There are a few questions that, as a writer, I get asked all the time. One of the most common ones is this: where do I get my ideas? When I answer, “I made them up”, almost 100% of the time the next response is something along the lines of ‘I wish I could write a book but I’m not creative.’
So here’s the truth: I didn’t think I was either. Before I started writing, I thought authors were these people who just naturally had a brain full of awesome ideas that just popped into their heads without any effort at all. And maybe that is true for some lucky writers. But the truth is (for me at least), coming up with ideas is hard work. It involves constantly thinking of the world in a different way, asking myself questions, actively looking for inspiration and not just waiting for it to come to me.
Let’s do a quote, shall we?
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”–Jack London.
It’s brilliant because it’s true.
So if you’d like to come up with book ideas, start paying attention to the world around you. Start asking yourself questions.
‘What if’ questions are helpful.
The inspiration for STARTERS by Lissa Price was born after she’d tried and failed to get a flu shot during a shortage–they were only giving it out to the very old, the very young, and the sickly. She asked herself ‘what if this was a killer flu? Then all we’d have left is the very young, the very old and the sickly. What kind of a world would that be?’
Recently I did an interview with Lenore Appelhans, author of LEVEL 2. Lenore said her book was inspired by asking herself two questions: ‘1. What might currency look like in the afterlife–are certain memories more valuable than others? And 2. What might a dystopian afterlife look like.’
Another method: Think of a common idea, then think about how you could spin that idea in a way that’s never been done before. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a good example. Cinderella retellings had been done nearly to death, but Cinderella as a robot? Now that’s interesting. Vampire novels existed way before Twilight. Sparkling, high-school vampire in love with a human? That’s new. Author Ellen Oh says this about her inspiration to write PROPHECY: “The idea was about how everyone believes that the hero of legend is a young prince. But instead, it turns out that the hero is actually a girl. It came from that place in me that was so tired of being overlooked for being female. So tired of the sexism and misogyny in our world. I wanted a story where the girl didn’t need to wait for a prince to come and save her because she was the hero of her own story.”
Pay attention to the world around you. Suzanne Collins was flipping channels between a reality TV show and news coverage on the war when the idea for THE HUNGER GAMES was born.
Stephanie Meyer was famously inspired to write Twilight after a dream.
You might find inspiration in your own life experience. Author Tracy Holczer was inspired by a decision she made in childhood that she regretted. She wrote a story where the main character chooses differently.
Sometimes a picture is inspiring. Sometimes a word or phrase. My sister, who is also an author, was going to write an adult historical and planned to call it THE WITCH HUNTER’S BIBLE. She changed her mind and never did write that book, but the title inspired me. I used that inspiration to write a book about a popular cheerleader whose perfect life is threatened when a stranger tells her that the family bible just stolen from the attic of her mom’s occult shop could mean the end to witches everywhere.
Sometimes I brainstorm ideas with my sister. Sometimes, I brainstorn with my husband. His suggestions?
-My main character should contract a UTI. The climax of the book is a fraught journey to the clinic.
-My main character should have three nipples
-The secret to getting to an alternate dimension should be to fart three times in a row.
(In case you were wondering, those ideas are still up for grabs :D)
Anyway, the point of my rambling is this: just because an idea didn’t pop into your head without effort, doesn’t mean you’re not creative. You just have to try.
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice we’re doing it.” –Neil Gaiman.