I apologise in advance if you anticipated this as being one of those posts that list a load of places one can go to get ideas for a book.
It doesn’t really work like that.
(I don’t think.)
If anyone has any information about somewhere that does provide a shit load of ideas for writing bestseller fiction, please post a link in the comments. Anyhoo. Where do writers get their ideas from?
Ok, before we begin, obvs we’ll all be inspired in different ways. What works for you might not work for me and vice versa. Also, don’t think that all your ideas will come from the same place – one day, staring out of the window will produce loads of incredible insights; the next, all you’ll get is dry eyes and the distinct impression that everything you’ve ever written is utter crap and maybe you’d better get your HGV license and start again as a lorry driver.
Don’t be discouraged.
Actually, if there’s one piece of advice I can give regarding writing – hell, in all aspects of life – it’s that: don’t be discouraged.
Ok, here we go:
1. They just happen
You just one day get an idea. It happens. A lightning bolt of inspiration. One day you think ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was a book about so and so,’ and there we go. Sorted.
Except not. If you’ve ever tried to write a book, you’ll know that one idea does not a novel make. Nope. And there’s every chance your brain won’t produce you another idea that has anything in common with the first one.
Don’t be discouraged though; you can grow your original idea with other sources of inspiration.
Most writers are also avid readers. I mean, I don’t care if you’re not, I’m not your mum, but you’re missing out on a massive source of inspiration.
You don’t actually have to steal ideas from other writers, but you can use those ideas to help you develop your own story.
I write humorous (I hope) fantasy fiction, but I will read anything. I love detective novels because I think it’s a great way of learning how to weave stories together. Twist endings are my jam but I find it really hard to think them up. If you read a lot of them you can better understand what makes a good twist, and how to allude to it throughout the book without giving it away.
Btw, if you need recommendations for a book that has an ending you do not see coming, try The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi, though it’s not one you can easily put down, so don’t start it late at night.
Ok, I’m going to try to make this as uncontroversial as I can, but I’m afraid some of you won’t like this. There are some stories that I love, but I can’t get away with the way that they’re written. It’s actually a specific book and one that’s loved to the point of obsession by millions of people.
I’m talking Lord of the Rings.
Sorry, but I can’t get away with all the singing and weird-ass names and sheer size of the thing. The films though, I LOVE.
You see, Tolkien was a genius, and had millions of incredible ideas, but I don’t find them fun to read. I could watch them on repeat for weeks though.
I’m not saying that Tolkien is a bad writer – the issue here is that I’m a lazy reader. Another book loved by erm, everyone, is Game of Thrones. Whilst I don’t find it nearly as hard going as Lotr, I still prefer the TV show, because it’s easier to keep up with characters. As I said, I’m a lazy reader.
Then there are books that I love, but can’t abide the screen version. I can only really think of the Twilight Saga at the moment, but I’m sure there are others. Let’s be honest though – the filmmakers had their work cut out for them on that one. Perfect, unaging human teenagers? It was never going to be easy.
So what does this have to do with finding ideas? Don’t think that as a writer you’re too good for TV – there’s some incredible stuff out there.
I’ve had an idea about a certain character for YEARS. She popped into my brain one day when I was watching something, and then whenever I watched something, she’d turn up in my thoughts, and I’d wonder how she’d do in certain situations.
I started writing stories with her as the main character umpteen times, but I didn’t have a plot. It was only when I started writing the story I’m working in now that she actually isn’t meant to be the main character. She leads a huge army that can’t be defeated – if she was the main character that’d make for a pretty dull and predictable book.
So, think about another author’s character that you thought didn’t get the book they deserved, or died too soon or just piqued your interest. Think about what it was about them that you liked/didn’t like and try to develop your own character based on that.
Maybe you’re reading a book and it takes a strange/boring turn. The author perhaps ran out of steam or was rushing to finish it. How would you have made it better?
Terry Pratchett is my favourite author (closely followed by JK), and he’s retold a few stories and completely made them his own. Wyrd Sisters is a based on Macbeth, Lords & Ladies on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Maskerade on Phantom of the Opera. They’re not direct retellings by any stretch of the imagination, but he used the basic plot and retold the story.
(Don’t confuse plot and story. The plot is the A to B bit, the story is the good bit. You make a decent story out of a crap plot, but a crap story with a great plot probs won’t get you far).
There are plenty of other examples. Helen Fielding did a stellar job of retelling Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jone’s Diary. In film, Clueless is an updated Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You is a Seattle-based Taming of the Shrew.
If you’re desperate to write a story and can’t think of a single idea to set you off, put ‘writing prompts’ Pinterest and fire ‘er up. There are so so many crap ones, but all you need is one good one.
6. Stare out of the window
Daydream. Let your mind wander. Allow yourself that time to think about it. Apparently lying on your back helps, because that signals to your brain that you’re relaxed.
I would advise timing yourself with these sessions, because ten minutes lying down thinking about your story can, all too easily, become an accidental two-hour nap.
We’ve all been there.
Though don’t use a traditional alarm – maybe set a nice gentle song as your alarm. You don’t want to jolt yourself awake and forget whatever you were thinking about.
I LOVE pinterest (here’s a cheeky link to mine) and I have specific boards for inspiration. However, I’ve found it’s better as a tool for developing ideas, rather than sparking ideas from thin air. For example, if your story is set in a castle, search for castles on Pinterest. You can narrow it down by country or architecture or whatever.
I also like to use it for descriptive inspiration – the little details rather than the bigger arcs. Food, clothing, scenery. By looking at hundreds of different images of, for example, a warrior, you’ll get a better idea of what your character looks like, and help him become more concrete in your mind.
A walk should be enough to clear your head and let those brain juices flow. If you walk somewhere interesting/relevant to your story, you might even have a major idea, though don’t push it.
I run a few times a week, though neither very fast nor far. Listen to music as loud as it’ll go (sorry eardrums and headphones) and let my mind wander. I think about scenes that I’ve already written and might have an idea about where it’ll fit in in the story.
Embarrassingly enough, I have most of my ideas about battles when listening to Fallout Boy. No idea why.
(I’m not really embarrassed)
The thing about exercising is that it frees your mind. If you’re sitting at a keyboard and thinking but the ideas won’t flow, you feel like you’re wasting your time. When you’re running and the ideas won’t come, who cares? You went for a run. WELL DONE YOU.
When I write, I have to have complete silence. I tend to type the song lyrics and I can’t think properly – I just concentrate on the music. When I’m running though, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Like the pressure of writing the thoughts down confuses my brain.
There is an inexhaustible list of places from which you can draw inspiration. For you it might be a candlelit bath, a busy pub, the A19 southbound at half eight on Tuesday morning.
You can’t force it though, and it won’t just appear as if by magic (at least probably not enough for a novel).
I’m assuming there’s a balance one needs to find on one’s own. I’ll let you know when I find mine.