Last cycle’s topic was plot bunnies and I ended up posting something else, but since this is an open slot, I thought I go for a re-do…
‘Where do you come up with your plots/characters?’ is a question I often hear. Mostly from non-writers, but I know some writers struggle coming up with plots as well. Sometimes it can feel like *everything* has been done so many times there’s no way to make it new and fresh. Keep in mind that two people can write similarly themed books, but they will end up completely different. A writer will always bring their own experiences into the story.
Personally, I get many of my ideas from music. I’ll be toodling down the road taking my kids to school or soccer or gymnastics and my mind will start to wander as it does when I’m driving the same route for the millionth time. A song will come on. And, if the storm is perfect, a story seed will be planted. For me, the characters and plot emerge simultaneously and are dependent on one another. I keep a notebook in the car (or your phone’s notes section works well too) and jot down the idea before I lose it. I have notebooks full of book ideas, some quite well developed, that I have no time to write. (Good problem!)
The other place chock full of ideas is the news or special interest stories. I’m going to scan the current headlines….brb… See, here’s a story about Beau Biden’s widow, who is now dating his brother, Hunter. Stepping back, the premise and conflict would make for a great romance, historical or contemporary. One of my favorite recent clips is of two 5th graders, Zoe and Noah, on Ellen who have a love-hate relationship. I want someone to write their story all grown up! Childhood frenemies to lovers is a great trope. And don’t get me started on all the political stuff going on…a political thriller about a CNN journalist (*ahem* Jake Tapper) who uncovers a Russian conspiracy and has to go on the run from bad guys? Yes, please!
I also want to mention something authors don’t talk about too much…It’s called writing ‘On Spec.’ It’s where a publishing house has a concept in mind and they tap a writer to make it happen. My Cottonbloom series was supposed to be a spec project, except I couldn’t write the idea my editor suggested (for reasons I won’t go into here.) So my editor told me to brainstorm some new ideas. But, there were constraints. It had to be a “summer themed” series with an overarching plot to tie the books together. The release dates were set before the story had been conceived. I pitched what came to be the Cottonbloom series to my editor. She loved it and the rest is history.
I’m currently writing another spec project for my editor. This one was a little different in that my editor handed over a high-level synopsis of what she wanted. Now, some authors might consider this as constraining to their ‘muse.’ But, I thought the concept was interesting and am taking it and running with it. Plus, a good author/editor relationship means you can change things as the story develops. Which I already have. If the opportunity to write on spec presents itself to you, don’t dismiss it out of hand, you might find it interesting. (By the way, Entangled is always looking for spec writers. Check out their Wishlist page.)
If you’re still having a block coming up with something that excites you, go through #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) on Twitter. Editors and agents detail in general terms the kind of manuscripts they’re interested in. It might just get your creative juices flowing. The downside is that by the time you actually have written it, the agent/editor might have moved on, but that doesn’t matter if you’re excited about it!
Where do you get your plot/character ideas?