Writing 101 -- Story Ideas

Many times people will ask authors where they get their story ideas. Sometimes authors will lie about it--shoot, that’s WHAT we do, people! We write fiction. In fact, there’s a book out there called, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. Good book, pick it up.

Writers get ideas from everywhere. Many times we play the ‘what if’ game. While other times we cannibalize our ideas from stories that didn’t work out. As I mentioned before, GNOME came to life a few years after I finished a story called, The Leprechaun Connection. I wondered how the main character became who she was. In other words, what was her back-story (back-story is all the piddly stuff that the author needs to know about the character, but should never put into a book)? How did she become who she was as an adult? All of a sudden, everything clicked into place, and I had the story that I wanted to write. This happened years after the original story was written.

As I’ve mentioned before, manuscripts 1-4 are happily, firmly entrenched on my hard drive, but that doesn’t mean I won’t steal scenes or characters from my learning curve books. I will. I haven’t come close to cannibalizing all the good stuff I had written in Leprechaun Connection.

1) But if you wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea, jot it down.  Though that particular idea of mine from eight years ago was seriously crazed, I still have it in a file on my computer.

2) If you happen to be driving, but come to a stop because of a car wreck due to wet pavement. All you can do is sit there and stare at a rainbow. And you get an idea that leprechauns aren’t all nice and friendly like Lucky on Lucky Charms--jot it down.

3) If you’re at work waiting for a particular process to finish its thing, and you get an idea about star-crossed lovers as they reincarnate over the centuries only to fail time and time again--jot it down.

I could go on and on. And yes, these are some of the few ideas that I’ve had over the years.  #1 is still sitting on my computer. #2 I wrote, but couldn’t sell, so I’m cannibalizing it. #3 I started writing down the different centuries and situations, but felt that the story is too much for me, since I’d have to do some serious research about numerous eras and I’m not ready to go there.

I have many stories that are simply plot ideas and one written page, while other stories are halfway written when I stopped. Sometimes it’s because the idea isn’t fleshed out enough. Sometimes it’s because I’m not at a place where I’m ready to write that type of story. Other times it is because I’m writing the WRONG story.

About four years ago, I started a story called, The Gargoyle Connection and stopped. I was trying to make it a romance and it wasn’t working. In the summer of 2011, I came up with an idea that had four interconnected stories. The gargoyle was part of this series. But in a totally different manner. The only thing that remained the same was that the eventual hero of the story is a cursed gargoyle. This story is part of the Mystic Elements series called, Gargoyle’s Hidden Fire.

Let’s say you came up with a great idea about an ├╝ber-rich girl who goes to Harvard and is handed everything on a silver platter. She’s smart. She’s pretty. She’s rich. Where is her growth? She already has everything. Heck, she’s just another societal leech like the Kardashian clan--famous for being famous . . . and shoes . . . and big butts, but that’s another story.

But, what if by accident, she discovers that her loving father is really a mob boss, a terrorist, or a drug kingpin? All the perks/things/prestige that money has been bringing her has been bought with ‘dirty money’? What she falls in love with a guy who is secretly working undercover for the DEA, FBI, or NSA, trying to catch her father? What if she’s torn between family and doing the right thing? There’s your conflict. How can she possible love a man who betrays her? (This could be both the father AND the boyfriend, considering both of them have been keeping secrets).

Just remember, NOT every story idea is gold.

And an idea is just that, an idea. A dime a dozen. A starting point.

An idea doesn’t have a plot, characterization, conflict, etc. All it is is an idea. Period. It’s up to you, the writer to have a story to tell.

So, what are you waiting for? Start writing those ideas down!


Twisted Sister said...

ARGH....I started a story like the last one you described. Of course, it's gathering cobwebs in my brain.

Story ideas...I love your process.

magolla said...

Jot it down, Meg. Make it available for when you are ready to write it . . . or cannabilize it.

About two years ago my goals loop started a critique matching system. We had to fill out a form and post a writing sample. I basically had forgotten about this, since I realized I'm not a typical CP, and I don't have a set schedule that I'd adhere to that would work for most people.

Anyhoo--three weeks ago, someone wanted to crit with me. I looked at her stuff (a little too beginnerish for my preferences) AND I looked at what I had submitted.

WOW! Just by rereading that one page, I realized that I now had the beginning of AIR BENEATH A DRAGON'S WINGS.

I tried to find the original story . . . and couldn't find it on my computer. It was gone. Trust me, I looked at every darn file!

BUT I always save EVERYTHING to my flash drive. I found it in a story that I started writing called DEMON SPAWN. I can't use that story for AIR, but I can use the character and her background.

I think it's going to work. I'll be posting the beginnings of my Mystic Element stories on my blog when I have a blank day and you can see the beginning.

Marilyn said...

Hey, I have one of those #3s rattling around somewhere, too. Mine takes place entirely in the present but requires a research trip to New England that I've never been able to work into my schedule. And it would totally be a stand-alone book -- no place I can see for a series to grow. My travel time for research is so limited that I'd want to get at least 2-3 books out of a trip. :)

magolla said...

Some day, Marilyn, some day. You'll come up with another idea and then have a two-fer to New England!