Over the past couple of nights, I’ve had a sequential dream. It’s turning into a really cool book … one day. It got me thinking. How do you come up with your book ideas? Typically, the dream thing isn’t my best fodder for novels. This one just happens to keep returning night after night. I keep a notebook in my nightstand for those occasions. I’ve been known to get up at 3:00 in the morning and blast off ideas into a Word document just so I won’t forget them in the morning.
As I said, I don’t normally get my inspiration from dreams. The Van Stone series is more of a planned series, fictionalizing events and adventures that kids would likely not experience. As with many of you, my characters lead the way and talk to me way too much. At this time, I have five different adventures conceptualized for the series. I’ve actually written parts of most of them (which is why it’s taking so long to get out #2 in the series.)
How do you know if you are on to something big? Is the story idea the key? Personally, I believe story ideas are a dime a dozen. The key is the development. How many people have you run into that have told you about their great story idea? Of the fraction of those ideas, how many make it to the story development phase? Not many. Story development is the number one skill we must possess as authors.
How do we take the ordinary and make it special? If you feel your story is going stale or you’re stuck at the idea, here are four ways to bust out:
Add emotion: Duh, right? Of course, you add emotion to your main characters, but what about minor characters. They’re not placeholders or props—they’re part of the fabric that brings the story to a new level. It doesn’t mean you need pages of back-story. That baby in the bassinet isn’t just part of the restaurant scene description, it’s a screaming baby at the next table … interrupting the main character adding to his second thoughts about proposing to the women he is sitting across from.
Break away from the familiar: So, you don’t have a million dollars or didn’t go to Harvard? Who cares? Make your characters something different—bad habits, hopeless, homeless, and sophisticated from the ghetto or a savage from the elite. Bring color to your characters. I cringe every time I hear someone ask if Van Stone is based on my life. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do.
Jump to the middle: If you are frustrated, jump to the middle of your story and write a scene—that awesome scene, you know, the one that you couldn’t wait to write. Once you get that out, you’ll fill in the pieces and make your story rock. This is a tough one for pantsers!
Less is More: The ideas slow down and you’re looking for that next scene. STOP! Go back and make what you’ve written tight, solid, exciting, depressing, crazy, disgusting, beautiful, or funny. Work each chapter, as a standalone segment that moves the plot forward, full of emotion or action. Once you take your focus away from what happens next, you’ll figure out what happens next.
There’s no better feeling than when your fingers are flying across the keyboard. I know when I hit that point—I have more typos and errors because I don’t care, I just want to get the words out. You know the feeling, too. Where do you get your story ideas? What are some of your techniques for story development? What do you do when you are stuck?