I'm at a strange point in my writing life. Since I wrote THE BODY INSTITUTE, which became my debut for January 2015, I've written three other novels. Eventually (um, hopefully) I'll be working on at least one of these with my agent, but what about brand new shiny ideas? I confess at this point I don't have any sparks or plans for new books. Now there's a totally ungrounded, unsettled feeling.
Where do we as writers get new ideas? How do we get out of that state of mind where we think of possible ideas but just as fast, we discard them as boring, cliché, too convoluted, or shallow? Well, I guess we keep jotting them down until one of them grabs us by the lapels and doesn't let go. Here are some ways I can think of to generate initial story ideas.
1. Read newspaper or online articles. I'm talking NON-fiction, here. What about that article you read about the girl everyone thought was missing for 15 years—what really happened to her? What about that fascinating new scientific or technological discovery? You could spin a plot from intriguing things like auras, telekinesis, time travel, alternate histories, or synesthesia (a mixing of the senses, for instance perceiving numbers as certain colors). Do a random online search or wander your local library, and see what you come up with!
2. Read other books, and "research." No, I don't mean ripping off other writers' ideas or being derivative. Reading can make you aware of what's already out there, so you can make sure your book is different and unique. Reading can also often send you off on a tangent toward fresh and innovative ideas. It can inspire you.
3. Read something you don't normally read. Switch it up. If you usually read sci-fi and fantasy, try reading a contemporary novel. If you usually stick to YA or MG, try reading an adult novel. You can even thumb through picture books in the children's section of a bookstore or a library. Some random gem of an idea might just catch your eye, something you can develop into a full-blown short story or novel.
4. Refresh an old idea with a new twist. Rummage through that file or folder that holds all your "failed" or shelved storylines—you know the one. Check to see if you can't breathe new life into these stories by changing the plot, adding a spicy character, writing it from a different character's point of view, or making that unsellable dystopian into a sci-fi novel. Warp those genres. Mix and match plotlines. Try quirky new settings.
5. Try your hand at a retelling. Don't slavishly copy a folk tale or an existing children's book. Make it your own. Toss it into a totally different time period, such as the 1996 movie Romeo & Juliet, which takes place in a modern, urban setting. Or like Marissa Meyer's CINDER, which tells the tale of Cinderella as a sci-fi tale involving a cyborg as the main character.
6. Find new WAYS of telling a story. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak involves Death as the narrator. Very unique. Jay Asher's 13 REASONS WHY involves tapes sent to 13 people to reveal the reasons why a girl committed suicide. Experiment with points of view. Do something in a way that's never been done before. Be creative!
7. Mine your dreams. Write down half-remembered dreams. Develop that recurring nightmare. Explore that mysterious place between your waking and non-waking worlds. Use your subconscious snippets, form them into a plotline, and have fun populating these worlds with intriguing characters.
Have you ever found yourself in this position, without a clue as to what you'll write next?
Which of these methods catches your attention the most, the one you'd like to try?
Where do you find YOUR story ideas?