Story Ideas and Where They Come From

Where do you get your ideas?

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This is one of those questions that I always find confounding. Everywhere. They come from everywhere. Of course, at first I didn’t realize that not everyone had this problem.

Back when I was a new writer, I was talking to a novelist who told me that she very seldom has new ideas. When she finishes a book, she always worries that she won’t have an idea for another.

Hmm. Maybe part of the issue is that we are calling different things ideas. She means something fleshed out and complex. There is a story problem and a premise and a setting.

My ideas? It might be an intriguing setting. What would it be like to be a girl living at a frontier fort in the high desert? It might be an intriguing character. Today I read about a saint who thrust his sword into a stone, kind of the opposite of King Arthur.

My advice to you? Consider little nuggets like this valuable and collect them. Write them down. Send yourself e-mails if you must and drop them into a folder. I send the e-mail but I keep the actual ideas in my bulleted journal. So far this year I have something like 170. Some are more fleshed out than others but that’s okay. These are simply seeds for future writing.

This past week, I found a really good one. I met a pair of brothers who are in their 70s. They grew up in a little town in Missouri called Old Mines. They live in my area now and we spent some time discussing history. I mentioned a local historic site.

“What’s important about it? What makes it unique?” Will asked.

“It’s the oldest church west of the Mississippi.”

“That’s not possible,” said Dwight. “St. Jo in our home town is the oldest. It has a historic plaque and everything.”

“Huh. That’s interesting.” And this wasn’t just me being polite. On the way home, I wasn’t the one driving, I did some googling and discovered that yet a third, bigger, well-known church also makes the same claim. It didn’t take long to figure out which one is actually the oldest but better yet . . . an idea started taking shape. Civic pride. Tourist dollars. A murder . . .

Seriously? If I didn’t have four books under contract, I’d be outlining this right now.

–SueBE