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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How do you get ideas for your books?

By Jennie Atkins

As an author I am sure you struggle with building a quality story—one that will grab the attention of the agents and editors and subsequently your readers.  We know all about the MBT Book Buddy for planning your strategy, we understand the concept of goal, motivation, and conflict. 

But what I want to know is, how do you come up with a story line that is unique? How do you decide your story is going to be about a nurse trying to solve her own murder—before it occurs? Or a prodigal son returning home—only to learn the one man who can forgive him has died? Or a woman returning home with a child that isn’t hers—only no one believes her?

Or smaller yet, how do you come up with ideas that can inflict as much pain as an author can on their characters?  Those scenes that are unique, yet add power to the story?  How do you decide the location?  Or find the strange but plausible thing that can occur to disrupt your character’s journey?

A couple of years ago I went to a Donald Maas seminar at ACFW.  He suggested listing ten items that could happen and use the last one.  The consensus was the first few on your list would be common solutions, and the ones you don't want to use.  The items closer to the bottom of the list would be more unusual. And, that’s what you should use. 
I keep a file of weird, but probable, news items that occur. One such news article I found was when a crotchety old man frustrated with the political system had to pay a fine.  As the story went, he marched into the building carrying a sack of pennies.  The city frowned upon his method of payment and refused the money.  I thought it was hilarious and I’m saving it for a scene in one of my future manuscripts.

Another article told of a grain silo blowing up, dumping a layer of corn twelve-feet deep along the main streets of town. It even pushed a nearby home off its foundation by the rush of more than 100,000 bushels of corn.  It’s another example of odd but true and waiting to go into one of my stories.

Just recently I read an article where an author took ideas from her books from other writers.  Not in a plagiaristic way, but at the 50,000 level which she later built on. 

Your turn: Where do you get ideas from? Do you brainstorm by yourself or others?  Do you think about a song and possibly the story that could be behind it?


  1. I get ideas while walking my many, many dogs.

    Brainstorming with canines, I guess!


  2. A few of my ideas come from the news, but most of them come from...actually I don't know where they come from. They just pop into my head. But Blood Kin, the story on my website, came from an old episode of Quincy. :-) www.ptbradley.com/bloodkin
    Great post, Jennie!

  3. Jennie, I loved this post. Where did you get the ideas YOU shared? Those were great. :)

    I have copied and pasted some stories that come up on my online news feed and stowed them away in a file. Some story ideas come from real life experiences friends face. Some friction aspects come from my own experiences. In the WIP I'm trying to finish up, my subplot character needed something to happen to her that would lay her up and force her to need another's help. When I sprained my ankle hiking this summer, it gave me the perfect idea for my character. Only hers was much worse than mine. :)

  4. I loved this post Jennie!

    I was researching old newspapers in the library from the town my historical takes place and found a beating that happened to a guy by three other men and the man beaten was not only beaten within an inch of his life, but they (turn your head here) tore out his eyeballs. Ewww. I kept it thinking, "How could anyone do that?!" So I have it locked away as a possible. It was in my story for a while then it messed with pacing so I took it out...who knows whether it will make it in again, but I have it for book 2 or 3 ;)

  5. Great post, Jennie! I love the ideas you posted.

    My ideas ping off of characters in previously written books and sometimes current events in my hometown. My first novel was loosely based on a real event in my own life. My second novel came from asking "Why?" until the answer about tripped me up as I walked through my kitchen. My third novel came from something happening in our town. My fourth novel springboarded off that when I was doing research for a secondary character in book 3.

  6. Andrew, I love those "quiet" times where my brain can wander althought I don't have any dogs to walk anymore. :-(

  7. Pat, Oh, TV, wow what a great resource. I've used it myself. I always wonder if anyone reading it will recognize the scene I wrote as the little scene in the popular movie.

  8. Jeannie, Where do I get my ideas? I mostly brainstorm them, or perhaps a book I'm reading has a unique story behind the character's struggle. I, as Pat, look for ideas from TV. The supply is endless.

  9. Eww, Ginger, yuck! But hey, sometimes that's what sells a story! My husband keeps teasing me that I should write about Amish Zombies!

  10. Lisa,
    I think novels taken from a real life episode leave a bigger impact on the reader. Maybe its because the emotions in the book are more real. I loved your first story, I felt the anguish.

  11. I honestly don't even know. It just dawns on me suddenly.

  12. For me, the news sparks lots of ideas. At times, when listening to friends, something will jump out at me as a great story or scene starter. Then, it has to sit in the back of my brain for a while, germinating.

    You listed some really great ideas, Jennie.