Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Get Ideas For Your Novel

Ideas. They're Out There. Somewhere.

Where do ideas come from? I've been thinking about this - it's time to start writing my next novel, but I haven't had that one special idea jump out at me and beg to be written. It hasn't happened yet, but I know it will. When I'm least expecting it, a scenario will present itself and hang onto me for dear life, demanding to be given life. It's happened every time I'm looking to start a new book. All I - or any author in need of a good idea - has to do is take these simple steps:

1.  Be open to the unexpected.
2.  Be watchful.
3.  Use your imagination.
4.  Recognize a unique thing when you see it.
5.  And snatch it up when it appears.

Sometimes it's Fast

Sometimes an idea will hit strong and swift, like a lightening strike. Last summer, my husband and I watched the summer Olympics and marveled at the athleticism and talent on display. The day after the closing ceremony, I was washing the dinner dishes (I remember it so clearly, we'd had spaghetti and garlic bread) and it hit me:


I knew immediately that I should write a book about it.

My breath caught in my throat because I knew, I just knew, I had something. Suddenly I was flooded with a hundred ideas revolving around this central theme where only a moment ago there had been nothing. What would athletic-style, choreographed sex in the Olympic Games look like? What would it be called? What was its history? How would the athletes feel about their sport? How would they feel about themselves? How would the rest of the world feel about it? Would spectators be horrified or would they be...ahem...into it? After I had the main idea, the story came easily. And that's how America's Darlings was born.

Sex in the Olympics. It'll never happen, not in real life, not in a hundred years, not in two hundred years - so I figured I might as well pull out all the stops and play around with the idea. Develop it as far as I could. I ended up having so much fun with it! How could I not have fun? The more admittedly silly things I thought of (team uniforms that don't actually cover anything), the more I came up with (horribly embarrassing sexual malfunctions, captured on TV for all the world to see), the better the story became.

Best of all, I enjoyed every ridiculous moment of it.

Sometimes it's Like Pulling Teeth

Sometimes, however, an idea has a much slower genesis. My current novel, Inn on the Edge (erotic horror) was like that. I had a germ of an idea: setting a story in a wonderful old lodge on the Washington Coast. I'd stayed in one once, long ago, and fell in love with it. It stuck with me all these years as the ideal atmospheric setting for a novel.

Lake Quinault Lodge

The View from the Lodge

Once I decided to move on this story, it came together piece by piece. I'd populate the Lodge (re-cast as a sinister-seeming Bed-and-Breakfast Inn) with newlywed couples. I wanted my story to be rife with erotic, passionate undercurrents, and who better than four couples gathering together just after their weddings?

Since I intended this novel to be erotic horror, I needed a bad guy to lure my unsuspecting main characters to his Inn and keep them captive. My antagonist slowly took form in my mind: he'd be a new kind of sex demon, scary yet charming, charismatic and likable, yet unable to actually have sex with his captives - quite a problem for a sex demon. My characters would alternately be enamored of him and want to get as far away from him as possible. 

But - who was this demon who would play such a large part in my novel? 

Ideas Can Come From Very Weird Places

My husband, my daughter, and I were eating take-out Thai food, and I was talking about my Demon-in-the-Inn idea. I told them I was having a problem getting a handle on the demon character. "What's his name?" asked Richard. I just stared at him blankly.

"It ought to be something foreign-sounding!" said Sarah.

"Yeah - like this..." said Richard, shoving the Pad Thai container to me.

Sarah shook her head. "Not good enough."

"Okay." He thought for a moment, then grinned. "What was the name of that Ethiopian place we ate lunch at last week? That sounded foreign!"

We looked it up. Adey Abeba.

And that was it. I knew immediately, no looking back. It was the name of the capitol of Ethiopia, and referred to a certain charming yellow flower that grew abundantly there (which play a small part in my novel). 

I changed the spelling: Adi Abiba. He was now Mr. Adi Abiba, proprietor of the unique Inn on the Edge. I could see him clearly, so very clearly! He was tall and imposing and he wore flowing robes. He had an infectious laugh and a gaze that could skewer you. In that moment, he became a fully-formed character.

I'll Take Ideas Wherever I Can Get Them

It was all I needed to get me going. During the next seven months, I wrote and revised Inn on the Edge, loving every moment of it.  The manuscript is currently with my editor at Ellora's Cave, in line for eventual publication. It is now time to start a new novel. Where will ideas for this one come from? What intriguing concept will bang me over the head? Will it be a quick-moving one like America's Darlings, or a slow one like Inn on the Edge? Time will tell!

And you? Where do your ideas come from? Have you ever tracked the growth of an idea? I'd love to hear your stories!

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