Monday, November 17, 2008

How Do You Get Your Ideas?

That's a question writers are asked all the time. For me, a story idea can happen while I'm watching TV, driving my car, reading the paper, talking to a friend, or even when I'm asleep. Thinking of story ideas is never the issue, as a new one is always crawling in my brain when I least expect it.

They usually come to me in a "What if" question, followed by a "Why?". Things like, "What if two women are in the airport and decide to switch tickets? Why would they want to do this? What are they each running/hiding/wanting to get away from?"

That particular idea came to me while sitting in an airport in Dallas. I realized, quite suddenly, that once you're past security, no one checks your ticket against your ID again--which means two people could switch tickets and fly under each other's names. If they chose to. But while it's a great idea, and I've already started the story, there's SO MUCH MORE I need to know.

Many of my initial ideas arrive half-baked. Some of them aren't meant to build a book around, but maybe just one scene within the book, and others need time to grow into something more. So, what do I do if pluck one of these ideas out of my file (and yes, I keep a file), but it needs more work? In a word: Brainstorm.

I brainstorm with other writers. This, by the way, doesn't always happen at the beginning of a book. It can happen throughout the writing of the book--maybe I've hit a wall, or need something else to happen, or maybe I can take the story in a couple of different ways and I'm not sure which one is the right one.

Regardless, brainstorming allows me to talk it out to someone else. I'll be honest--most of the time, I don't end up using whatever plot points my brainstorming buddies come up with, but the process seems to loosen my creative energy, and help me find exactly the right answer I need. Though, there are definitely instances whereI've used a plot point or characterization idea and ran with it.

The great thing about brainstorming is it goes both ways. When my writer friends have a problem, they call me, and I talk it out with them. In addition, my local writing group has a full weekend each year devoted to brainstorming, where we talk about multiple books, plots, characters, motivation, and everything and anything each of us needs to get writing.

So while I don't have problems with inspiration (at least not yet, thank goodness), I would be lost without brainstorming. It's an integral part of every book I write--whether I do it on my own, with a friend, or with my writing group.


Jillian Cantor said...

I love the ticket switch idea, so many interesting places you could take that one! I can't wait to read it when it's done :-).

Carolyn McTighe said...

I like the ticket switch idea too. Great post!

Maureen Lipinski said...

I have the opposite problem--I'm always panicking because I'm afraid I've "run out" of ideas. Of course, another one always comes along, but still...