Hey Author – Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

Every author gets hit with this question and one thing we authors don’t often admit is that a lot of our ideas are actually pretty dumb.

No, seriously. Here’s an example of a dumb idea of mine:

My sleepless side for seven nights has kept me thinking about the person I used to be. Something snapped, like a dried out twig or an arc of electricity. And it isn’t a desperate change that overtakes me; it’s more of a gradual thing, like a passing shadow when the moon is full and round fat and silence is your only companion.

For others, it’s their mortal enemy.

I welcome my darker nature like an old friend. It caresses my face and whispers a promise that I know full well is another lie, but lies are far easier to believe when the truth of your life grinds you into bite sized pieces and consumes every last ounce of your spirit. I believe in those lies now, with all my heart. I have to because of what I am and what I become.

Um … barf.

While it reads well, the sad fact is this dumb idea has been done already by people better than me. Here’s a pair of examples of where this idea is done brilliantly:

So yeah, darker nature manifests in book format. In this case, my big brilliant idea was to be a YA project and after writing a few chapters it occurred to me that I was writing The Incredible Hulk in teen form. That’s how it goes, by the way. We authors might think something is a fabulous idea but once we sit down and start slamming away at the keyboard, a lot of us can tell very quickly whether our “next big thing” is going to be the next thing on of flash drive called “crap ideas”.

At the same time, most authors report finding inspiration for stories in everyday life. The office, the marriage, the kids, something we saw while driving down the highway. Sometimes it’s a news story and other times we’re so inspired by a brilliant book by another author that we’re tempted to try our hand at a theme another author has hit on in their bestselling novel. Everyone wants to do their take on vampires, werewolves, zombies, superheroes. dystopia, utopia, time travel, pre-history, etc.Welcome to the world of genre fiction where the subject matter is the same but the characters are different. Where the superheroes live in a different world from what we see in traditional comic books and where a mystery is still a mystery – only there’s our own different approach in solving it as we plot out the story.

Inspiration and influence – I think that’s what it’s called. We are inspired by other fabulous authors and their stories. We are influenced to try to establish our own mark on the familiar. It’s important to remember that a lot of what we write might not even be marketable. This is because we are creating art in a world that is governed by the fundamental truth of capitalism: return on investment.

Publishers need to see a return on investment if they plan to take on a project that you’ve completed. And that’s the big crap shoot, isn’t it? It’s why the VAST majority of books don’t earn out their advances. It’s why publishers are looking to publish stuff they think is going to sell rather than to take a chance on a brilliantly written story by an author nobody has heard of. And it’s probably one of the reasons there are so many authors deciding to take a chance on self-publishing. It’s also one of those things that makes many authors decide to simply walk away from writing books entirely – because so much work goes into writing a book. It might flop. It might wind up being pilloried on Goodreads amid a haze of animated gifs posted by reviewers who think with pictures are excellent methods by which to critique a published work that someone put years into.

It’s a weird time in publishing right now and still a lot of us cling to the hope that one of our books will hit paydirt. And that book will lead to a series. And that series will lead to who-knows-what?

And I think that’s why I try like crazy to blot out the doom and gloom surrounding the book business these days. My ideas for stories come from to words: “What If”. That’s sort of how I think out an idea for a story and then I’ll write a few thousand words to see if it actually works. It’s sort of like the authorly equivalent of taking a car for a test drive. Does it make sense? Does it flow? Does it create a hero’s journey? Do I actually give a crap about the characters? If I get a “yes” for all these questions, then I will continue writing. I’m lucky as hell in that I have an agent to bounce ideas off. I also have a spouse who is very practical about what’s good and what sucks monkeybutt because she’s from the farm. And on the farm in the winter time when you don’t have cable TV growing up, guess how you spend your time? Yup. Reading.

Reading everything and anything that can get you as far the hell away from the farm as you can possibly get. My wife Cheryl is a reading machine and my ultimate sounding board for a book idea. She has, thankfully, stomped on most of my terrible ideas and she’s cheered me on for the good ones.

So, there you have it. That’s where ideas come from for this story hack. No magic pill. No miraculous inspiration. Just a lot of trial and error and experimentation.

Happy Friday!


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