Where Novel Ideas Come From

Photo courtesy of Ryan Hickcox and www.flickr.com.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Hickcox and www.flickr.com.

One of the questions I tend to get when it comes to writings is the following:  “Where do you get your ideas for your novels?”  That’s almost always followed by, “You have such a vivid imagination.”

I love that question because it makes me think a bit about how I generate ideas.  They come from a lot of places.  Usually, the characters come to me before the plot does.

Character ideas stem from one main source.  I try to think of leading ladies and leading men and about issues they may have that can spark conflict.  For example, in my first novel, Exiled Heart, Ziad, the leading man, is a Muslim exiled to the States from Saudi Arabia.  Claire, the leading lady, grew up in South Carolina and had an experience that has led to her severe dislike of Muslim men.  Result?  Conflict.  These ideas come to me through different ways.  Sometimes I’m in the shower.  Other times, I’m in the car.  Still other times, I’m going to sleep.

I get plot ideas from a lot of different places.  Many times, I look at what’s happening in the world.  I’m not a news junky by any stretch, but all I have to do is cruise the news pages on the Internet to get some ideas.  I also take the conflicts generated by different characters and build upon those to form a plot.  Again, plot lines develop during times when my mind isn’t wholly focused on something that requires all of my attention, like work.  However, the vast majority of my ideas never make it out of my head and onto paper.  Why?  It’s hard to say.  Sometimes they don’t fit the characters.  Other times, they conflict may not be strong enough.

If you’re a writer, what’s the best approach to use to get ideas and to capture them?

  • Figure out how you work best. Do characters come to you first? Or the plot? Or both at the same time? Everyone is unique in that aspect.
  • Look around you for a plot. Be an observer. Ideas can pop in from almost anywhere, from a song, a movie, world events, or even your own family. If you’re still stuck at a place to begin, start with the newspaper or website headlines.
  • Take a shower. No kidding, a shower is a great place to generate ideas for both plot and character. My thought is that it’s because it’s one place where your mind totally relaxes.
  • Write it down. When an idea comes to you, scribble it somewhere. Use a high-tech app like Evernote, a notepad you keep by your bed, or even scraps of paper in your purse or briefcase. The big thing is to get it down somewhere because the chances are if you don’t, the idea will disappear and not return.
  • Follow the bunny trail. If plot ideas are popping, or the character you’re after is forming up quickly in your mind, take ten minutes and write down everything that’s appearing. Don’t edit anything during this brainstorming session. Simply get it all down somewhere. Later, you can go out and start editing.

There you have it.  Five ways to generate and capture plots and characters.  Use them to develop your own novel.  Before you know it, you’ll be ready to write.

Question:  What are some ways that you come up with either plots or characters?

I have not received any compensation for writing this post.  I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services I have mentioned.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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