Last week of March Book Madness. It’s been awesome, and I’ve learned a ton. If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up. (Schedule and explanation at the bottom of this post.)
Today Janice Hardy is here discussing where to find ideas for your novels. I’ve been following Janice online for several years. She has great writing advice and ideas, so make sure to check out the links and her new writing book below.
Janice contributed to March Book Madness last year about having a premise vs. a plot (link to that post at the bottom). I’m so excited she agreed to add her thoughts again this year.
Ideas can come from anywhere. When they spontaneously appear it’s great, but sometimes the itch to write is there, but we just don’t have any ideas we like. Or there’s no idea we like enough to want to spend months writing it.
If you’re facing a lack of ideas but an urge to write, here are six places you might find that novel idea, or the perfect nudge to get an existing idea up to snuff.
1. Pick three articles that intrigue you. What about them do you find compelling?
These can come from anywhere, as long as they inspire you. Perhaps it’s a technical article about a new medical discovery, or a touching essay about reunited lovers, but something in it sticks with you and you find yourself thinking about it the next day.
Write down the things that most intrigue you and why. Don’t worry if they make a good story yet or not, just look for what’s interesting to you. Next, think about who might be involved in this and how, or what types of problems could be developed from this concept or detail.
2. What location have you always wanted to visit? What secrets might it be hiding?
We all have places we’d like to visit one day (real or imagined). Explore your favorite location and think about the types of stories that might occur there. Do a little research and see if there are any local legends or stories associated with it you might use as a jumping off point for a novel.
If you write genre, think about how your type of story might fit in that location, such as a thriller writer who wonders how to turn a sleepy little coastal town into a hotbed of terrorists, or the romance writer who finds a way to bring lovers together above the Arctic Circle.
3. Pick your top ten images. What about them do you find captivating? Why?
Some people are more visual, and looking at images of people or places can spark ideas. They can be photographs or paintings, or any combination, real and imagined. Perhaps it’s the image itself that triggers an idea, or it might be thinking about the person who created it, or even the subject matter of the image.
A mind-bending image from a street artist might inspire you to tell a tale of a street artist who sees the world in a different way, or it might make you think of rebels who use art that can only be understood from a certain perspective to communicate during a civil war.
4. What are your favorite names? Why? What happens when you turn those names into names that would fit another genre, nationality, or ethnic group?
A name can evoke a character even if we have no idea what story that character belongs in. If you have names you’ve always liked, start turning them into a character and think about that character’s story. Who are they and what problem might they face?
Twist the names and create interesting and unlikely combinations and see where that leads you. A recent episode of the TV show Castle joked about naming an Irish kid Javier (to honor the police father’s partner), but it’s easy to see how the uniquely named son of a cop who died in the line of duty would develop as a character. His backstory practically writes itself.
5. What are your least favorite novels, TV shows, or movies? How would you write them differently?
The things you don’t like can also be inspiration, especially if you feel you could tell a more compelling story if you changed a few things. While you don’t want to copy someone outright (that would be plagiarism), the basic concepts can work as a jumping off point to a story that’s unique to you.
Perhaps there’s a common mistake a show makes that’s always bugged you, like video images that can always be enlarged and sharpened no matter how bad the original video is. What if there was technology that made that feasible? How might it be used? Or how might things change if the detectives didn’t have that option available to them at all?
6. What random conversations or people caught your eye recently? What about them was memorable? Why?
It doesn’t take much to spark on idea and sometimes a snippet of conversation or even the body language between two strangers can get the imagination working. Sit in your favorite public area and people watch for a while. See what interesting people cross your path and consider what their story might be.
Maybe the act of sitting and watching is the story–what if you were the character of a novel? What would you encounter in that park or mall or coffee shop? File away details and images, and let your imagination go wild stitching them together like a quilt.
No matter where the spark of inspiration comes from, have fun brainstorming and playing with all the possibilities it might have until you find the perfect story you want to tell.
And if you have a story idea that needs tweaking? Try answering some of these questions with your specific idea in mind and see what makes the story resonate deeper for you. Sometimes something as simple as changing the setting can add an whole new layer to a story.
Where do you get your ideas? Do they come to you or do you have to work for them? Or a mix of both? Comment here.
Looking for more on planning or revising your novel? Check out my newest book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel.
Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.
Connect with Janice:
Thanks, Janice. I love all your ideas for finding new places for ideas. I feel like even if you do have a basic idea, these would help you flesh them out, give them more depth.
I personally use the visual aspect for my novels. I love photos to get the creative juices flowing. Even after I have the basic idea, I’ll continue to go back to those photos to spark more ideas.
Thanks again for all the ideas, Janice!
What are your thoughts? Where are your favorite places to get ideas for novels? Have you used some of these ideas to get the creative juices flowing? Comment here.
Tune in tomorrow for our last guest: Braden Bell.
If you’re new to March Book Madness, it has nothing to do with basketball (sorry) and everything to do with books. March is National Reading Month, so March Book Madness gives me an excuse to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors.
If you’ve missed any days, here’s the schedule:
2014 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Our Connection to Book Covers and the Characters Within, by Danyelle Ferguson
- Four Essential Elements of Good Writing, by Gerald N. Lund
- Welcome to Niche-land! by JoLynne Lyon
- Developing Plot and Characters Together, by Tricia Pease
- ”Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” by Sarah Belliston
- Using Repetition To Improve Your Book by A.L. Sowards
- Getting the Most Out of Your Critique Group, by Charity Bradford
- The Moral of the Tale, by Christopher Rosche
- Querying: The Method to the Madness, by Chantele Sedgwick
- Creating Context Clues, by Charissa Stastny
- 6 Places to Find Novel Ideas, by Janice Hardy
- Avoiding Didacticism in Our Writing, by Braden Bell
2013 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Weeding Your Words, by Charissa Stastny
- Know Your Audience–Even the Subtle One, by Cindy Piper
- Beating a Dead Horse, by Julie L Casey
- Why Everyone Should Be a Writer, by Sharon Belknap
- Reading in the Digital Age, by JoLynne Lyon
- The Art of Accepting Criticism, by Mary Bateman-Mercado
- Pinterested in Books, by Sarah Belliston
- The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche
- Never Pity the Adverb, by Anthony Mercado
- Creating Flawed but Likeable Characters, by A.L. Sowards
- Priorities and Choices for Writers, by Braden Bell
- Premise vs Plot – Which Do You Have? by Janice Hardy
2012 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Tips on Querying, by Lynn Wiese Sneyd
- Plotting vs. Plodding, by Tobi Summers
- 10 Marketing Tips, by JoLynne Lyon
- 8 Editing Tips, by Cassie Mae
- Editing, by Jessica Khoury
- Reading for Writers, by Tricia Pease
- For the Love of Reading, by Sharon Belknap