From the moment you let the cat out of the bag and tell anyone you’re a writer and actively writing to pursue publication, everyone and their brother will either offer you their fascinating life story to write or they’ll boldly ask where you get your ideas.

You can answer them honestly or you can tell them about this great place called The Idea Store where if you go on the right days, you can get two-for-one ideas. If they pursue this further you can even give them directions, show them the super secret handshake and present them with the key to the store’s back door. Hey, we’re writers—make something up.

The honest answer, of course, would be that we get inspired from life. Writers are curious by nature. Everything we see or do touches us in some way. Who can honestly say they weren’t affected by the tragedies on 9-11 or, even closer to us, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building? Who among us hasn’t cried over the death of a loved one or shed a tear at the sight of human injustice? Events like these have a way of connecting us forever like a human quilt of emotion to be spread over our shoulders in times of need. We draw on that comfort and at the same time we are able to use those feelings to enrich our manuscripts.

But we don’t get all our inspiration from the sadder side of life. Writers are people watchers. We see things differently. Colors, shapes, sounds all trigger something in our brains. Next time you’re at the mall, the airport, the park or even the grocery story, listen to the stories around you. Notice the smells. Describe the colors, the moods, the musical way a mother talks to her child or the funny way some couples communicate.

Writing exercises are another way to get ideas. Play the what if game. Imagine a woman (romance writer) then put her on a mission to save her sister. Put her on a bus to a remote location. Now, what if she’s on the wrong bus? What if the bus crashes into a jeep on the side of the road? What if everyone files off the bus and starts walking to the nearest town? What if a stranger suggests she wait for the next bus? What if he starts shooting at her? What if a tall, good looking hero comes to her rescue? What if this man resembles the hero’s in her books? Get the idea? Always challenge your characters by asking what if.

Years ago when I first started writing I heard a writer suggest that you should always put your characters in a situation and then make it worse. So the next time someone asks you where you get your ideas, you can tell them the truth or you can show them the handshake.



Jessica Mobley said...

Good lesson mother! That would be great if someone actually fell for the super secret handshake. That sounds like just the kind of thing I would say to someone mom. Guess great minds DO think alike! Love you!

Jessica Matthews said...

Hi Reese,
Loved your blog. It's so true that everyone wants to know where we get our ideas. The only problem I see is that I have more ideas than time to write them!
Best wishes,

Joan Vincent said...

Great explanation! The Idea Store--actually I think that is our minds. It amazes me how a story can come to me full blown--well, more or less full blown. While I was writing what turned out to be the first book in my Honour series the antagonist got killed in chapter 4 which would have made it a really really short book. I set is aside and a few days later I woke up with my mind churning with a new antagonist and story ideas for the first six books of the series. I had to have been unconsciously processing ideas all the while.
Your "what if" is the biggest factor though. Something you see, hear, read combined with it and you can be off on an adventure that turns into a book.

Pat Davids said...

THE IDEA STORE! Why hasn't anyone told me about this place? I can't wait to go. Thanks for the tip.

I'm going to use this one. People ask me all the time where I get my ideas.

Thanks, Reese. As always, I love your sense of humor.

Reese Mobley said...

Jessie, of all the ways for you to take after me. You poor kid.

Reese Mobley said...

Jessica, Great to see you here! Looking forward to DC. Don't you just love it when the idea well overflows? I know I do. It will be a sad day when it dries up. Take care and thanks for posting.

Reese Mobley said...

Joan, thanks for posting. I know exactly how it feels for the light bulb to go off. I always think of it as my duh! moment and you're right it usually keeps us up at night or wakes us up. Isn't it a great feeling to be able to connect the dots?

Reese Mobley said...

Pat, the idea store is open anytime we're together! Two heads are always better than one. Thanks for posting.

Penny Rader said...

What do you mean there isn't an Idea Store!! But I need one. Maybe there's a Plot Store somewhere 'cause I really need a plot store.

Reese Mobley said...

A plot store. Now why didn't I think of that? LOL. Maybe it's in the basement of the idea store.
Thanks for posting, Penny.

Rox Delaney said...

The plot store would have to be in the attic. Idea first, then move UP to the plot. ::grin::

Rox Delaney said...

For those of us who are impaired with the need for examples, can we have some examples of an IDEA that became a book? And how much did that idea grow and change from that first seed to a full blown story?

Reese Mobley said...

Rox, all my stories have started from an idea and then evolved from there. Most change so much there is little left of the original idea. I think they call that running off at the brain. (grin)For example, the Christmas Story that was requested by NAL started off with the idea that Mr. & Mrs. Santa are ready to retire and move south to join a canasta club. It went from that simple seed to him having his twin sons compete for the affections of the perfect woman. But, what if one of the twins is gay? I had to give them a reason to go south of the North Pole so I played the what if game again. What if there was a town sorely lacking in Christmas spirit? What if the perfect woman wasn't really the perfect woman? What if the perfect woman is really not so perfect? What if Kris decided not to step into his father's shiny black boots? What if his true love found out his identity? etc. Throw in a reindeer who faints to get attention. An underwear model/mailman, Winnebagos full of elves, hot flashes, hormonal teenagers, a muscle man with the hots for the heroine and you get a tiny glimpse into my mind. I tell you it's like Grand Central Station in there sometimes. (grin)

Penny Rader said...

Wow, Reese. Sure wish I 'what if'fed as well as you do! Then I wouldn't need the idea store with the plot store in the basement and/or attic.

Penny Rader said...

Forgot to add that I, as one of the desperate-in-need-of-examples-impaired, would deeply appreciate more examples of how people turned their glimmers of ideas into books.

I'm forever looking for the secret handshake, magic bullet, etc. Whatever will help me a get another book written. (grin)

Rox Delaney said...

Whatever will help me a get another book written.

BIC-HOK works well. ;) But I know what you mean. Sometimes a little inspiration in the form of an idea that actually goes somewhere is needed.

Judy Darnell said...

WOW! What imaginations you writers have. I was really left out in the area of being creative. I do admire you writers and enjoyed your Blog.
Good Luck,
Judy Darnell

Becky A said...

Thanks for your informative article. Now we all know where to go for those new ideas. Penny and I will be right over to scrounge from the basement to the attic. Do these ideas come complete with turning points, hooks and a HEA? G!

Pat Davids said...

My last story idea was given to me. A gift, you might say, from my editor.
“Pat, would you like to write an Amish series?”
Amish, wow. Not something I know much about, but sure. I can write a book about anything if I can go to the library.
Amish. They shun people who fall away from their faith so lets have someone, my heroine, returning to her Amish home after running away.
Why come home?
To make amends? Someone’s sick? No...she’s pregnant.
Okay. Good, but...why come home?
Her boyfriend abandoned her.
Make it worse.
She’s destitute and has used the last of her money to take the bus home to her cold and unkind brother who’s all she has left in the world.
Okay, better
The Amish are known for their forgiveness. Will her family forgive her?
Make it worse.
She arrives at the farm, her labor has started, and her brother doesn’t live there any more. The hero does. She must have her baby among strangers.
Good hook, needs some conflict.

Hero, also Amish, is compelled to help, but his family was once shunned because his father left the faith. Later, the woman he planned to marry also left the Amish. He and his mother have moved to a new Amish community to start over. Now they are stuck with this outsider who may bring the disapproval of the community down on them again.

Is her return to the faith real or is it just a matter of necessity? Will she leave them behind when she’s able?

Why did her boyfriend leave her?
Why was her brother so cold to her?
What if her boyfriend returns with a plausible story as to why he left her?

I like to say the difference between a great idea and a novel is about 55,000 words.

Typing the words, one at a time is the only way to write a book.

Reese Mobley said...

Judy, thanks for posting. Writing is a dream come true. I can't speak for other writers but for me it does not come easy. It's a craft that I have to work at it all the time. So it's very rewarding when people appreciate what you've done. Thanks.XOXO

Reese Mobley said...

Becky, Come on over!!! The best way to play the What if or Why game is with a group of writers. Try it with your critique partners. You'll be amazed at how quickly it all comes together.

Reese Mobley said...

Pat, thanks for your breaking down your plot/thougth process. If only it came that easily to me. Sigh.................

Starla Kaye said...

I agree with Jessica Matthews, I tend to have more ideas than I have time to write. But I talk to many writers who do have trouble coming up with storyline ideas. Not everyone is gifted with an imagination that runs wild 24/7. Looking at the world around us, observing people and their reactions to everything, noting the setting details wherever you are...all of that can help you start your "what if" game toward coming up with a new storyline.

Dina Preuss said...

Hey Reese,
Sorry this blog comment is so very late… it’s almost time for your next blog! It’s been a crazy month for me.

I loved this blog! Very whimsical and yet still able to teach us a thing or two about writing… as you always do.

You wrote about playing the “what if” game and Penney Rader requested more “examples” on how to get ideas. Personally, I’ve learned to carry a mini-recorder with me everywhere I go, as there are times (like driving) when I can’t simply jot a writing idea down and don’t want to forget it.

I completely agree with Pat Davids on asking “why”. “What if” can get you going, but it’s sometimes not enough to simply ask “what if” and stop there. Sometimes asking “why” a person would say the thing they said or behave the way they did can propel your “what if” to places you may never have taken it before.

Or you can begin with asking “why” and then playing “what if”.

So, when you’re in the grocery store, theatre, or just driving down the road and you see any circumstance, ask yourself “why” is this person saying that, or behaving that way, etc. Then ask yourself “What if”.

You can get ideas from want ads… by asking either of the questions, you will be gifted with a plethora of unique ideas based on something real. The Thriller I’m currently working on is one such gift. It’s derived from a reward ad I once noticed in my local po-dunk paper.

The ideas are out there, you just have to ask the right questions.

Rox Delaney said...

Dina's very smart!

"Why" is one of the questions editors ask most. Sometimes it means a hair-tearing session, but I've learned that if I take a deep breath and calm down, answering that "why" can deliver a wealth of information.

"Why" often has to do with backstory: what brought the character to that place where the books starts. Some might think it isn't important, when it really is THE most important thing. Backstory can sometimes become the inciting incident for the story and a lot of other things. So keep asking "why"!

I know, I harp on backstory all the time, but it's been through making my own mistakes. That learning process can be brutal!