One of the most interesting questions to answer as an author is “Where do you get your ideas?” This isn’t that difficult of a question, of course. It’s just more of a complex answer. (At least, for me. Maybe other authors feel differently.) I say complex because when I give the simple answer of “Everywhere”, it just brings on more questions. So, what do I mean by everywhere? Just that. I get ideas from reading other fiction, reading non-fiction, and from watching the news or Dateline. I get ideas from getting bored and letting my mind wander. I get ideas from all kinds of conversations with people. Sometimes my friends and I will have some random philosophical discussion, and I’ll think that I can make a story out of our topic. Someone can be very rude to me and I’ll think that the rude person could be a great character in one of my books. Sometimes, I’ll hear someone else’s conversation and will get an idea from them.
Ideas are everywhere. Sometimes I have thought of something that I think is a really great and original idea, then later discover that someone else has already thought of it. (I think a lot of authors have had that experience!) But that just goes to show how many people are paying attention to their imaginations. Really, ideas are the easy part. The hard part is to have an incongruent idea and turn it into something substantial. Something that other people are going to love as much as you do. Sometimes things can fall together perfectly and the plot will be solid. Other times, you may have to think a bit harder to really make it work.
I think part of the idea process is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. You know – “think outside the box” and all that jazz. I went to a class at a writer’s conference. It was a two hour workshop that was all about pushing your brain to think in ways you normally wouldn’t want to. (It was taught by Clint Johnson, and he was awesome, for those of you who might be interested.) It helped me to be able to put my characters through things that could possibly break them. The whole point was not to necessarily change your story into something strange and possibly very dark, but to just say to yourself “What if…” For instance, what if your character actually got raped instead of being saved in the nick of time? What would that do to her spirit? How would it change the dynamics of the romance in the story? Or, what if the child dies instead of miraculously being saved? Things like that. It doesn’t mean that you’ll change your story to that, it just helps you to try new things with your story and its characters so they’re not limited in your own head.
So, all of you authors out there, keep reading. Keep watching the news and be aware of what’s going on around you. Go to a public place and observe people and their interactions. It will definitely give you ideas. And keep your imagination going, too (of course!). You will get ideas. There is no doubt about that. And then keep asking yourself (or your fellow critiquers) “What if…?” You might enjoy the mental journey.