could just make inspiration strike on cue, but then, that wouldn't be much fun, would it? Also it would be annoying to walk down the street shouting, "EUREKA!" every five seconds.

So where and how did you come up with the idea for your work in progress? How fully-formed did it emerge from the inspiration ether? What do you do when you need inspiration to strike?

JACOB WONDERBAR emerged very roughly formed: all of a sudden I decided I wanted to write a wacky middle grade science fiction novel and then simultaneously thought of one of the planets the kids visit, which I shant share because it's a spoiler alert. Everything after that emerged from staring at the screen and wringing out ideas.

What about you? How did you come up with your idea?






316 comments:

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Margaret Yang said...

Journaling. Every single day. It's the only idea factory that I know of.

Richmond Writer said...

I have a cabin up near the SNP and at the visitor center they tell the stories of all these people who were kicked out of the area in order to create the park. One morning the main character just popped into my head including his struggle to survive during the Great Depression without a home or a job because the govt. thought it a great idea to form a national park in an area where people lived.

Kelly R. Morgan said...

I used a generator and got two characters who would never meet each other in a million years. I wondered what would happened if they met and then wondered how they might meet. Gave each of them pretty deep problems and sent them on their collision course.

They are still managing to screw up a lot both separately and together, even in editing.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I must be one of those "annoying" people walking "down the street shouting, "EUREKA!" every five seconds."

Ideas come easily to me. Brainstorming is also one of my better skills.

Their development may take some time, have its ups and downs, but the ideas just are so abundant. I wish there was more time.

Mine start out like "soil samples."
I see what starts to look like fertile ground. Some dead end of course. Others sprout and grow.
Often, I will walk with an idea.
Yep. "Eureka!"

My current WIP came to me by being fascinated with a genre that utilizes a certain motif and by being inspired by several books I had read. I have a philosophy that an interesting idea or motif can be recharged and emerge uniquely through various creative psyches and I trust my imagination to think it through differently as well.Then I was researching things, land, legends, and so on connected to this motif. And as I researched, my own idea hatched.

I think I have more of a problem with the idea being so big that it will be more of a 120,000-130,000 treatment and I realize that can evoke an automatic knee-jerk word-count rejection in many places.

Sara said...

My inspiration came from a poem. I started wondering which choice they made and where they ended up 20 years in the future because of it. The main characters were formed but what their life was like came to me as I wrote it.

Ken said...

It was an image and a bit of premise that hit me in one flash, while I was showering: an abandoned ship floating up against the shore of Gloucester, MA at night, and then bad things happening in the town. I also knew it wasn't contemporary, but nineteenth century. Fast-forward five years, two full rewrites, and a handful of add'l drafts - I just sent the revised ms off to my agent yesterday afternoon.

That initial spark carried me a long way.

sara said...

My inspiration came from reading a crime novel about a hit man and the author's note at the end mentioning what non-fiction books he'd read to help prepare the manuscript. I thought one of the non-fiction books he mentioned sounded interesting, read it, and then wondered what it'd be like to see from a teen's point of view. And from there, I started brainstorming about what would happen to this teen...

Pam Harris said...

I know this sounds really fake, but all my novel ideas actually come from my dreams. I'm one of those weird people who never actually dreams about myself--I dream about actors in some made up movie. While the majority of them are pretty lame, I have found some gems in my head. After I finish my current WIP, I'll start slaving away at the next random dream that I just had.

LGS said...

It sounds so stupid and cliche, but I really did wake up with the characters in my head one morning. I had only an inkling of what the story was about but started writing in a notebook that morning.

Two weeks later I had over a hundred pages written. I've never had a story flow out of me so fast - usually I'm an outliner, a planner - but this time I let the characters show me the story, and it's been great.

Lesson? Learn to listen to your subconscious perhaps?

owlandsparrow said...

I was lying down to sleep one night, and my husband was like, "You've got a speck in the corner of your eye." For some reason, the word 'speck' resonated with me, and made me think of a skinny, scrawny little outcast boy who's never noticed at home and picked on relentlessly at school. Thus, Speck Hawkins was born.

A few days later, I discovered the villain while reading a magazine. I was running (okay, walking briskly...) on the treadmill and turned the page to some fashion article. Staring back at me was a chilling, absolutely perfect villain, complete with a stunning entourage. I looked up latin words for what she reminded me of, came up with a name, and BOOM: my story had a good side and a wicked side. Everything else, I discovered as I wrote it.

Now that I'm editing draft #2, the ideas and characters have solidified. It's so much fun to see how it's evolved!

JMCOOPER said...

The idea for my series started when my son posed a peculiar idea: What if you could draw a picture, put it under your pillow, and then dream about that place that night?

Yeah. I jumped right on that baby. My son gets his name first in the acknowledgments if I get published.

Dara said...

In my geekish-ness, I was reading a collection of Japanese myths compiled by Lafcadio Hearn called "Kwaidan." I was fascinated by the story of the Yuki-onna (snow woman) and thought "What if I told this story from her POV?"

The story just developed from there. It's gone through a lot of changes--including an addition of another aspect of Japanese mythology, the legendary kitsune (supernatural fox spirit) that plays a role in the story.

Most of my ideas come about in similar fashion. I'll be reading an article about some obscure historical event and then story ideas rush to mind. A few of my ideas have come from weird dreams, but mostly something I read sparks the creative electricity.

Molly H said...

Mine was from a writing class, when I misunderstood the "jumpstart" exercise our teacher gave us. She played two pieces of music to inspire us. Most people wrote two different things, but I continued the same story, using the musical change as a catalyst for the story. A girl on a windy terrace at night just appeared in my mind. The young man standing below, wanting to dance with her... That scene is no longer in the manuscript. But I'll never forget it! That spark gave me a whole novel!

Drgnwrtr said...

Which work in progress are you refering to?
Most of my ideas come from I wonder moments or what if. The one I'm working on right now came from a what if. I do have eureka moments too and I have many brilliantly scathing ideas that turn out to be dead ends.
If I'm trying to get to something new and the juice won't flow, I turn to a friend for a simple game of can you and it works every time.

Stephanie said...

A story line on a soap opera is how I came up with my latest finished MS. I just thought, DANG, I could totally write that better!

A few others, including my NA Time travel, was actually a dream I had many years ago. Since I'm a logical thinker, it's been too outside my box until now...now I think I'm sufficiently crazy enough (I've got three kids under 4!) to write it!

Kim Harrington said...

My book developed from one line that appeared in my head. From that one line, I played the "what if" game for a while and came up with the rest.

The line that started it all will be the last line of Chapter Two in the finished version. It will be cool to see it in there. :)

My current wip is the sequel.

Laura K. Curtis said...

One day, the following lines just showed up:

When Momma died, Timmy and I ran. The way I saw it, any man who’d stab a woman five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles, wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life.

Two months later, I finally figured out how they might fit into a story. But that's not unusual for me. I get words or scenes or characters and they just hang around in the background until I figure out where they fit into a story.

Olleymae said...

I got lost in the woods and had that cold, creepy feeling of someone watching me. Then this whole story seeped into my head about a deliciously Dickensian dystopia you can only get to through woods.

The characters and plot stewed in my head for a couple years and then I took a challenge and decided just to get it out once and for all...in one month. Thanks Chris Baty. So now I'm at 40K out of 50K with a few days left to go. (the just created www.mbwcreates.com details the travails)

Thanks for all your fun posts, Nathan!

Trace said...

Usually something that frosts my butt. Something very emotional. A lot of times my ideas come from news stories.

Marilyn Peake said...

The initial ideas for many of my fictional stories come from something I’ve heard on the news. I got the idea for my science fiction novel, GODS IN THE MACHINE, which I’m currently editing, after watching numerous news stories about people seeing religious visions in all sorts of things: religious statues crying bloody tears, the Virgin Mary’s picture in a potato chip and in ice formations on a window, etc. I can’t explain too much either because of spoilers but, in GODS IN THE MACHINE, people are seeing these visions for a reason and the military knows what that is. As I developed the futuristic world of GODS IN THE MACHINE, I also included sightings of green humanoid creatures with large black eyes, as those are also part of our cultural consciousness. In the novel, they turn out to be real, although they aren’t aliens from outer space. Developing a futuristic world is fun – I included space hotels, computers and e-reading devices of the future, time travel and lots of other interesting stuff.

Broadway Mouth Blog said...

I think it's really weeding out all the ideas I don't have time to develop. Inspiration isn't hard . . . Time is hard.

C.S. Gomez said...

I'm not quite sure where my current work in progress came from exactly; I just got the idea one day to do a kind of gentlemen's club collection of stories, where each member would tell a story of what happened to them. All with a fantasy bent, of course. I wanted an element or theme to connect all of them with, and the idea of self-sacrifice popped up from somewhere.

Curiously, I do know where certain elements of it came from. I was reading a book by Alastair Reynolds one day and started liking the name Alastair...and put the prefix Mr. in front of it. There was one of the main characters (in name at least), and I quickly found some others.

The element that most recently crystallized the whole thing for me was remembering an image I saw a long time ago in a book about Shakespeare: there was a section on producing plays and a page that demonstrated old age makeup by putting it on only half of an actor's face, the other half his regular young self. That combined with a completely unrelated note I wrote to myself for a title of another story, and I had the first member telling his story to The Club of Sacrifice Artists.

T. Anne said...

The kernel of the idea for my WIP came to me on a run. The rest of the story took weeks of brainstorming, outlining, plotting, only to be undone by my MC. I do get most of my ideas while working out and listening to music. It's a multitasking thing.

teeny104 said...

A lot of the time the initial idea comes from a dream, or maybe just a character. For my last MS I dreamt of one scene that didn't even make it into the finished product.

Most of the time (yes, I'm fully aware just how crazy this is gonna sound) certain things, ideas or characters or scenarios, sometimes a particular voice just wanders in and boom! I'm frantically trying to find a notebook to scribble the idea down before it disappears.

Seamus said...

I start with characters that are an amalgam of people I know and people I just meet and I pretty mechanically put them in the same scene together. The inspiration comes with the chemical reaction combining them creates.

Melanie Avila said...

My first two novels were inspired by real events, so my eureka moments weren't too life shattering.

My CURRENT new shiny idea was pure inspiration and came to me while driving to see my grandmother (who was in the hospital). I think that means I HAVE to write it. (she's fine, btw).

Keith Popely said...

My novel was originally sparked by an article in the Phoenix newspaper about a 14-year-old who was arrested for stabbing his adult neighbor after the kid learned that the guy had been sexually abusing his 7-year-old brother. The story was quite disturbing to me on a few levels, but primarily because I assumed that the child abuser would probably receive a short sentence, if not simply probation and counseling, while the kid would be charged with attempted murder and could wind up spending a good chunk of his life in prison. It's heavy stuff, but only serves as the catalyst for the story, which is about a group of friends, one of whom is the boys' father, and how they deal with it. The friends are based on men I knew in the Marine Corps. It's actually a pretty funny book, seeing as how marines can view even the darkest events with dark humor. But thinking about the injustice of the true story made me want to explore in writing how I would deal with it if this had happened to the sons of someone I knew.

Alicia A said...

The inspiration for three WIPs and several others in my brainstorming file come from my daily life. If I see an interesting looking person or someone doing something just a little out of the ordinary, I start writing a story for them in my head. As the day progresses the story gets more complex; by the time I get home I have an outline.

Anonymous said...

stole it

Yamile said...

I always wanted to write but my problem was that no ideas ever came to my mind. One night in the summer of 2008, I was in a tiny town and I was waiting for my husband to come home from work. The sounds of rain and the music playing in the playlist I was working on took me back to my country, and these incredible people walked into my mind telling me their story.
I wrote a few scenes, but thought of the characters constantly. That November I participated in Nanowrimo for the first time and wrote a different story.
This last November I worked on my WIP for Nanowrimo, but I already had an outline, character charts and a writing schedule.
Working on revisions right now.
Now the ideas don't leave alone. I know now I can write a book and do it relatively quickly, but it remains to be seen if I can revise and polish something well enough to start querying.

Karla Nellenbach said...

For me, a character will just pop out from out of nowhere and strangle me until I give him or her a name and a life's goal. Then, it is up to him to help me fill in the pieces. At this moment, my main focus is a time-and-space traveling garden gnome. the strange little creatures that stalk me ;)

Melissa Pearl said...

I had just watched the movie 'Anastasia' and decided I'd like to try a modern day form of the story. An initial scene instantly popped into my head and it grew from there. It has actually turned out to be quite different to the Anastasia story, bar the opening sequence.

Pamela Hammonds said...

My current WIP came to life after lunching with a friend. We both have teenage boys and for some reason, I said, "What would you do if..." and the next thing I knew, a story emerged. She and I had vastly different answers to the same scenario, so I knew there was something there.

mardott said...

They just kind of... show up. My first novel, "The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder," came about because I watch movies while walking the treadmill. I'd put in "Titanic" to watch for probably the tenth time, and just started wondering, "Who WAS Thomas Andrews? How did he come to build the Titanic? What was he like?" After a little research, I was in love with the man, and this story just poured out.

But the second novel has me flummoxed. I wanted to write a fantasy, and I had some early notes from "Shipbuilder" that ended up not working at all for that story, so I used them as the jumping off point for the character of Seamus. Once again, when I started writing, the story just appeared under my fingers. But I'd never thought of these characters or this situation before. I don't know where they came from, but "Moon Over Donamorgh," was born anyway.

One of my current WIPs is inspired by my curiosity about living in space. How will humans manage it? Will we have to evolve into a new species, or can we stay homo sapiens? Will we bring our cultures with us, or develop new ones?

Other WIPs are sequels to "Shipbuilder" and "Donamorgh." But the thing is, none of these current projects are as easy to write as the first two. Every day is a struggle, no matter which one I work on.

Does that mean I'm no longer inspired?

Johnnie Donley said...

Several years ago I discovered that German POW camps were located in the U.S. during World War II. And I began to wonder under what circumstances a woman would help a German POW escape. Several months ago, I began pondering the reasons a woman would give her three-year-old up for adoption and tell the rest of the family that the child had died (as an ancestor is rumored to have done). These two seemingly unrelated questions sparked the idea for my protagonist, though it turns out (in the story) her child was stolen from her instead of being abandoned.

Anonymous said...

I was playing beer pong on a friend's front porch, during and thunderstorm, and thought: "Gosh, this would be a lot more fun if the beer did some weird magical thing when you drank it."

60,000 words later...

bfav said...

My kids' day-to-day life, dreams, and crazy inspire me. I want to live in middle grade, and my current work-in-progress came to me from something funny my child said as we walked to the park. I laughed, and then asked myself "what if?" By the time we got home, I had the whole plot storyboarded in my head.

Vacuum Queen said...

I used to teach elementary school, and so teaching writing was included. Although the schools want you to teach the kids to write 5 paragraph essays at all times, I also threw in creative writing. :) The big thing I always tried to put in was to ask "What if?"

And so, while life just exists around me, instead of just having it happen, I try to ask myself What If type of questions. There are endless story ideas daily if you open your mind to it. :)

SOOOOO....I live in a small town where something seems to happen to each generation and everyone just goes on about their way without a controversy happening. I don't get it. I asked myself, "What if that happened to me? Would I react that way?" And I definitely wouldn't. And then I started a story based on that. WAY worked through in my head with conversations of what would I have done if I were in the situation before I even started writing.
Like half a year pondering it....

JustineDell said...

MY current wip came after a fight with the hubby...weird - I know.

marielanderson said...

Read an article in the New Yorker.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Obsession. Simple obsession. I've had a thing for years about 1930s England's politics and personalities and I know how to write mysteries.

word verification: 'facin'. Pronounced with a long 'a' I'm feeling somewhat nonplussed, pronounced with a short 'a' I'm definitely so.

Not a lot of win there.

jessjordan said...

Years ago, my husband and I were talking about how his bestie really needed to get out there and date more, but he's a totally introverted computer nerd. I mentioned online dating, and then then something in the back of my head clicked. I had to stop the conversation and pull out my computer. I threw the idea in my "idea file" and moved on. Back then, it was for 20-somethings. Now, it's YA.

Scott said...

This may sound horribly cliche, but I discovered the "hook" of my latest novel lying in bed in that semi-waking state. After that, I just wrote like mad. All I need's a good hook, and I'm off.

Matthew Delman said...

My current WIP, Callarion at Night came about because the phrase "God, satyrs are annoying" popped into my head one day in 2005 while I was driving to college.

Mind you, the phrase now doesn't appear anywhere in the text, but figuring out why satyrs were annoying helped me discover the world.

Madison L. Edgar said...

I got my 7th form rejection letter and I was really pissed - not at the agent (much), but more at myself for allowing my confidence to build regarding that project.

So, I letter my anger seep into my writing, whipped out a pencil and just wrote the first thing that came out. My first line was, "I killed a cat once."

In a weird way, I think this is some of my best writing.

Kelly Lyman said...

The inspiration of my WIP came from a dream I had as a little girl. It's a dream I had constantly growing up. Last year, my oldest experience his first nightmare and tried telling me about it and my memory stirred. I decided to write it down. It has since become very different, but the start of grew from that.

Amanda said...

Honestly, I'm not really sure. It started as two different stories and then I decided I liked the character's voice in one, but the plot of the other, so I merged them. I knew I wanted it to be a bit quirky and fun, but to have serious stuff, as well. It's pretty much been forming itself as I've written. :-)

The other one came about when we were at the lake in Louisiana this summer. I love the cajun culture and wanted to center a story around it.

L-Plate Author said...

Hi Nathan. I write about life on a social housing estate. I was a housing officer on a notorious housing estate, working for the local authority for eight years, so have lots of inspiration as I've lived the job. Not sure where some of the violence comes from though, I blame the fairy sitting on my shoulder as I type for that...Mel x

Cid said...

For me?
1) Dreams. I dream vivid, weird dreams and I write them down. My current novel is the product of that.

2) The Shower. I think in the shower.

3) Driving. With music on and the wind-in-my-hair (hey, I drive a Jeep in Texas!) it's inspiration, though with gas prices at times it's an expensive and last option inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Wife and I talking about the news, the movie Idiocracy, and how the two were sickeningly related. Sprinkle in a dash of cynicism, a love of dystopian epics, and 80,000 words later the first draft is nearly completed.

Scott said...

My novel started out as an attempt to write a screenplay for the Rush "2112" suite of songs. I love dystopia stories and I loved early Rush music, especially 2112.

But not being close personal friends with Neil Peart and Rush, I knew it was a dead end. So I turned it into my own story, inspired by 2112's sentiments of individuality and breaking free of oppression. I morphed it into a young adult novel (and I'm playing with a screenplay version of it as well).

MZMackay said...

The idea for my WIP came from a freewrite exercise that seemed to revolve about a floating ball of light. The result of the freewrite was utter gibberish, but I found a seed in it that I have now planted and am nurturing to full growth. I hope...

Josin L. McQuein said...

I saw an interview with someone who was talking about a nightmarish experience on vacation where ants poured into their room from a tiny hole in the wall.

Once the lights were out, the interviewee and her partner were set upon by this horde of little feet as they covered the room (This was a rustic hotel in S. America where they turned the generator off at 10pm to conserve fuel).

One jumped up and ran for the shower to get the ants off, the other grabbed a flashlight to see what was going on.

That interview triggered the idea for a scene with this kid waking up to find her wallpaper moving... and the rest came from there.

The in progress MG novel came from a phonetic hiccup where I heard something the wrong way and thought "That would make a great story!!!"

destrella said...

The Goonies. What kid would not want to read about friends, treasure, bad guys and pirates????

Deb said...

My WIP is a revenge novel. At the age of 9 I was angry at my parents for being odd and controlling, and the only thing I could do was vow someday to write a book about it in which the kid triumphs. Here I am, at 40, doing just that.

jill said...

I'm currently working in three different 'universes' of stories. The first story in each started with a dream -- My muse/subconsscious gave me the first one I wrote (after many years of real life keeping me from writing) almost complete. For the second two I only got the first scene and had to figure out who these people were and what happens next.

Subsequent stories in the universes start with thinking about what would be hardest/worst/challenging for this character to do next.

K.L. Brady said...

Watching too many friggin' romantic comedies.

I love romantic comedies and watch them over and over and over again. And sometimes I think I hold real men to movie standards which is bad bad bad...because the men in those movies only exist in scripts.

So, I thought about what would happen if some quirky (slightly delusional) rom-com addict tried to find love by recreating her favorite movies in her own life. Thus, Who Wrote MY Script??? was born.

It's been a hoot to write. Lots of humor but lot's of truth about women and our often skewed perceptions of what relationships are supposed to be...and learning to accept men for who they really are.

Aaron Pogue said...

My most recent series came out of a philosophical conversation. I was talking with a friend about the impact modern (and near-future) surveillance systems could have on the old religions.

Specifically...what happens when there are no dirty little secrets anymore, when core human behavior gets exposed for everyone to see? I wanted to know so badly that I built and populated a whole world to see how it played out.

Answer: Better than you might think.

mkcbunny said...

A series of stressful events happened in my life. While I laughed at some and resolved others, I thought, how would a less stable—OK, completely wacky—person handle all of this? And thus an eccentric character portrait was born.

Kate said...

I wanted to write a story set in my home state, where I no longer live (but long for), one that illustrated its crude flaws as well as its awesomeness.

Then, I started analyzing every story I encountered--in books, television, movies, etc.--in terms of "Why is this awesome? What makes it so? What makes ME love it? Or NOT?" I noticed trends in the moments, plots, and dynamics that I particularly loved, as well as in stories that didn't love as much.

And without a doubt, characters and plot lines in my WIP have been inspired by real life experiences of my own or of others. Some characters are caricatures of people I've known in real life.

Lastly, my WIP has gone through several drafts in which the plot has changed significantly. Because I got another great idea that emerged through writing. Characters changed and got all feisty on me. I think I'm there now.

Maybe...

Munk said...

Music, exercise, bad movies and sticky situations... its been said that sticky situations are the mother of eureka... or something like that.

Misty said...

Hey Nathan, I lived mine. And then I padded it with fiction. The others, I pick a place I've been and make a story out of it. Or I read something and >pouf< or I smell coffee and >tada<. Cinchy. Yeah right.

hollywoodclown said...

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 18 years old (I'm now 40), I performed at children's birthday parties here in Los Angeles for several years and I have every party I’ve ever done written down. I never realized how competitive and political the world of kid’s parties was until I was deep in it.

When I traveled and told people that I was an actor in L.A. and rather than wait tables to make ends meet, I dressed up like Barney, a Teletubbie or a pirate for birthday parties they were always fascinated, especially by the celebrity stories. They would always say, "You should write a book."

So I did using the notes from my journals. I have been told by some writer friends that once my book gets published I may never work as an actor again because of the celebs I name in my book (Steven Spielberg & Kate Capshaw
Robert De Niro & Pamela Anderson Lee to name a few). But I'm willing to take that chance.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I write together. Our inspiration for our latest novel came from our cat. Have you ever noticed that there are times where for no reason you can readily see a cat will run out of a room? Where is he going? Why now?
How did he get that scratch on his eye when he has no claws? All interesting questions...
PLJ

Rick Daley said...

FATE'S GUARDIAN was born from tragedy. In 1999, I lost my father-in-law in a motorcycle accident. In 2001, I lost my mom to cancer. The differences in their passing - one sudden and one slow - got me thinking about life and death in new ways (at least new to me at the time).

Ultimately the line of thought led to a story where a man must die in order to save his soul from a vengeful ghost, even if it means leaving his family behind.

On the lighter side, one day a thought hit me out of the blue: God is going to destroy the world but he can't decide how to do it, so He comes down to earth and hires a consultant (EARTH'S END).

Also, when my oldest son was a toddler he would fart, as toddlers are known to do from time to time. "Who are you? Rudy Toot-Toot?" I would ask him.

"Who's Rudy Toot-Toot?" he asked in response.

I had to think of something, so I said, "He's a little boy who was born on a bean farm." And I'm hoping the rest will be history!

Rebecca Lynn said...

I had a dream. Pretty much start to finish, the plot line was just there in my head. I had to go back in and add some back story and put a bit more at stake for the characters, and do a lot of research. But I literally woke up one morning and wrote the synopsis of my current WIP from the dream I'd just had, like I was watching a movie in reverse. It was amazing.

Matilda McCloud said...

My ideas come out of nowhere and I can't force them--I just have to wait until one appears. The last idea came to me while I at a synagogue during a Bar Mitzvah. Boom--I had an idea....but I think it had been kind of percolating in my mind for a while. Then it was reinforced by a fortune I got in a fortune cookie at the reception later!

Regan Leigh said...

My 1st WIP idea came from a short writing exercise I found in The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. I wrote one scene and realized that I could see how the story would keep unfolding. (Great book, btw.)

My 2nd WIP idea started with the MC. His character/personality popped into my head after I decided on a name. His voice was very clear and I felt I knew him well. The plot came from that.

Sarah Mullen Gilbert said...

My husband was wandering the house in his underwear, and this paragraph about boxers vs. briefs popped into my head. It didn't make it into the WIP, but gave me a strong start on the middle school voice! (My husband didn't find the paragraphs very funny, fun hater)

Jille said...

I was watching a mediocre show and became interested in one of the minor characters more so than the main ones. I was like, "Huh, I wish they focused on her more." Then I started to think about what her back story would be and one thing led to another...

and now I'm doing rewrites on my second draft. which I really, really want to finish b/c I just had a dream about another idea that I can't wait to get started on.

Valerie said...

I was having a really crappy weak and I wanted to read something where a girl who's underestimated kicks butt. I couldn't find anything, so I wrote it myself!

Holly Bodger said...

I was working on a different book about a quirky, bad-ass kind of teenage girl when I went on vacation to Cavendish, PEI. While there, I was thinking that it looked like Anne of Green Gables threw up on the town and that gave me the idea to immerse bad-ass girl in AGG Land.

Ainsley MacQueen said...

For some unknown reason, my attention is drawn to the screen in my head and I watch a scene.

For the next hour I think about what I've seen and the possible backstory, and then I go forward with what happens next.

If that isn't inspiration, I don't know what is.

Ulysses said...

The germ of the idea hit me while I was listening to Enya's Oronoco Flow. Throw in creation mythology, the Spanish conquest of the New World, the slave trade, and the war on drugs.

Weird, huh?

Scott said...

I pretty much start with a general idea and sort of wing it. The project I'm getting ready to query sometime this year emerged from real life events that I decided to fictionalize to the best of my ability. My current WiP, well, it's an idea that I've been knocking around in the recesses of my mind for a while and finally decided to put down on paper.

abc said...

I have a few WIPs. The one I'm working on most heavily is inspired by an event that happened in my childhood--a fellow 6th grader getting in an accident and dying a few days later. We didn't really believe stuff like that could happen.

Another one is based on a mix of my own high school experiences and those I would have liked to have had.

And for another I had the title just pop into my head. It was so intriguing I decided I better write a book to go with it.

Anonymous said...

My husband is a deputy sheriff, so he comes home with interesting tales. Once he told me about a death that was called a suicide with the body in one room, the gun in another, and the house caught on fire. Hmmm. Also, we have a "spa" that rents out hot tubs by the hour. (ahem) It's been raided several times. One of the workers threatened to spill a clientele list. Voila!

I have a former spa girl with a history of cutting that is found in the woods and dead by slit wrists. The teen who found the body watched as his deputy father and his co-workers look over the scene and dub it a 'suicide'. He and the victim's cousin solve the murder mystery. 10-41 DAVID is in revisions as I type.

WandaV

MC Rogerson said...

I get a lot of ideas from places and landscapes - they inspire me to imagine hidden worlds.

Folklore also plays a big part in my stories. I love bridging between legend and real life. I'm a complete fantasist!

S. Melville said...

I was cutting an onion (or something) on the cutting board with a really huge knife, and I wondered what would happen if I accidentally cut one of my fingers off. And then I wondered what would happen if I cut my finger off as a mentally unstable man from the 70s with drug problems. Viola, I found myself stuck with yet another novel.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Oh yeah, the opening scene to my novel out on sub at the moment came from when I almost drowned at 15. No idea how I forgot that one.

Project Savior said...

I start with What If?
Like What If Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "1984" existed at the same time?
Would it be an all out war? No
Would it be like the Cold War? Probably.
Why would they have conflict? Resources.
How would they interact? Badly
Where could this take place? The Inner Solar System.
And finally who would stop them from destroying each other? My Hero is born.
From that What if, I just needed to add the journalistic 5 W's and the book (or in this case the trilogy) is mostly written.

Mira said...

Cool question, Nathan, and your first paragraph was really funny. I liked the belief system part. :)

Interesting to read the comments.

One way inspiration sometimes strikes me is through words. A phrase hits me, and I can see it as the title of a book or a chapter. Then I put together the puzzle pieces of the work to match the title.

For example, in conversation yesterday someone said to me the words, "It's an act of great cruelty." Part of it is the context - it was a truly profound comment in context and it really struck me.

All day today, I've been rolling that over in my mind - the words, the meaning of the words, how I could express that....the chapter title: An act of great cruelty...

Keren David said...

News reports. Possibly because my background is news journalism. For my first novel When I Was Joe I saw a report about a boy who was a witness in a trial, and whose family had to have new identities. I began thinking about how the witnesses had suffered almost a worse fate than anything handed out to the criminals.
For my WIP I read a news report and thought yes!!!!

Kristina said...

A character just kinda hit me. Then I thought about a protagonist. Then the situation just kinda flowed.
A lot of my ideas from dreams. A LOT.

Anonymous said...

OMG! The i-pad!!!!!! I WANT it!!!!!!

Allison Harter said...

Coffee, lots of coffee...

Southpaw said...

Walking home in the rain and watching the rain splatter on the bricks.

Karen said...

My TOTALLY FICTIONAL work-in-progress is semi-autobiographical. I took a situation from my life and and reworked it so that it turned out the way I wanted it to. Oh, and I made it funny instead of angsty and sad.

Veronica Barton-Dean said...

My current project is based on my hockey goaltending sister and her former boyfriend who also goaltends. In September, he signed with his first professional team. This milestone brought about numerous conversations amongst my siblings. It brought about the "what ifs" and that brought on the project.

Bane of Anubis said...

NFC or OoTA usually.

Samantha Clark said...

I got the inspiration for my work in progress when I was digging new flower beds in my backyard with my dad. I got the inspiration for my planned next book while I was watching a show on TV, but I can't remember which show. And two days ago I got inspiration for another book while I was walking our dog past a lighthouse at the end of our street.

All three came to me as a kind of one-sentence pitch, but with a little more rumination I had the whole basic story and characters for each, just not the details. Those come with the writing.

Not if I can only get more time...

J. Koyanagi said...

I write speculative fiction; for me, plots emerge from "What if?" questions. I know I've got a good one if I'm still excited about that single "What if?" when I wake up the next day.

Snarky Writer said...

Interestingly enough, an academic paper for my Folklore class. I was researching the folklore of Appalachian miners and found the whole thing so fascinating I decided I needed to set a short story there. It's not a short story anymore.

Polenth said...

Mine was a mix of getting a cockroach as a pet and noting that animal companions in books were always things like dragons or wolves. It all built from there... thinking about the sort of person who'd bond with a cockroach, what sort of world a cockroach would thrive in, etc.

If it ever gets published, I'm dedicating it to my cockroach.

robin said...

Pretty much all my ideas come from other books or movies -- it can be a short scene, a comment or something which causes me to stop and think, "What if it didn't end like that but like this?" By the time I've written the book, however, it so little resembles the original story (which inspired the idea) that I often can't remember where I got it -- this happens especially often because I tend to mix stories/settings/characters, etc to make it work the way I want it to.

Richmond Writer said...

SnarkyWriter,

Hey if you're researching Appalachian life check out the Library of Virginia. You can inter-library loan some excellent books on general life in the mountains.

Katrina Powell wrote two good ones.
John Gaventa wrote Power and Powerlessness which is about the coal miners in Tenneesee. It really opens your eyes to their situation.

DG said...

I've always loved to write but was not even thinking about writing a novel when the inspiration for my first novel hit.

In 2003 when Columbia broke up on reentry, I read every article I could find on the subject. Then the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report was published that explained the accident in great detail. I read every word of it. In doing so I discovered a well hidden appendix that outlined a rescue plan NASA engineers had devised.

In the aftermath I found myself sort of blue, upset that the rescue hadn't happened. I thought of all the implications the rescue of an international crew would have had on the world, with America still reeling from 911 and the war with Iraq just a month away.

Anyway, I realized the only way I could get peace was to rewrite history. So I did.

Paul Greci said...

My idea for my current WIP emerged from two very different things. One was a remote beach in Alaska with huge, thousand year old trees, the other was interacting with my students, many had absent fathers.

Suzannah said...

I moved to a different country a few years ago. After being away for so long, I started to appreciate home all the more.

So I began thinking about the connections we have to the places we consider home, and how we (some of us at least) can never really get away from our roots.

It was the setting, more than anything, that really got me. A place that once seemed so mundane became fascinating, beautiful, and dangerous, once I had a chance to distance myself from it.

My characters and conflict arose from there.

Now, back to work. You're very bad to distract us with such interesting questions.

Joya said...

After I read Marley & Me I thought that I could take the stories from my travel journeys and transform it into a manuscript. I figured that if that many people connected with a man and his dog, then there are just as many people out there who might connect with my travel stories. I love travel and enjoy writing about it so why not?

ryan field said...

I loved reading all the different creative comments on this post.

Kristi said...

Dreams - I've always been a vivid dreamer. My three works-in-progress have come that way and the nice thing is that the plots are pretty much laid out when I wake. However, I still have to flesh them out -- which takes forever! 2 are written but feel like they'll never be revised.

Lynn said...

I love Jennifer Weiner's answer to that question. On her FAQ page, she responds, "Target. They have everything at Target."

For me, it started as something memoir-ish, but as I embellished and invented characters I discovered that what I created was waaaaaay more interesting than what I have actually experienced in life. Also, the whole James Frey/Oprah thing scared the memior right outta me.

Amanda said...

It started as a diary entry for an Amber game, then became the basis of a short story for a writing class, then when I decided I really needed to stop writting fan fiction and create my own world, it looked like a good place to start.

Thermocline said...

I went to summer camp as a kid and worked there as an adult. Most of the camp novels I could find had psycho killers, were chick lit, or just too over-the-top goofy to be believable. I wanted one about a boy I could relate to set in a realistic camp. So, I started writing it.

K said...

I love urban fantasy, and I don't even remember how, but one day I just asked myself "what if?" about a bunch of situations. They led to more what ifs and I wrote what ended up being the first chapter and a few of the more high-action scenes. It took about a year and a writing class deadline to even think it could be a book. Now I'm about to start the query process! :)

Blogging Mama Andrea said...

I heard about this blog called Fiction 500 where you write a complete story in only 500 words. So I sat down and wrote the story. After I submitted it I couldn't stop thinking about the character (who is on the ledge of a roof contemplating suicide) and how she got there. I started writing out her story and boom, I'm 175 pages into it.

Bryan said...

I like this post Nathan because after reading through...I am amazed at how many did come from a dream. My novel came to me in a dream but several dreams over a month while I was laid up from back surgery. Wait...was it the drugs? Who cares, it is out with queries as we speak!

abc said...

I wanna read Hollywoodclown's book!

Nick said...

The idea, as it were, was more of a thread of ideas spread over time:

I'd been working on one of my short stories featuring Ian Goodenough. The Goodenough stories are meant to be fluffy throwbacks to the days of Arthur Conan-Doyle and Agatha Christie; days when a mystery was about the fun of solving a case, and damn the realism so long as there was an ounce of plausibility. But from the moment I started working on Goodenough, I knew I also wanted to write mysteries with a more serious, darker slant. Stories which more aptly fit the title of "crime novel".

I was working on one of the Goodenough stories, hit a bit of stoppage, and my mind just kind of wandered. The name of the protagonist for this WIP came to me during that, and my mind refused to let me go back to Goodenough until I was done with this new character (and honestly now I may only write Goodenough when I have nothing better to do, as a hobby). But I still had no plot. Didn't even really have a setting.

Initially I wanted to set it in Philly, but in spite of the fact that I only live some fifteen or sixteen miles out of the city, I don't know Philly that well. I've been up to New York numerous times and have a decent mental handle of NYC, both the tourist-heavy areas and not-so-touristy. I've been to Boston quite a few times as well, thanks to my maternal uncle and cousins living up that way. But, I still don't know US cities very well. I have a finer mental handle on Manchester, Norwich, London, Oxford, Inverness, and Glasgow. So, the solution then was to blend what knowledge I had of US cities with a light peppering of UK cities and dump it in the big bowl of my imagination and invent a fictional city. At the moment I have a name I'm using for it in my MS, but I'm still grappling as to whether I want to use the name I'm using now as a placeholder, or if I want to use another name.

As for the characteristics of the protagonist...I was thinking about the hero and knew basically what I wanted him to look like, how old he would be, etc. When I write, I picture actors in my head, performing an audio drama, because I used to be ghost writer for audio drama, and honestly I find audio drama the best form of entertainment (and so, so criminally underused these days). So I didn't have an actor for a while. I just had an outline of his body, and no actor was coming to me from that. Then one day I was watching something, I forget what, and there was an Irishman who was a bit of a deadpan snarker, and he just seemed so, so perfect for the role of my hero that I was like YES! And from the thought of my hero being an Irishman came all of the other characteristics. Although how his being Irish lead to my thinking of him as a great, hulking bear of a man who looks slightly overweight but his girth belies his strength is beyond me. His personality had more or less been there from the beginning, and has just been developing naturally.

Long post is long, so I'm forced to break here and continue.

Nick said...

And continuing from where I left off:

As to my villain, I knew I wanted to do something with this character vs a serial killer. I wasn't sure I wanted to use it as the first novel, and indeed I may even hold off on publishing this one, or publish it first and if a series comes out of it, like I hope one will, just state that this one takes place later than other ones. But anyway, the only other thing I had in mind was I wanted the killer to change his MO from kill to kill. Target type, method used, everything. But the story stalled from there, because I was trying to think of good, fun ways to kill people. And I was also setting up my Big Board (yes, I keep a big cork board like you'd see on a cop show; it's hanging beside my bed presently).

During that stall, I opted to watch Manhunter, just 'cos I was curious as to what Brian Cox's portrayal as the first man to have played Hannibal Lecter was like (after all, I'd already seen Red Dragon and thus knew the plot). Read later that Cox based his portrayal upon Peter Manuel. Read the whole wikipedia article on Manuel and just sort of knew that, yeah, I wanted this guy to be my primary basis for my killer. So I've been modifying (although barely) Manuel's killings and peppering in a few original killings (as in, not ripped from Manuel or another killer) to act as his victims. And I've taken the details of the recent, horrible, horrible incident with a sixth-form student named Asha Muneer and applied it as a killing for my killer.

All of the other cogs are just falling into place as I'm writing. Really ideas just strike me randomly, too. One of the "original killings" is done by raping a teenage girl, then dumping her in an acid bath until she's been skinned, and burying the skeleton in a corn field (to which the killer shall lead the police later, post-arrest, as no one is going to find that given the time of year). I was walking down the hall two days ago just sort of mulling over a conversation in the early part of the book and trying to decide how I wanted a specific joke to work, and all of a sudden it came to me and I just shouted "YES! RAPE AND ACID BATH!" and tore off down the hall to my class so I had a hard surface to set down a scrap of paper on and write it down. I have a feeling I may have deeply disturbed my fellow students.

MJ said...

Listening to someone's family history. A story she told turned into another story.

Jonathon Arntson said...

It's called being observant. Whether you're paying attention to the people on the street, your dreams, or another writer's voice.

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

A past experience + "what if" = current WIP. I don't remember when, where, or any of that, but all of a sudden, the "what if" came to me one day while I was working on another project and I wrote out the question. And that's how what I'm currently working on started.

Nick said...

Oh, and not so much this current WIP, but I have a habit of snooping in everything. Medicine cabinets, desk drawers, manila folders. Anything and everything that can be opened, gazed at, read, studied, and so on, I will. You can learn more about a person from what they keep on their desk or in their medicine cabinet than you can from weeks or months of conversation. Invading another person's privacy is really one of the greatest tools you can have, I think.

attackfish said...

After a close friend of mine committed suicide, I deliberately set out to think of a new novel idea. I kicked around ideas with another close friend in the same situation, and got a proto form of my current story.

Grimmster24 said...

I am PROUD to say that my idea for my WIP, "The Protectors" came about purely because my good friend Laura wants to be an animal cruelty investigator for the ASPCA. My character is a lot like Laura, and that's not an accident, of course.

Other daily inspiration I use often are quotes about writing that I come across. Then I post them above my head next to the computer. They're surprisingly helpful on those days when the words don't come easily. :-)

Ant said...

Standing in line at Barnes and Noble behind a very vocal middle-aged mom. She was attempting to return the first book in a super popular vampire series written by a Mormon mother in Utah. AHEM. She ranted and raved about the inappropriateness of the series for her fourteen year old daughter while the embarrassed teen stood by, face crimson and looking like she'd be thrilled if the floor would just open up and swallow her whole. My first thought as I listened to the hysterical mother was "WOW...I wonder what it would be like to live with such an overbearing (w)itch!" VOILA...my new WIP was born...

Karla said...

A random thought I had while sitting in the drive-thru line for coffee one morning. I went home and wrote it up as a flash, then it grew.

Gary said...

Strange as it may sound, I often browse the pages of--dare I say it--Wikipedia looking for odd and curious entries. This usually sets the brain a simmering; at least for me it does. This is how I came up with the idea of my most recent novel.

coffeelvnmom said...

I was lying in bed one night, trying to fall asleep, when a scene came to me. Green light, and... go.

Heidi Thornock said...

I'm a dreamer. My best ideas come from dreams, some more defined than others.

But that also means I don't have an endless supply of worthwhile ideas, which is frustrating when you wonder what the next WIP will be.

Ed Miracle said...

It was the voices.

Tell me, Ed, do you often hear little voices?

Yes, I hear them all the time.

Well, what do they say?

They say, "Tell me, Ed, do you often hear little voices?"

Anassa said...

I've always had imaginary worlds that I set my daydreams in, and I experiment with tropes, situations, and dumping characters from one world into another. One day I hit on a combination of young adults, superpowers, the future, and a teenage superhero mentoring an older newcomer, with lots of relationship-based irony. It said "write me!"

Heather Wright said...

My current WIP came out of an exercise I gave my high school writing class: Start a story in which your character finds something small. I wrote along with them and my character found a sword. 34,000 words later it's still getting him into trouble and I'm enjoying every minute.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I don't want to spoil mine either, but it was one of those "What if X group of people were afraid of Y scientific concept and did Z as a result?" moments that came out of the blue. I then had to wrestle with whether I had just had a conceit or an Idea before finally deciding on the latter. Then I had to convince myself I wanted to write about that group of people since it's been frequently done. I think and hope my take on it is original enough, though.

Since I'm (hopefully) almost finished with this one*, I'll also just say that the idea for my next project came from a character's face and general background just appearing in my mind one day. I still haven't quite got the plot figured out, since I'm concentrating on the current project, but she was so strong in my mind that I knew I had to write about her.

*(Current WIP is taking far longer to write than I've anticipated, and really should be 2-3 books no matter how much I want to whittle it down to one.)

Moira Young said...

In 2006, I had a short story published. It was told from the perspective of a healer's familiar, a cat, who helps his human with day-to-day magical affairs. Everthing changes the day a little girl comes to town, fleeing from someone who wants her dead. When her adult escorts die, she winds up living with the healer and the cat.

Turns out that little girl has a big secret. And even though I never intended it to happen this way, her story niggled in the back of my mind for about six months. I decided to try to write it for NaNoWriMo, but I was in school, and it never happened. I picked up the story and put it back down a few times while working on other projects, and then in August of 2008, inspiration finally struck. I finished the first draft last June, and the second back in November.

Now that I've had a chance to relax and get over myself, I realize that it has a lot more work, and that the story was too complex to fit into a single book. The challenge won't be splitting it into three (that's fairly easy), it will be making three cohesive novels, the first which should stand alone enough so that I can sell it. Oh, and avoiding trilogitis, where the middle book is bland filler with little bearing on the first and third books, and the villain is some no-name hack.

D. G. Hudson said...

My idea for the work-in-progress came from a conversation about science fiction, and some of the well-known SF authors.

I've also researched the finer details via NASA and picked up a few ideas from that as well. I've always been a spacer at heart.

Another WIP came about because of a stolen weapon. That one just grew on its own.

Sarah W said...

I became really, really frustrated at work one day and wrote a short story about armed (and well-paid) librarians who can enforce the rules with 32-caliber Hushmasters--and library materials that explode if they leave the library without being checked out. Revengefic, pure and simple.

But then I started thinking about the circumstances under which such a library system would have been created--it would take a complete paradigm revolution . . . and then I realized that I was writing the thesis of my MC . . . and then I realized I had an MC . . .and a WIP.

Nikki Hootman said...

An image popped into my head for no particular reason: a smallish guy in a long black wool coat and wire-rimmed glasses reclining on a lounger on the deck of a cruise ship in the fog.

I realize that's bizarrely specific, but it happened. I wondered who that dude was and why he was on the ship, and a short story was born.

And then I thought, the more interesting story is really how the dude ended up on the ship in the first place. And a novel was born.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

What a delicious question.

The idea for my, let us call it, revision-in-progress (work-in-progress is too depressing), came to me at the park, among several very large evergreens on top of a hill, planted in a staggered fashion, so you wound your way among them - so there I was, winding my way, batting at the branches, because it was spring, and the trees were full of yellow pollen, and I could release huge clouds of pollen that way.

Anyway, my MC wears a gigantic yellow dress - there was just something about the juxtaposition of those huge evergreens and their ephemeral yellow pollen - a story in there - the tension between winter and summer, embodied in the person of a Snegurochka - Mother Frost - which I now wonder, may share some mythic geneology with a Yuki-onna, as mentioned by Dara.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I was writing a pretty generic fantasy story and really hating it, flailing about trying to make it something with some merit. Inspiration came from a TV special about drug addiction. I though hey that's an interesting issue - how can I use it?

Well, you take away heroine and replace it with magic and you have something worth writing about...

Ink said...

Story ideas come from a variety of smaller ideas. Images, mostly, but sometimes lines, or titles, or words. Characters, sometimes, or sounds, or situations. These little fragments sprout from experiences, things I see or overhear or read, or they simply appear on their own.

But the story idea almost always comes from more than a single fragment. Rather, these fragments circulate around in my head for awhile. Things percolate, the fragments bouncing around on the bubbles, and then one day, all at once, a few of these fragments will bump into each other... and stick. It's the sudden fusion of these disparate parts that forms the eureka moment for me.

Current WIP was:
- an image of deep fog slowly filling the valleys of a series of rolling hills.
- the head of a wolf
- a character hurdling a fence
- a white crow
- the line "dark hills dreaming of the dead"
- a rotted barn at night
- dust churned off a dirt road by marching soldiers
- a barren patch of earth beside a little lake on the high shoulder of a mountain
- a giant mushroom

Somehow that all fits together, trust me. Needed a lot of glue, though.

ramblingsfromtheleft said...

Nathan: I think by the time you find this you will have heard every conceivable way to find an idea ... but what the heck. I take this from a journal of crazy notes I save, sometimes use on my blog.

Enjoy:

Characters:
Around and around they run in the hamster’s wheel, stuffed into a trunk from the Belasco or the Majestic. Depression musicals, old black and white melodrama or the innovative and hilarious humor of comics and variety shows from fifties and sixties television.
Listen to them at lunch counters.

Watch a husband and a wife, mid-seventy to eighty argue in a supermarket. “All right already, Ethel, get the damn brisket.”

Hear that annoying couple as you stand on line at the movies. (Woody Allen’s, Annie Hall)

From books you read, newspapers or magazines, a news flash or broadcast journals, early HBO Comedy shows, adult animation, early animation, the antics of Bugs Bunny or Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Bull Winkle or Natasha.

You’re a kid, so no one listens to your opinion. What do you do? You zone out. I must have zoned out for about fifteen or twenty years.

The best part of being a neurotic is it’s all in there. Like computer chips, the sounds and images never go away.

Characters are amalgams of all the people you’ve known, heard or saw somewhere. When the time is right, dig into the trunk, dust off the old costumes and have fun playing dress up.

For you,Nathan, like my son, there are also the wonderful memories of the first time you read The Hobbit.

Love the process, it's worth the aggrivation.

sherrah said...

I really don't have a problem coming up with ideas; anything could be a story or go in a story. The problem is weeding out the lame ideas and then figuring out which project the good ideas belong in, and then cultivating the good ideas into something sustainable.

For my current project, I read an article that had a phrase in it that I thought would be a great title. The title evoked an image, and from there, I started asking questions...who is she? what is she doing? why is she doing it? what's going to happen next?

And the question WHAT IF always sparks ideas for me.

maybeimamazed02 said...

Manuscript #1: an unrequited crush + my background in community theatre.

Manuscript #2: a dream. Cliche, I know, but the two main characters and how they met were in my head when I woke up.

Manuscript #3: a reality show I really liked, then didn't like so much.

Another big cliche, but listening to music does wonders for giving me ideas. I also walk to work almost every morning, which is awesome for mulling over characters, situations, etc. I grew up dancing, and I still do my best thinking when I'm in motion.

Great question!

patlaff said...

Real life.

I started one story after hearing about one guy killing another guy because Guy 1 cut off Guy 2 on the highway. Another story started with my general disappointment with both the government and organized religion. The story I'm working on now is about a frustrated novelist who turns to non-fiction as his key to getting published. Truth is stranger than fiction.

As for how developed the stories are, I have a general sense of who the players are, what the main conflict will be and how it'll get resolved, but I let the characters figure out all the details.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I was listeneng to the radio on the way to work and a story came on about abortion. On the ride home I was listening to Heart, and when "Mistral Wind" came on I throught, "What if an adult had to go through an abortion?"

Charlene said...

I don't remember which came first: the idea of the story, or the first scene, maybe they both happened at the same time.
That's usually what happens to me, a scene or a piece of dialogue will pop up in my head and I'll end up building a story around it.

Brash Bessie said...

Well, I actually have three things in the works right now. The first one started out as a short story for a writing forum I belong to and the second one just popped into my brain. The third one came to me while I was thinking about some of the trendy YA novels that are out on the shelves and what I would do different and then WHAMO! I was running up and down the street yelling EUREKA!

Sarah said...

I told my sister the first half of a story I knew she'd like. I wrote the rest of it, and realized much later that I had a YA novel buried in there.

Some of my ideas come from fixing stories as well. I'll hear or watch something and not like a portion- so I fix it.

Jaime said...

My idea kind of came from a thought I had as a teenager - what if your soul mate dies before you get the chance to meet him/her? Would Fate really screw you over that badly?
When I sat down to write a novel 12 months ago, it wasn't going to be a romance. It was going to be a completely different idea. But this soul mate idea wouldn't let go, and I'm glad, because I've had such a great time writing it :)

Brandi G. said...

I'm easily inspired I guess, but what inspired my current WIP was a very vivid dream.

The novel I just finished revising for the FINAL time (I swear) was inspired by a certain, troubled part of my life and twisted into a fantasy love story.

Music is also a big inspiration for me. There are so many stories in songs.

Amanda said...

It started with my obsession with Halloween and SLOWLY developed from there. Now, I keep a list of interesting places, news, and characters to pull from for future stories.

Anonymous said...

i've had an idea file going for years now. everyhting's in there from 1-liner snippets from internet articles to 3-page pseudo-synopses of potential story ideas...it's now 35 pp. altogther.

When an idea goes into what I think of as "production mode" it gets its own named folder, and in that folder i have a Notes doc, an Outline doc, and, if all goes well, eventually a ms. doc.

Jil said...

I had a short story published about an abandoned child and when my "aunt" in Bermuda read it it affected her so deeply she wrote to reveal the fact that she was really my half sister. She had been left with my grandmother in England when Mother came to Canada to marry my father. This desertion haunted her throughout her life and I wondered how any woman could abandon her four year old, send her photos of me to put in a scrapbook, yet forbid her to ever reveal our relationship. This set me off on , A Life Deferred.

Other novels have been instigated by an obituary in a very old English newspaper, a man talking about his work with Juvenile delinquents,a small hunchbacked spinster who lived with her father in a large house, a trip my photographer husband and i made across the US with a trailer Caravan of foreign diplomats. That turned into a mystery. Most anything can give me ideas but where is the time?

shelley said...

Divorce, death, depression and eating disorders--Oh My!

Empty Refrigerator said...

My idea was inspired by a novel I read. It is strange to admit this, because I'm afraid it comes across as though I just copied someone. I didn't - my WIP is nothing at all like that novel. But it did inspire the idea; that's just the truth and I can't pretend it isn't. Here's the weird thing -- there's some synchronicity going on. I have had some odd news today, news that is actually good news but quite disconcerting too, and actually it even disturbs me, for reasons I won't go into. It is to do with my family of origin, and it's something I just found out. And then about 10 min after finding it out, I logged into google reader and saw this post, and it hit me - what I found out today, and the feelings that it brought up for me - THAT'S my WIP (what the main character in my WIP is going through - different circumstances, but really the SAME). It's weird. So maybe the story was waiting for me all along? I don't know. And one more weird thing - I got a novel from the library yesterday which I picked from the new book shelf in a rush because my kids were with me. I didn't look at it first, just grabbed it. It turns out that the second chapter discusses a very specific (medical / science) topic which ALSO relates to what I found out today AND my WIP. The whole thing is freaky and Truman Show-ish, and it makes me wonder about coincidence vs. synchronicity. I don't understand it. Maybe ideas come from the collective unconscious, or the spiritual realm, or both.

mesmered said...

I read an article about Japanese shifu cloth where the samuria would write secret messages on paper, tear it into strips, weave it with real thread and contrive this fabric that could then be worn to convey important intelligence. Loved the idea dnt hus began The Shifu Cloth, as a fantasy.
A Thousand Glass Flowers, another fantasy, was inspired by a son's gift of a Venetian millefiore paperweight. The Stumpwork Robe and The Last Stitch (Amazon.com) were inspired by the enthralling skill of stumpwork embroidery which is three dimensional enough to hide secretive miniature books underneath.

veela-valoom said...

This will sound really random. There is a waterfall near my town (a huge one). Down on the beach below the waterfall there is this old cement staircase, just about 4 or 5 steps, sitting in the weeds. It looked so odd and out of place. Logically I knew that they used to have a nice cement staircase and bathrooms down by the beach but they were swept away in floodwater. Creatively it captured my imagination. Where did the staircase go? What if it did go somewhere?

There is no random staircase in my story but nonetheless it started the wheels turning.

LeeAnn Flowers said...

I wrote a book. After shopping it around for more than a year, I shelved that book and took the main character and a few supporting characters and started rewriting. I used the first book as a history to set the plot up. The new plot is nothing like the first book. It seems to be going very well, too.

Trisha Wooldridge said...

This is another really random one, but in my commute to the horse rescue I work for I notices this huge red mailbox with "Starbard" written on it. (It's a construction company by that name.)

My immediate thought on that was, "Whoa! What an awesome name for an SF character... singing and stars..." and then >POOF!< My character, Kyra, pops into my head along with her sidekick, a bright pink alien named Marne,and I find out there's a race of people who foretell the future by listening to the stars sing. I went home and did just a little research, and found out that NASA had recorded sounds that were similar to music eminating from stars. Go figure!

Diane Velikis said...

One visit to Martha's Vineyard I knew it that would be my setting. My villian is an obsessed fan of a newly converted christian suspense novelist. Get inside of the mind of a real Psychopath.... lots of twists and turns, definately not for the faint of heart

Randy R. LaBarge said...

I have always been fascinated by the first Christmas of World War I. On Christmas Eve of 1914, soldiers along a section of the German-British-Scottish Western Front expected to stop fighting to observe the Christmas Holiday. And that's exactly what they did. On Christmas Day the soldiers all got together and partied, played soccer, sang songs and exchanged gifts. The next day they went back to fighting. As I thought about it, I wondered what it would have been like if two enemies had been trapped in a bomb crater on Christmas Eve. The story evolved from that single thought.

terryd said...

Simple. My editor at Orbit asked for sequel!

Now all I have to do is write another post-apocalyptic thriller. And make it stand out from the other eleventy-gazillion post-apoc books. And meet the deadline. And make my editor grin.

suelder said...

I went to the funeral of a friend's mother - we'd gone to college together. And his sons were there. They were twenty and eighteen. And they were a riot!

The older brother was quiet, amused, obviously intelligent and letting his brother have the spotlight. The younger was talkative, charming and even flirted with my (long-married) sister. They were like a comedy routine and "Brothers" was born.

Kaitlyne said...

My work that is currently in submission came from a dream. Well, the first half of it did, and for the most part it was "inspired" I guess you could say, as I had to take out all the wacky dream elements, but the characters and some of the events were the same. I just woke up and knew that I had to write this character.

The current WIP came from talking to a friend about the Justice League and one of us (don't remember which) saying, "You know what has to be the worst job in the entire Justice League?" It started as a joke, but the idea struck me as hilarious. The next thing I knew, I had an MC and my own crew of superheroes begging to be written.

Michelle said...

My husband I were brainstorming funny boy book ideas, and he said, "What if a kid found a pair of granny panties when walking past a laundromat . . ." REVENGE OF THE PINK GRANNY PANTIES was born! So far, all his zany boy story ideas have sold to magazines-hopefully the book will follow suit.

Jemi Fraser said...

Inspiration comes from all over the place! I'm a teacher and have lots of "Wow, that would be great..." moments in the school :)

The idea for this particular wip sprang from a friend's ms. She writes steampunk & I love it. I decided to give it a shot with a YA twist. All kinds of fun!

Diane Velikis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anne vinsel said...

i'm guessing you mean the book with words in it? i was in an elevator at work (my day job is at a large academic medical center) and two med students were talking. one said, "cyanide goes through mucous membranes," and i said, "ANY mucous membrane?" the other one looked at me and said, "yeah..." as he backed away into the corner of the elevator. and i said, "so you could get cyanide in a tampon and leave it in a box and then go off to europe?" and now they both backed away but agreed. then later i was in a meeting with the state medical examiner and i asked him about feasibility and dosing, and he raised some issues, and i was off.

in general i get ideas from stuff around me that makes me say, "huh!"

Sharon Kirk Clifton said...

Interesting question, Nathan. I'm a professional storyteller whose specialties are Appalachian oral tradition and American history. My WIPs tend to spring from my ST programs. (Never let good research languish, I say.) The ms I recently completed is set in the southern Appalachians, and my current WIP involves the Underground Railroad, the subject of another of my shows. It's all storytelling.

Anonymous said...

I cheat, I get my ideas from someone who tells me that he can't find the book he wants to read, so I have to write it for him. It's a bit nice to have a muse on tap, especially when it's the day before NaNoWriMo starts and I don't have any ideas at all.

I actually came up with the current WIP myself, and that came from reading Harry Potter fan fiction. Honestly. It's nothing like Harry Potter or fan fiction, but that's where the idea came from.

Blee Bonn said...

My current WIP idea came to me while flying back to the West coast from D.C. I saw these mountain ridges and suddenly I had this idea for a YA dystopian novel.

Ideas are always popping into my brain and like others I wish I had more time to write. It's nice to always have ideas in the queue though.

Anna L. Walls said...

In my current project, I'm mixing Dungeons & Dragons (the game) in with 20th century USA today. I really like D&D though I haven't been able to play it for years. One day I had a dream about an abused kid who runs away from home. EUREKA What better way to have a character cross over into the secret society of D&D druids and then have him walk a fine line between D&D and USA today while he meets dwarves, gnomes and centaurs (so far) not to mention the elves. It's a lot of fun keeping the two worlds separate.

Anonymous said...

My main character has been bouncing around my head for years. He is a combination of people who I thought were always finding the easy way out.Did any of them fall on hard times or are they still the skating by with no thoughts of others?

Catherine Gayle said...

My idea came from a What If. I'm not sure where this particular what if came from, but once it arrived, I had a premise. Then I just had to figure out who my characters were and to keep playing the what if game. Still working through it at the moment, but these characters are continually surprising me.

KayKay said...

The idea for my current project just randomly came to be one night. I had this line stuck in my head and just rolled with it until I had four or five pages written. Then I went through and thought up a plot.

Linguista said...

Ideas are like sh*t, they just happen! :)

Unless, I am doing something which requires my brain to be active, I'm daydreaming. So I can formulate entire plots, characters, settings etc, while sitting in the dentist's waiting room.

It's kinda sad, because there's no way I'll ever be able to write them all.

Lori Benton said...

My stories come from other people's stories that I've absorbed over 41 years, mixed with my learning about some period in history rife with the type of conflict I find most compelling. That conflict is the hook that snags in the story-layers in my brain and pulls from that sediment a new character, or the plot kernel of a new tale.

Justine Hedman said...

Hey, my current WIP-the one I work on the most anyway-came to me years ago. I was having some very dark moments in my teen years and had a 'friend' who would continually show up in my dreams. I think it was just my subconscious trying to make everything seem better. He's been my muse for a good long while now. He helped me to create my world, my MC's (I also used my fav or least fav characteristics of people I actually know to deepen the likability or unlikability of my characters) The inspiration has always been my muse or 'friend' telling me what I should or shouldn't do. I'll have strange dreams and write them down, my muse tells me what to work on when. If I get stuck on my WIP, I'll move onto another story or a children's book/illustrations until the pieces fall into place. The story has been working itself out in my head for 10 years now, I started writing it out with serious intentions of creating a book out of it when I decided to stay home with my kids 2 years ago. There's not a day that goes by where I don't think about it, I'm very attached. So it's a good thing it's going to take a long time to get through it. A 7 book series will take me a while. I've finshed the first drafts of book one and two, but work on polishing one and writing scenes for the others. They're constantly evolving, and getting better every day which sometimes amazes me.

--Deb said...

Honestly? A dream. An incredibly vivid dream that actually told a story. Or rather, told the beginning of a story that I just had to finish!

Ashley A. said...

I love that you invite us to tell you about our work, Nathan. I have a full-time job and a Brady Bunch-style blended family with five kids and no Alice. I'm always running out of the bathroom with a lightbulb over my head. I mentioned to my S.O. that it sure was funny that I always came up with ideas while, um, peeing, and he said, well, that's the only time you're ever alone. And it's true! My current w-i-p (only 5,000 words into my second novel) is inspired by a news item from when I was in college (1990!) that I've been wanting to use. I finally figured out the right way to tell this story. In the bathroom, of course.

Rowenna said...

They come as scenes first--sharp, clear scenes with absolutely no plot at all. The first scene I thought of in my WIP cropped up when I was watching Foyle's War on PBS and thinking about how men returning from WWII and the women who had waited for them might have absolutely nothing to talk about anymore. And I thought of these two people, both still shellshocked though the war was over, sitting on one of those uncomfortable old sofas trying to make small talk.

Things grew from there. But they always start on individual, fairly insignificant, yet poignant, pretty scenes. The plot develops to link those ideas together.

Adam Heine said...

My ideas come from everywhere. But they never come fully formed. I have to ask questions of them repeatedly until they turn into an interesting story.

Stacey Graham said...

After my short story was accepted into a zombie romance anthology, I felt there was more I could do with that theme in a humorous way and The Zombie Dating Guide stumbled its way onto the page. I'm in the book proposal stage now and enjoying every minute. :)

Stephanie L. McGee said...

For my main WiP, the impetus was the meaning of my MC's name. I won't share it at the moment though.

My other WiP started with the tickle of an idea to write a paranormal so I started researching different paranormals. Narrowed it down to three potentials then that night I couldn't sleep and kept getting hit with ideas and scenes and stuff. It's in need of a bit more work, but I've got a good solid start to the mythos of it.

Girl with One Eye said...

I had a dream, no not like Mrs. Meyer, but a random dream about an ex-boyfriend, who happens to be Native American. Later that week while talking to my brother back home (Tennessee), he mentioned he ran into same boyfriend. Seemed a little eery to me and my mind began to ponder. What if he was communicating through my dreams? I mean he is Native American and he might have some sort of powers. And voila, my story was born.

P.A.Brown said...

Mine come from a variety of places. My latest came out of a documentary on the History channel. They were talking about how L.A. used to have a world class metro system, including subways, but a conspiracy of businesses shut them to make Angelenos turn to cars. But those underground rooms were turned into speakeasies during Prohibition. What fascinated me was that unlike the east coast where organized criminals ran them, in L.A. they were run by the LAPD and city hall. So I had the image of clubs with bootleg whiskey, ragtime music and flappers and cops acting as doormen to keep out the riffraff. So right now I'm researching the era. It will be my first historical.

Hannah Jenny said...

My work-in-progress came to be because I realized that I really, really wanted to have a fantasy world of my own again--something I hadn't had in years. So I started making up things about the world in my head, then I made up two characters, and then finally I had the seed of a plot, and then I just started writing--two hand-written drafts and about 57,000 typed words later . . . I still have a lot of work to do.

Lucy D said...

I had a dream about Tiddly Winks. I started developing a game which developed into a role playing game which then turned into a novel. The book is an adventure. It has nothing to do with Tiddly Winks!

Shell said...

My kids, my oldest in particular. When he was little he would say the most magical things. I knew they had to go into a story. When his brother came along, I thought "Aha! Brothers!" No such luck. The story didn't come together until their sister joined the crew. Yes, the characters are based on my kids, but the story isn't just about my kids (unless they ride around on dragons when I'm not looking). The first book is 'done' (still in editing phase) and the second has been started. It's good material, if I do say so myself.

Victoria Dixon said...

A combination of reading a Ming dynasty novel called "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and watching an episode of "X-Files" with a Chinese friend gave me my take on "Romance." My friend was terrified of a ghost in the t.v. show and I realized a ghost could be responsible for many of the fantastical events that are otherwise inexplicable in "Romance." From there, I had to write my own story and blend it with historical facts, which was harder and more fun that I ever imagined it might be.

Alexa said...

After finishing The Glass Castle I wondered how I'd react if my sister wrote about our childhood and the WIP was born.

Trish said...

The idea of my MG series came from my memories of being a weird child. I was forever in trouble, but not from being bad, but from doing really stupid things. As I’m writing this post, I realised that I never did finish that MG novel, but went on to write about a mischievous child who rescues animals. I’m a member of a wildlife rescue in Australia and I use my experiences in my stories.

I live in a wonderful rural village in a valley near a river and get fantastic inspiration while walking or listening to the children play down by the riverbank. I add my memories of being a weird child and come up with so may story ideas that I want to write them all at once, but I have to concentrate on one at a time.

Oh, poo. Now I have to go and rewrite that first ever manuscript because as I wrote this post, I realised I had just written a great new query letter. Thanks for the inspiration, Nathan. You rock! When I’ve finished d it, I might query you. LOL. I can’t wait to write it.

Heather said...

For my current WIP, I was literally sitting in my cubicle, planning a totally different, unrelated work (that's for adults, but who wants to write for them, anyway? They're boring.) when I got a single idea/question. That little idea is now only a small part of my novel, but the first question led to more and more questions, and three days later I started trying to answer them. I knew I'd hit on something because I couldn't stop thinking about it.

My next planned project came about when I was looking in my closet and saw all these different clothes that didn't match, and seemed to be different pieces of someone else's wardrobe. Again, more questions started brewing, and I'm excited to start answering them!

Jan Markley said...

The idea for my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch came from a childhood incident when I accidently stepped on and killed my friend's pet frog. The mystery around why scientists are creating giant genetically stretched frogs is pure fiction!

K.O. bookgirl said...

I knew I wanted to write a historical mystery, because I love reading them. Then I read a biography of Katharine Hepburn, whose father was a physician, and he had a case of a man who gave his wife a venereal disease on their wedding night - his friends had taken him to a brothel before the wedding. There was no cure back then, and she died. Dr. Hepburn committed his life after that to preventing VD, despite the controversy it caused. That started the wheels turning: sex, scandal, a prominent family, murder to hide the secret....

Hey, Nathan, I know you're catching up from being away, but when are you going to respond to my query? ;)
Thanks, K.O. bookgirl

Brent Peterson said...

Dear Ashley A,

You are not alone. I too have my best ideas, dare I say, doing number one - there's no gentler way to put it. I work in an ad agency and coming up with daily ideas is my bread and butter. And time and time again (and I have lots of examples), the bathroom delivers! I think you are right, the sudden solitude helps. I also think it has to do with the vulnerable state one puts oneself in and the release of all other brain functions for a split second. Hey, you asked Nathan!

Wow - 187 comments - your readers love this topic don't they? What does that say?

Brandi Schmidt said...

God & Faith. Period. I was given my entire book; start to finish in about 3 minutes while driving home from work. All I could do was smile. I knew the characters, their personalities and loved them all immediately. (you didn't obviously from the big fat rejection) but alas, I fell madly in love with my book and never looked back. That night I wrote a chapter, the entire outline, and some of the character background. Of course it grew and developed while I wrote, but the story stayed true to the day (March 26th) it was given.

I think people are inspired all the time. It's just taking the action that stops most from being what they could be. Fear is a powerful motivator for mediocrity.

Aimee said...

It's cliche, but one of my ideas came from a dream. It's one scene in my story, sort of near the end. I woke up and was wondering how these people ended up in their situation and what happened after, so my story was born. Most of my other ideas come from movies or other books that just spark ideas. I don't copy their plot, obviously, but they just give me ideas.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Novel ideas come from episodes from my childhood or from the news, and then grow from there into something else.

Picture book ideas come mostly from my kids, or my childhood, or from something someone else's kid has said or done, or from a detail in a picture, or from a word or phrase in something I read, or from something I see that strikes me while I'm out running or writing. I get a lot of ideas while I'm washing dishes, or in the shower.

Boring, but there it is.

Cheryl Gower said...

The current piece I'm working on is a short story. Before I fell asleep one night, I thought "What am I going to write about? The stories I've been reading seem so 'out there', so what could I write that would follow suit and perhaps stand a better chance of being selected for publication on a certain website?" I thought it could be about the most mundane, ordinary thing. I fell asleep at that point, but my first waking thought hit me--how about a sensual love story between a knife and a fork, but the reader is not sure until the very end.
Quite a challenge.

Angeliss said...

I dream. But it's never really plots, just elements of the dreams. For example, I dreamed that my friends and I were trapped in a huge house with a killer. I kept the house, and the being trapped inside, but it's now about the aftermath of Beauty and the Beast, when Beauty died and left the Beast alone.

Or my current one I'm plotting out that's based on a dream where I found a statue of a mermaid and was turned into a mermaid, and everyone else at the camp had to leave me in the lake when they went home. Somehow, that turned into an idea about a dying mermaid society.

Nancy Coffelt said...

A New Yorker article on... Nope, not telling.

Eyes open all the time and ear to the ground works pretty well.

In other words I'm a pop culture junkie.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

Honestly, I wish there was a definable moment of inspiration for my book. However, my plot revealed itself after years of brainstorming and piecing together multiple subjects that interested me. Two hundred pages and 66,532 words and counting, my vision is finally developing into a story.

Lindsey Edwards said...

The idea for my first book, Dream Chaser (Lindsey Johnson, 1999) came from a dream. I don't remember how the idea came to me for the series I'm writing now (historical/fantasy romance), it morphed into what it is now over time (and three rewrites). During those rewrites is how I knew it would work great as a series. However the idea came to me, I'm happy it did!

amlahe616 said...

My niece has one ear that makes her look like she is part elfin. So I just went from there about a stubborn half-breed elf girl.

TrishaleighKC said...

A one sentence tweet someone posted - I don't even have the slightest idea who now. The tweet said: "My friends daughter woke up terrified that she didn't exist." Something like that. Dunno, it just struck me and I wrote it down. Now I have plotted a four book series. If that was your tweet, THANK YOU :)

Carradee said...

My current two WiPs both came from taking things that are overused in a genre and destroying them.

For my high fantasy, I essentially took some overused elements of high fantasy and tweaked them enough so they're recognizable but not the tropes. For my urban fantasy, I took the standard teenage girl and older vampire guy, but it isn't a romance, he isn't going to act on his crush although he's far younger than she thinks he is, and she's freaked out by his crush for reasons different than you'd expect.

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