I’ve got an idea

Last year I spoke to a group of freshmen and sophomore high school students. The topic of discussion was the difference between writing for the newspaper and writing fiction for entertainment. I brought along some newspapers and a few books, including one of my own. I even wrote a lede and the beginning of a news article for “Star Wars,” going so far as to read the first page of the novel and the news article draft to demonstrate the differences.

We had a few minutes at the end of class and I opened it up for questions. As you could expect from young high school students, there were some pretty basic questions about being an author (How much do you make? Do you have an agent? etc.). But more than one student centered around the question:

Where do you get your story ideas?

It was a good question, one that I had never thought about myself but I had asked about some of my favorite authors.

I have a five-book series that I began based upon my envisioning the final line in the final scene of the last book. I also have one work that is based entirely upon the main protagonist’s faults and how he is trying to overcome them (based upon a person I saw at a shopping mall during Christmas).

“Dreams of Ivory and Gold,” which will be released in April, began very simply as a series of questions: Throw out conventional fiction ideas of living forever as a 30-year-old. What if being nearly immortal meant puberty lasted for decades? What if you were living forever in a job you hated? What would that do to a person’s mind? How would they live their life?

“Jacked” (YA currently being marketed) began as a very vivid dream where the protagonist was being chased down a crumbling city street and every time he touched an object, it turned on.

My current WIP started as the question: Which is a better life, one where a person is living in a fictional world but is happy, or one where they are miserably struggling through the real world?

Because I have such a love for reading, I have always tried to find ways to incorporate my kids into my novels as a way of exciting them about reading as well, even when the subject matter was too old for them at the time. I have used their personalities for characters, mentioned their names, and written for their age groups.

So it really should not have come as a surprise when my youngest daughter crawled up beside me on the couch the weekend after New Year’s and announced, “I’ve got an idea.”

(Those words from this daughter can send shivers down my spine because she tends to hold onto an idea for a long time. This is the same girl who came home from pre-school one day several years ago and said we should address her as Princess Toots. The “Princess” part has long since gone by the wayside but “Toots” is still her family nickname.)

So I listened to Toots’ idea which really consisted of about two sentences, most of which were blatant rip-offs of books that were already on the market. So I grabbed a notepad and began writing down ideas while we talked.

What if the main character was this? What if this happened to her? She needs help so what if her companions were these people? What is her ultimate goal?

We talked for about an hour and I put the notepad in my office. This past weekend, I saw it lying on the corner of my writing table and picked it up, smiling at the memory of Toots and I talking.

Then I started reading what I wrote down. It wasn’t bad. There was a strong protagonist who had enough faults to develop through the story. There was inner and outer conflict. There was a cast of supporting characters and an antagonist to defeat. Upon further reflection what I saw was not just one book but two Middle Grade books in a series.

My conclusion is that – at least for me – I never quite know where my ideas will come from.

Oh, and I should continue to listen when Toots says she has an idea.

(** By the way – the photo in the header for this website was taken by Toots. The idea for that began with, “I’ve got a vision…**)

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