Saturday, June 4, 2011

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

Incandescent_Light_Bulb“Where do you get your ideas?” is one of those questions that gets old fast. It’s also one of the questions you’ll hear most as a writer.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a conference or a signing or participated in a panel when I haven’t heard that question either before, after, or during the event.

I think my answer is the same as most writers. I smile and say, “You know, the ideas come all the time. I can’t shut them off! But they’re not epic ideas. They’re usually really small ideas that I can develop.”

For me, it’s only really occasionally that I’ll get a Super Big Idea. Even then, it might not be an idea that fits with the book I need to write. I mean, it’s great if I get a cool idea for a family saga that spans generations, but what I really need is a cool idea for a traditional mystery.

Instead of the Super Big Idea, I get little snippets of dialogue, character traits, an interesting quirk or personality type. Frequently these ideas show up while I’m at the store or in a conversation. I got them during book club last week and was guiltily texting myself the idea during the club meeting—realizing I probably looked obnoxious, but worried about losing the idea for good.

Sometimes I ‘m not even happy with the ideas I’ve got. Maybe they seemed like good ideas at the time, but once I started playing around with them on paper, they didn’t pan out the way I’d wanted them to.

In fact, one day in early 2010, I was working on my manuscript, Finger Lickin’ Dead (the book that’s releasing on Tuesday). The manuscript was in the early stages and I was exploring some of my ideas—and not liking them much.

I got an email from Hart Johnson. She’d had this really crazy, vivid dream, she said. It involved a murdered restaurant critic. She said that she knew she wasn’t going to write a restaurant mystery, and offered me the dream as a starting point.

And you know? It worked so much better than my idea! So I took her starting point, and Finger Lickin’ Dead was created. I mentioned Hart in my acknowledgments (thanking her for her ‘helpful suggestions’) and sent her a copy—which she showed off here.

Which goes to show, I think, that if we’re receptive to new ideas and not worried about trying a new direction for our story, we can really end up with a stronger book.

So now I’ll ask the never-ending question: where do you get your ideas? What’s the most unusual way you’ve received one?


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Finger Lickin’ Dead launches Tuesday, June 7th!