This is a series of posts for aspiring writers, established authors, and anyone inbetween. To take a look at what goes into a novel before, during and after it is written. Please feel free to comment if you have helpful advice that will contribute to making this post more beneficial to everyone out there. Or, post a question and I’ll try to find an answer!
In such an intriguing world full of beauty, wonder, dark and light, it seems as though inspiration would be constantly at the tips of our fingers. Particularly for writers, who often manage to discover more in a situation or experience than would normally seem available.
It takes many things for writers to write. It takes many things for authors to create pages full of words and gripping tales that capture the minds of thousands and even millions of readers. But one of the biggest assets is inspiration.
Where do writers get their stories? Where does that inspiration come from?
I did a hunt for articles and websites, anything that would work as a resource for those asking this very question or for writers out there simply wondering where to start. But I realized that there is no formula or prescription on where to gather ideas for a novel. Inspiration comes in many forms, from many places at any given time.
In the past, I have found story ideas in my dreams, from books, from movies, from conversations I happened to overhear. Bits and pieces of a story would develop from a dozen different sources at different times and places. My mind was and is always seeking to turn an unusual situation into a wonderful account of fiction. It is always asking “what if?” and then creating elaborate scenes to answer that very question.
And yet, not all those ideas, not all that inspiration came to me at once. Neither did it come from me sitting idly on the couch hoping to get zapped with a unique and amazing story idea.
So in light of this, I’ve put together a list of suggestions on where to find inspiration. Particularly if you’re a new writer and have decided that you’d like to try your hand at writing a novel. Particularly if you have a passion for it but aren’t quite sure where to start and are asking yourself, “Now what?”
1) Examine what you like to read. Check out your own bookshelves or get yourself to a bookstore and hunt down what interests you. And ask yourself, “Can I write this?” “Can I see myself creating something such as this?” Establish your genre. Sure you may like to work out of the box at some point, but for now, discover what excites you. Just can’t get enough of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth? Then perhaps romance or historical fiction is for you. If a headstrong protagonist seeking out the truth in the midst of a crime makes you feel warm and tingly all over then perhaps you should try mystery or suspense.
2) If you know what type of book you’d like to write, then move onto establishing a story idea. Watch a movie. Look for exciting scenes, interesting story lines. Build up an idea in your mind just what kind of general plot might interest you. See what kind of films you gravitate toward or what kind of characters you enjoy and then put those characters in scene. If you were going to write these characters, what would they be doing? Solving a crime? Journeying across the country for a last hurrah before one of them gets married? Rediscovering their faith after a lifelong journey of pain and heartache? Start with something general, something that interests you and then you can develop the plot.
3) Read a book. Some of my greatest inspiration comes from other novels. I enjoy a character so much I want to have someone like that in one of my books. Or I love a topic so I want to write something similar. Of course I am not suggesting at all that you copy a story idea. But there are dozens upon dozens of books out there that have a very similar storyline to another book. What makes them different is the characters or a particular twist that changes a scene and verges into new territory. Writers makes their books unique, even if it sounds just like that other book that just came out. Have you ever noticed that when one popular book comes out, dozens of other authors start writing books in the same genre, with the same overall theme? If it’s a vampire book this year, then a few dozen other authors are going to be coming out with vampire books. Perhaps not the best example, but the point is, people get ideas from other books and they want to write what is popular. What makes them publishable is that they’re written well and they’re unique in their own way. Check out what’s popular at your local bookstore and you’ll see what people are looking for. You can follow those themes or write in that genre with your own unique twist and then, not only have you got an idea for a book, you have an idea that is actually marketable.
4) Go for a walk. Get out of the house. Get your mind off the mundane and open it up to anything. Anything else. Think on stories you’ve heard, ideas you’ve had, places or things you’ve wanted to do. Would you enjoy writing about any of these things? Now consider them as a story. Many people say that you have to write from your experiences. I strongly believe it is also possible and enjoyable to write from what you haven’t experienced. Write about something you might like to experience. Write characters in situations you could never imagine yourself in. This is what makes characters unique and stories quirky. This is one of the main reasons why readers like to escape into books. Because they are an escape. Readers enjoy both types of books. Books and scenarios they can never imagine being a part of and books and scenarios they can completely relate to. Sometimes doing the unexpected is a wonderful choice.
5) Eavesdrop. Wait, did I say eavesdrop? I meant, listen to people. Listen to them talk, listen to their stories. A great many books these days are based loosely off of stories people have heard from other people that would make an interesting book. “They” also say that fact is better than fiction, right?
6) Think “what if?” When watching those movies or reading those books or eavesdropping—I mean listening—to those people, think “what if this would have turned out differently?” What if character A would have gone this route instead of the other route, subsequently intersecting with the life of character B? Alright, perhaps it doesn’t have to be that complicated. But consider stories or characters in other settings with other dilemmas. And then create a plot.
I have to say again, inspiration for a piece of fiction can come from so many places. Ideas are all around you if you’re open to them. And if you just have a general idea, but need to break it down and develop it more, it might help to talk to someone about it. Talk to someone you trust, get their opinion. They might say, “It would be cool if your protagonist had to (fill in the blank) after they deal with (fill in the blank).” Other people will see your idea from a different point of view and some of their suggestions might help.
If you have any stories of inspiration or additional ideas, please add them below. Fellowshipping with other authors is a wonderful way to learn, grow, and recognize that we are all in this together!