Where Book Ideas Come From


The question most asked of writers might be: Where do you get your ideas? John Cleese, when asked this, likes to reply that he has a little old lady in Cheltenham who gets hers from another fellow and he gets his from…well, you get the idea. He’s making a point that you can’t really pin down where ideas come from: they come from nowhere and everywhere.

Burn Baby BurnThe idea for Burn Baby Burn came from a reader’s conference (thank you RomCon). A bunch of writers and readers were sitting around talking books and covers and what not, and the penchant for babies on book covers came up…and i said the only way I’d put a baby into a book is if the baby was half-demon and trouble on someone’s doorstep. Well…hun–there’s the idea. Naturally, if you have a half-demon baby, it’s going to arrive on a demon hunter’s doorstep–the job of a writer is to make life worse for the characters. From there the story started its own path.

Now the idea can also be about a character–I once had a dream about a woman watching young girls play on a lawn and wishing they were her girls. That become a story about a governess who keeps ending up with girls who don’t need a governess (A Compromising Situation). But an idea is not enough–and sometimes the idea needs to simmer (not forever, however).

A Compromising Situation

Ideas are launch points which then require a writer to sit and write. Characters and complications need to be worked out. Backstory and motivations need to be developed. If you’re lucky, the characters jump onto the page, ready to play their parts with everything in place. Some characters, however, need to be coaxed–and some need more complications that will twist the story (and the idea) into new directions.

But that idea–like the theme–is a touchstone. It’s the place you go back to when you’re stuck. It’s the phrase that makes you–and the readers–excited about a book (and you need a lot of excitement to finish a book). NY Times Bestselling writer Bob Mayer calls this the Kernel Idea. And, like a kernel of grain, it’s got to be planted, watered, fed, and not overexposed to bad weather–too much exposure will kill anything.

So if you’re looking for ideas–look around you. Look at the people you know, eavesdrop on conversations, get into lively discussions, and pay attention. They’re all there waiting for you.

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One thought on “Where Book Ideas Come From

  1. Quote : some need more complications that will twist the story

    This is so true, and I use this often with my characters, to build on and make exciting new directions for the characters. Explore their emotions.

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