- by ria, on Wednesday, 28th July 2010, 11:51am

Coming up with ideas is hard. Especially if you are staring at a blank page. I can’t sit down and just start writing a story. First, I need a character I love, then I need a setting that fires my imagination. Then I need a plot. Two posts before this, I spoke about creating an outline, but I didn’t go into any details on where the ideas come from.

For me, they come while I’m writing. I’m working on a trilogy at the moment. I’m editing book one, book two is written and book 3 is half-written. So I have a good idea of the overarching plot. As I write, I’m thinking ahead, ‘How can I use this turn-about in one of the later books?’ So I’m getting ideas for book 3 from things that are happening in book 1. And I kind of hope that that shows through when I have them all written. I want people to be able to see the connections. I want them to say to themselves, ‘Ah, yes. I remember this from book 1. This author wove that narrative string nicely across the trilogy.’

But what if you are starting with a whole new book? One where you do not have a large background of information to pull ideas from? As I said already, start with a character, or a setting. If you are really brave, you can start with an emotion.

Setting as Inspiration

Let’s say you decide to focus on coming up with the setting first (I’ll get to character in a minute). Think about things you like: wood, metal, water, desert, city, food, bed… (yeah, now I’m just getting random). Anyway, think about something you like, say metal, and figure out how to work it into your setting. The setting is full of metal: a metal planet, a factory, a slum where huts are made of metal sheets… you can work it in any way you like. Then build on that. Let’s say you went with the metal factory. Is it in use or abandoned. Let’s say its abandoned and there are people living there. Why do they not have homes? My brain jumps to a post-apocalyptic setting. A bit clich√©. I can do better. The metal protects them from something… Lightning? I don’t know. My brain has run out of ideas. Maybe I should go with something else.

You get the idea. Once you have your starting point, work up from there. You probably should leave the starting point behind. Don’t work it into your novel, use it to get a feel for the setting and then do something better with it.

Character as Inspiration

Starting with a character is generally the way I work. I usually get the look and style of the character first and then build up characteristics based on that. For example, one of the girls (women – she’s about 22)¬† from book two. My initial inspiration for her was an image of a girl wearing baggy pants and a t-shirt standing on the wall of a river bank, her long coat and hair blowing out behind her. A bit dramatic, I will admit, but you have to start somewhere.

In my mind, she’s alone and it’s dark. Now, what sort of girl would wear such clothes, be out at night and standing on the wall of a river bank. Someone confident, she doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s not going with convention – what grown adult walks along walls just for the fun of it? She’s also not wearing clothes that are conventional for a lady to wear. She’s definitley got more of a punk vibe going on. The final detail is that she looks serious. There’s something wrong, maybe insomnia, maybe depression, that has here out at night standing over the river. She’s not facing the river so I know she’s not suicidal. She just wants to let the wind take her problems away. Right, and I got all that from one image.

Now, this image did just pop into my head one day, but you can use things around you to the same effect. An image from a magazine, someone on TV. Find someone who attracts you, figure out why, and build up a personality for them. Don’t use someone you know, or a famous actor. They already have too much of their own personality.

Emotion as Inspiration

The final inspiration I’m going to write about is emotion. Emotion is a powerful thing. All of us feel, we all like to feel good, but sometimes it can be nice to wallow in bad feelings. Sometimes it is therapeutic to do so. But not too self-indulgently. Just for a little while.

Using emotion as inspiration can be tricky. You have to figure out what emotion would you like to explore. You have to come up with a situation that causes this emotion. Let’s say you want to write about forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful emotions out there, it’s always a great one to write about. So, at the end of your novel you want the power of forgiveness to come shining off the page. You need to work backwards. You need a character who needs forgiving, or who holds a grudge. You need to work up to that. Being inspired by emotion isn’t generally something that happens to me at the start of a book. It usually comes when I have a better idea of everything, when I know my characters well, when I know what kind of emotional turmoil I want to put them through.

Other Sources of Inspiration

I want to add that if is there some cool action sequence you’ve always wanted to write, note it and work it into your novel somehow. Nothing like a good action scene to get your inspiration glands working.

So, How Does the Plot Come from All This?

Well, that’s the easy part. You have your setting, your primary emotion, or your character, the plot is what you do with it. Turn it on it’s head. Add conflict. Give your character something to worry about. Actually, I’m going to write a whole separate post about this.

One Further Comment

Whatever you do, don’t think that you can sit down and write just because you have a cool setting or a brilliant character. Believe me, if you do that, I can guarantee that your first 10,000 words will be nothing but back story and filler. You need a plot before you start writing. Exciting stuff has to happen on the very first page.

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There’s a really important post on finding your plot coming next week. Set your rss to threecornersquare so you don’t miss out.

PS, I write the longest posts ever. This one is 1127 words.

tags: , , ,
category: pre-production, writing

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