I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Story Sparkers

There are two kinds of writers. Yes, I’m oversimplifying things, but work with me, people.

Two kinds of writers:

The first comes with a one-track mind. She has the story she's working on, maybe an idea for a sequel. Not much else. She just has to hope against hope that new inspiration will come when the time is right.

Then there's the one with the exploding idea file. Lots of character or plot or scene ideas or titles or even random bits of dialogue to spark the next story. She never has to fear she’ll be a one-book wonder. Unless, of course, she never stays focused long enough to finish that second book…

I belong to that second category. Even if I can focus, I’ll never have enough time or energy to write all the novel ideas that have paraded through my mind over the years. If only I could find a way to make money auctioning off the ideas themselves…

That thought resulted in the founding of a useless organization called The Idea Oasis, of which I am the esteemed president. Amy Lindberg is my talented VP. Lisa Jordan is my amazing marketing director. And we have done absolutely nothing.

So for those of you who are in the first category of writers, I am going to do my first not-really-official act as president and give you a short, complimentary list of ways to find story sparkers.

1. Donald Maass' agency website’s list of what they’re looking for this month. I love checking that out just to get the wheels turning. Like the time they wanted a suspense about an ex-CIA agent who was keeping her past a secret, but had to take down her old nemesis while staying on track with her wedding planning. How fun is that?

2. Music. Flip through the radio and listen to some lyrics, even if you don’t care for the musical style. Like when the guy’s apologizing to “Ms. Jackson” for making her daughter cry. Or “Hello” by Evanescence. Who’s not breathing? Why is the person denying it? Or “Unfaithful” by Rihanna. If she knows she’s killing him, why is she doing it? And doesn’t that remind you of Redeeming Love, Hosea and Gomer, and...well, me in my relationship with God sometimes?

3. People watching. Like the overweight guy wearing a 007 t-shirt as he rode down the sidewalk on a rickety old bicycle. Or the woman who actually knelt on the shoulder of the highway, refusing to move as the man tugged on her arm. Who are they? What are their dreams, their deepest fears?

4. Real life. That true crime book. The newspaper article. The interview on the radio. Did they react the way you would have? Wouldn't that career be an intriguing choice for a main character?

5. Mixing things up. What if the 007 guy came along and rescued the girl on the highway, and she ended up being Ms. Jackson’s daughter—the one whose heart he broke back in high school when he left to join the CIA?

Or…not. But you get the idea.

Actually, I hope you get lots of ideas. But if these don’t help, hop on over to chat on My Book Therapy. A little bit of brainstorming with these fabulous ladies will get things moving. Of course, there are so many more places to look for inspiration, but now it’s your turn! Where do you go to find your story sparkers?

Jenness Walker

P.S. Don't forget to click on our CONTEST tab for details about the August contest and PJ Sugar--one of my favorite series from Susan May Warren!


  1. Wow. So many ideas. So many ways to get more ideas. Hhhhmmm. How can I incorporate some of these ideas into my new WIP? Pondering, pondering all the possibilities.

  2. Thanks for all the info! I didn't realize Donald Maas kept a list. But if that's what they are looking for this month, you must have to write really fast! LOL
    Great Post Jenness!

  3. Esteemed VP of the group who has done...NOT...absolutely nothing. Jenness, do not forget about our incredibly sweet logo we designed! Wink!

    And, so glad we formed Idea Oasis, and definitely glad we made you the Pres...wow, idea lady!

    Some days I fear I will be one of the one story people. (Just don't tell my Idea Oasis boss!) To get ideas, I go talk to Jenness!

  4. Oh my gosh, I laughed so much during the post. You are witty and clever, Jenness, as well as a fountain of ideas! No. 5 was my favorite.

    Here's my problem with ideas: follow-through. I feel like I can come up with fun and (I think) new ideas...but then it's the whole fleshing it out thing where I can get lost...maybe the Idea Oasis team can help me...:)

    Also, I am kicking myself for never hanging around the MBT forum long enough to chat.

  5. Ideas everywhere and so little time to write! Only a novelist can take a 3 minute dream related by their daughter and turned it into an 80,000 word story! Or one sentence by same said daughter and turn it into an 85,000 word story. (Where would I get ideas without her?)

    Oh, I'd get them from a news item headline (forget reading the article--it's more fun to imagine "what it?") Or I'd get them by waking up one morning and just having the whole last chapter come to me--I still don't know what happens in the rest of that story but it's on my list of books to write.

    And by the way, Jenness, it's getting freaky. About 4 hours before this was posted, I wrote a potential post on story ideas...same thing happened last time. Who knew our minds went in such similar directions?

    But I didn't have a VP, marketing director or logo, so it was fitting that you wrote this post!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Okay, I deleted that last post because there was a typo in it. Dang!
    Retyping s-l-o-w-e-r:
    Author James Scott Bell (have a great conference story about him!) has a list of The Top Twenty Ways to Get Hundreds of Plot Ideas in his book "Plot & Structure." Gave me lots to ponder during vacation.
    No typos.

  8. Good job Beth! So, is book 2 about Hadleigh, or a completely new set of fun and interesting characters?

  9. Me, too, Melissa about not hanging out at MBT forums.

    Jenness, great ideas to jumpstart the process. One I like is the news. Heard a news story once about this person who had amnesia and didn't go to the police for 10 years. Now what would make a person wake up, not know who they are and not report it? Maybe if they woke up with a dead body in the room....and had a suitcase full of money...hmmm

    Thanks Jenness for the great post!

  10. Great post, Oasis Pres. I'm in the second group, but I've learned I can actually finish stories! It's a great feeling!

    My problem isn't coming up with the ideas, but making them unique. Sigh.

    You've given a terrific list of story sparklers. Off to check them out...like I need more ideas.

  11. Teri! So sorry! I thought about running the idea by you first to make sure I wasn't stealing your thunder again, but I ran up too close to the deadline.

    Jennie, obviously I've never submitted to him, but I've filed away some of the ideas to play with at some point.

    Amy...the incredibly sweet logo we TALKED about designing. :-) I never actually saw it.

    Melissa, I hear you about the follow-through. The focus thing is a definite issue for type #2 writers! Love, love, love coming up with brand new ideas, but I get bored with them rather quickly. The next idea is so much shinier. lol

    Beth, I have that book on my to-read pile. I'll have to check that out. Wait. No. Focus...

    Pat...And you're off. :-)

  12. Jenness, I just love you. You are so full of fun and ideas and you make me laugh. And while you classify yourself as a Type 2 Writer, I have Double Take on my bedside table as proof that you can focus, follow through, and finish. (Did you see my clever use of alliteration right there? Thank you, Mrs. Tomlin, 8th grade English teacher.) I will wait with breathless anticipation for your book based on the idea in #5!!

    I would not have thought of myself as a Type 2 Writer until reading your breakdown, but given that I am on my third idea for a manuscript in as many months, I fear that focus may be an issue for me. I do think that once I settle on something and commit to it, I can be very Type 1 about it.

    At least I hope so!!

    Thanks for the GREAT ideas. I am going to go and write. Right now. Okay, right after I check out Donald Maass. And then find my James Scott Bell book. But definitely right after that. =)

  13. I'm definitely in the second category. I actually have a file drawer filled with newspaper clippings for story ideas. I've even sorted them by category!
    Now if I could only focus...

  14. Jenness, I would always defer to the President of the Idea Oasis! I'm just praying I'll get to be a peon in the company someday!

  15. Absolutely beautifully done and such solid excellent content. I especially loved the fun mixing ideas portion. You are a great idea source and relater. Thanks for so much to ponder and ponder again.

  16. Jenness, I truly enjoyed your post, and I found it so practical! For an aspiring, unpublished, inexperienced writer, I found it gave me much to ponder. I'll just throw in the way I got my idea. I went on retreat recently (church related), and one of the speakers spoke on something which sparked an idea in my thoughts. I like all the ideas you shared. Thanks!

  17. Ahh, Jeanne T...a woman with a brain wired like mine. I often have to repent for having my mind wonder to fiction topics during sermons or retreats. : )

  18. Jeanne and Teri, I guess confession is good for the soul. So here goes--me, too. I do that all the time.
    Heidi, I love you, too. :-)
    Thanks, ladies.

  19. Great post. I'm definitely in the second category. "Finish the book" needs to become my personal mantra. The other ideas can brew a bit.