This is one of the questions writers often get asked. For some writers, they have a dream that inspires a novel. For others, it’s music. They hear a song that gets their mind churning, and bam, a story evolves. Yet for others still, the book comes from personal experience, from real life events that are fictionalized. There’s really no limit to where a writer gets their material from.
For me, my first bouts of inspiration came from other people’s stories. I was a writer of fan fiction for many years before writing original stories, so I played with other people’s characters in their worlds, only adding my twists to things. That was good practice, all fine and dandy for honing my writing and getting people to read my stuff, but it was never going to amount to making a living out of being an author. No one should profit off of someone else’s creations, unless, of course, the original author gives permission or the stuff is public domain.
But let me get to the point of where I get my ideas from when it comes to writing my original stories. My first original story, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is based off of my late grandma’s life, so that answers that question easily. I will go into more detail regarding the creation of my first novel in July’s blog post, since I feel this story deserves its own telling.
When I was writing Hannah’s Rainbow, I honestly didn’t know if I’d write more books. Of course, I wanted to do so, but I didn’t know if I actually had any more stories in me to tell. Shortly after finishing Hannah’s Rainbow, while my beta-readers were going through it, the comments from one of the women in particular struck me. She really liked Harry, who is Hannah’s brother. In the book, Harry and Hannah develop a close friendship once they reach young adulthood, despite not being on good terms when they were children. They share an understanding of each being in the shadow of an older sibling of the same sex as them, and Harry and Hannah are only two years apart. Harry’s character has an important role in part of Hannah’s story, but since it is Hannah’s story, as Hannah gets older, Harry is cast to the sidelines. Although he makes a few appearances later in the book, Hannah now has her own family: a husband and kids, and eventually grandchildren.
But Harry…what was his story? One of my readers wanted to know more. Harry is an alcoholic whose actions result in severe consequences for him because of something terrible he does at age 21. He doesn’t see his family for years. What happens during that time? When he returns to his family in Hannah’s Rainbow, he tells them some of what happened, but this was an opportunity for me to really explore Harry’s story. So a spin-off evolved. Harry’s story is called A Laughing Matter of Pain, and not only does it explain what happens during his absence from his family, but some of his adolescence is covered, explaining how he becomes the man he is.
I began to write Harry’s story in earnest a year ago (June 2016), but would you believe that about three weeks in, another story idea struck me? I have Hannah’s Rainbow to sort of thank for it again, but it’s more my husband whom I should thank. There is a part in Hannah’s Rainbow where Hannah has just moved into a new house and has a young daughter, but her husband has been drafted during World War II. That part lagged when I was writing, and when talking with my husband, he suggested giving Hannah an eccentric next door neighbor. We joked about the neighbor being obsessed with rocks and talking about them incessantly (based off someone we know in real life who does this sometimes). I imagined a young woman moving into a house by herself and having such an odd next door neighbor, but what if, instead of him talking about rocks, his yard is covered in rocks? Nothing living there as far as plants go. Why is there nothing living? He is a widower. He seems a little crazy. This young lady is alone. Why? I started fleshing out these characters and created Lorna and Tristan for my story, Lorna versus Laura. I began writing that story in tandem with Harry’s story, and guess what? Lorna’s story began demanding more of my attention. Her story just flowed out of me, so Harry’s story took a backseat for a few months while I finished the first draft of Lorna’s story.
I have since finished both Lorna versus Laura and A Laughing Matter of Pain, but they are not yet published. I am currently working on books four and five, Arianna and Mile Marker 139. Both of these books were born out of conversations I had with others.
For Arianna, a good friend and I were discussing telemarketers one day. We wondered what the job must be like when a customer wants to talk the ear off of the agent who’s calling, or maybe the agent is used to being a type of therapist to lonely customers. That got me to thinking about using that for a book, but as I fleshed out the story of Arianna, the book became less and less about her new job as a telemarketer and much more about her trying to reinvent herself after her parents’ deaths. A common theme among my stories has become broken characters who are trying to rebuild their lives and those in their lives who are along for the journey. Romance is involved, although that is not usually the primary genre of my stories.
In Mile Marker 139, for the title, you can probably guess that this story involves a highway. Mile marker 139 is a real place along the Ohio Turnpike, and there is a rest area there. My husband has a fascination with rest areas, thinking that they would be neat places to people watch, to just drive to on some lonely night, sit, and look around. That conversation about rest areas got the gears in my head turning. What if there is a mysterious lady who shows up at a rest area every night at the same time? Most people don’t notice her. They’re just passing by, but there are people who work at the rest area. They would see her. The story revolves around three characters, a janitor, a barista, and a trucker, and how their interactions with this strange woman echo truths in their own lives. As the story unfolds, the truth about Shelley (the mysterious woman) comes out.
What’s in store beyond that? Book six will be a modern-day adaptation of Jane Eyre, which is my favorite book. Book seven will be based off of a recent dream I had about a woman in the early twentieth century who is a writer, but her passion is discouraged because of her sex and her low class association.
As you can see, my ideas come from all over the place! I guess I am not the most organized writer in the world, but my chaos somehow works for me.
If you’re a writer and you’re having a hard time finding inspiration, here are my suggestions:
- Take a walk in the woods
- People watch
- Write a short story or even just a page with dialogue between two characters
- Pretend to interview a character
- Take an interest of yours and think about how you could make it into a story
- If you love music, create a soundtrack for a story and go from there
- Write a poem
- Just journal about what’s on your mind
- Read lots of books
- Get a full night’s sleep and try again tomorrow
- Invest ten minutes a day to sit down and just write
This list isn’t exhaustive, and I’m sure you can find other suggestions on the net. There are people who are much more qualified than me to give suggestions on where to find ideas for writing a story, but this is just my little list.
I’ve shared with you my crazy sources of ideas. Maybe it helped spark something for you? Or maybe you’re a writing fool and don’t need my help. Whatever your situation, I wish you the best in finding inspiration, keeping it, and writing it down.
Like what you’ve read? Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog at the end of every month and a book review blog the 15th of every month.
Please note: Since the last day of June falls on a Friday, I’m posting this in place of my usual character profile on Friday.
Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available FREE on July 1 & 2 or for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful