Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Where Do Writers Get New Ideas?

I'm at a strange point in my writing life. Since I wrote THE BODY INSTITUTE, which became my debut for January 2015, I've written three other novels. Eventually (um, hopefully) I'll be working on at least one of these with my agent, but what about brand new shiny ideas? I confess at this point I don't have any sparks or plans for new books. Now there's a totally ungrounded, unsettled feeling.

Where do we as writers get new ideas? How do we get out of that state of mind where we think of possible ideas but just as fast, we discard them as boring, cliché, too convoluted, or shallow? Well, I guess we keep jotting them down until one of them grabs us by the lapels and doesn't let go. Here are some ways I can think of to generate initial story ideas.

1. Read newspaper or online articles. I'm talking NON-fiction, here. What about that article you read about the girl everyone thought was missing for 15 years—what really happened to her? What about that fascinating new scientific or technological discovery? You could spin a plot from intriguing things like auras, telekinesis, time travel, alternate histories, or synesthesia (a mixing of the senses, for instance perceiving numbers as certain colors). Do a random online search or wander your local library, and see what you come up with!

2. Read other books, and "research." No, I don't mean ripping off other writers' ideas or being derivative. Reading can make you aware of what's already out there, so you can make sure your book is different and unique. Reading can also often send you off on a tangent toward fresh and innovative ideas. It can inspire you.

3. Read something you don't normally read. Switch it up. If you usually read sci-fi and fantasy, try reading a contemporary novel. If you usually stick to YA or MG, try reading an adult novel. You can even thumb through picture books in the children's section of a bookstore or a library. Some random gem of an idea might just catch your eye, something you can develop into a full-blown short story or novel.

4. Refresh an old idea with a new twist. Rummage through that file or folder that holds all your "failed" or shelved storylines—you know the one. Check to see if you can't breathe new life into these stories by changing the plot, adding a spicy character, writing it from a different character's point of view, or making that unsellable dystopian into a sci-fi novel. Warp those genres. Mix and match plotlines. Try quirky new settings.

5. Try your hand at a retelling. Don't slavishly copy a folk tale or an existing children's book. Make it your own. Toss it into a totally different time period, such as the 1996 movie Romeo & Juliet, which takes place in a modern, urban setting. Or like Marissa Meyer's CINDER, which tells the tale of Cinderella as a sci-fi tale involving a cyborg as the main character.

6. Find new WAYS of telling a story. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak involves Death as the narrator. Very unique. Jay Asher's 13 REASONS WHY involves tapes sent to 13 people to reveal the reasons why a girl committed suicide. Experiment with points of view. Do something in a way that's never been done before. Be creative!

7. Mine your dreams. Write down half-remembered dreams. Develop that recurring nightmare. Explore that mysterious place between your waking and non-waking worlds. Use your subconscious snippets, form them into a plotline, and have fun populating these worlds with intriguing characters.

Have you ever found yourself in this position, without a clue as to what you'll write next?
Which of these methods catches your attention the most, the one you'd like to try?
Where do you find YOUR story ideas?


  1. Writing is s such a big part of my life, that I don't think much about what I'll write next, because I'm always writing now. Which I love.

    Hope you're having a groovy spring.

  2. Great tips. You sound like you've been really productive.

  3. Finding ideas is not my problem; I have folders upon folders with stories half written, and ideas for stories that might or not go anywhere. The problem is bringing them to fruition. And I get ideas from all the places you mentioned.

    Hope you find a shiny new toy soon!

  4. This is a question I get asked A LOT! I've yet to find the right answer for it. The ideas just pop up don't they? But imagine a box under your bed where you could pul out great ideas with amazing 3-D characters? I'd pay for that :o)

  5. My ideas come in the weirdest ways (a sneeze, a view of a mountain from an airplane, a gaming commercial) just some of the ways I've gotten ideas - I'm always getting ideas and writing them down. My problem is that I don't have enough time to write them. :)

    I'm amazed that you have already written three more novels!!

  6. I see something in real life. It can be small or short-term, and my mind will build a story around it.

  7. Hi, Carol,

    Some great ideas here... I would't worry too much about having new ideas. Writing three books in the last year or so is an AMAZING feat! I haven't written anything new in the past few years, just REWRITING the first two. LOL. I hopefully will be jumping back into my novella this coming week.

    Hope all is well.....

    Have a nice weekend!

  8. It's so funny, but I get the vast majority of my ideas while reading other writers' work. I also watch a lot of TV... For some reason fiction inspires me. It's usually something that's completely unrelated to what I end up writing, but it jars something. A book that vaguely mentioned a sleepover made me suddenly realize a sleepover was exactly what my book needed. I will often stop everything to write that idea down so I don't forget!

  9. Carol, I like all the ideas you mentioned. However, most of my inspirations for new stories comes from being out in nature. Even the ideas that are not set in the out of doors, seem to come to me while walking in the peace and quiet of a forest or along an ocean coastline.

    Congratulations on The Body Institute!

  10. That is a problem I will never have--fortunately or otherwise. Did I mention I have a story folder with 40+ projects just waiting for my time? (Including the 7 complete books that deserve to be revised and published some day.) I've actually had to STOP writing down ideas because I just have TOO MANY. So here's my solution: need an idea? COME BORROW ONE FROM ME. ;)

  11. I always have this problem! In fact, I am about there now so this post is timely. I just finished my novel and after the editing stage, I plan to write again--maybe in Sept. BUt a story has not materialized in my head yet. Think I will employ some of your ideas...

  12. These are great tips. I love that three of the tips involve reading. Reading is so inspiring when it comes to generating new ideas.

  13. These are great tips! A few of them have worked for me in the past when I wasn't even actively looking for a new idea. I could have tried some of these during the 2-3 writing drought I had some years ago (first time in my life - and hopefully the only time!).

  14. Great tips, ideas come to me all the time and I began a few years ago telling myself if I am still thinking about the idea a week or more later its something I should write. I recently finished the outline of a fable that I never thought I would write, also it has been rewritten by a few well known authors so I also had to make the story different than what was done in the original story and the rewritten stories. Also I realize I could still utilize similarities but spin that around which may seem like a new story.


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