One of the questions most frequently asked of writers is: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s not a popular question among published authors. Maybe they consider the question too silly to answer, or maybe they don’t want to share.
I don’t think the question is silly, but I can’t always explain where my inspiration originated. It's amazing how new ideas weasel their way into my conscious mind. The process works in many different ways. Here’s one example.
I belong to a local face-to-face critique group that meets every other week. One of the things we do is exchange thoughts on writing in general. Last week our conversation went like this (with lots of paraphrasing):
M: Did you know Willa Cather is going to be here? I thought she was dead.
Me: Blank look.
M: My Antonia is one of my favorite novels.
B: Willa Cather? She’s dead.
Me: I’ll bet it’s one of the historical presentations where someone acts the part of Cather. (I checked the next day, and that’s exactly what the event will be).
Our discussion focused on My Antonia for a few minutes and then wandered onto other books until someone mentioned Lord of the Flies.
Me: Lord of the Flies is one of my favorites. I thought the movie was excellent as well. I always wondered why no writer has taken the idea and substituted girls for the boys.
B looked at me for a moment. I could almost see the little wheels turning in his head.
Me: I think it would need a horror writer to do it justice.
B: Definitely a horror writer.
This might seem an amazing coincidence, but B writes horror. The idea was taking hold. We spent the next few minutes discussing how young the girls should be to make the story work. Will B take off in a frenzy of writing? We'll see.
There was another idea embedded in that critique group discussion. What would happen if the real Willa Cather's ghost showed up during the the actress Willa Cather’s performance?
If anyone who writes paranormal romance or mystery wants that one, it’s all yours.
There are many other examples of writers changing up a well-known story with a unique twist. Colorado author Paula Reed teaches high school English, and one of her favorite novels is The Scarlet Letter. Her book, released in February, 2010, is called Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter. It's a fine story, especially since she abandoned Hawthorne's unknown omniscient narrator.
Ideas are everywhere. For a different approach, read Shon Bacon’s excellent February post on Ideas for Writing.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting authors in several genres, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).