One of the most common questions asked of writers is, “Where do you get your story ideas?” Most authors I know answer this question with a shrug and say, “They come from everywhere.” Before I was a publishing writer, I hated that answer. Surely there was a better way to get ideas without waiting for the universe to present them.
In reality, they’re right; story ideas are everywhere. But finding them isn’t a matter of waiting for them to present themselves. Instead, it’s in noticing them because they’re always there. When asked where he got his ideas for his quirky characters and odd-ball situations, Carl Hiaasen said they were from the local newspaper. Stephan King said he got the idea for Mr. Mercedes after reading about someone driving their Mercedes into a crowded McDonalds. Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame got the idea for her series from reality TV. These authors where reading the newspaper, watching the news or reality TV and from that ideas formed.
My ideas come from unique places as well. I just figured out the idea for book three in a cozy series I’m working on while searching Google on the equivalents between fresh and ground nutmeg. I got hooked on the show Airplane Repo and knew I had to have a character that was an airplane repo man. Recently, I had an entire short story come to me in a dream, but I think the trigger was a Facebook question about romantic Christmas gifts.
Sometimes I already have a kernel of an idea or I know I need to come up with the next idea for a series, but I don’t have the important details needed to create a full-fledged story. For example, in the Valentine series, I know each book needs a murder mystery that takes place in Tess and Jack’s circle of acquaintances. Using my cast of characters, I pick one for each book and try to figure out a plot. The idea about who’s murdered and why often comes from things I see or read in the world. I linked Tess’ first engagement ring to the Hope Diamond right around the time it was revealed that the blue stone was first the French Blue. This was helpful because at the time, I didn’t have a compelling reason for the ring to be so valuable that the bad guys would seek it out and kill to have it.
In the second Valentine book, Old Flames Never Die, I was stuck on how to make the crime work until I saw an episode of a forensic show on ID TV. Thank goodness I saw it, because it was the idea that made the whole plot work.
The idea for book four of the Valentine series (‘Til Death Do Us Part), came from the fascination fans have in the love lives of celebrities, especially those who have great on-screen chemistry. Luckily, I’d mentioned a celebrity friend of Jack’s in the first book, so I had a way to use this idea.
I’m fascinated by the prohibition era and have an idea of a cozy series set during that period. Interestingly enough, that idea started as a romance featuring a different couple set in contemporary times. Over time, it has morphed from the influence of watching Miss Fisher and Boardwalk Empire.
While some ideas show up while you’re busy living your life, some arrive while you’re writing. I have an idea for a vampire story, but the unique details of my vampire world came from my research on Romanian folklore. That research also helped me create a character for a new cozy I’m working on who loves fairy tales and folklore.
The point is, that while stories are developed, that initial spark of idea often comes from unusual and unexpected places. The unique plot twists and turns in stories often come the same way. If you’re a writer, the trick is to recognize and remember these ideas. That’s where keeping a notebook or having a note taking app on your phone can help. After that, it’s about asking questions to see where the idea can lead so you can flesh it out into a story or fit it into a book you’re already working on.