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Where Story Ideas Come From

The idea for a novel can come from anywhere. A conversation. A story on the evening news. An encounter at the grocery store. A dream.
Most authors have a hard time pinpointing the exact moment a new story comes to them. For some the idea just hits them out of nowhere – fully formed. For others it may start as a sliver of thought that germinates for weeks, months, or even years before the idea becomes the foundation of a novel.
So where do my story ideas come from? I get asked this question all the time. Ideas have come to me while driving down the road, in the shower, in my dreams. Anywhere and everywhere. Now I’ll be the first to admit that some of my dreams as pretty wacky and would never in a million years make a good novel, but once in a while something is conjured in the subconscious that merits a closer look.
Needless to say, I have far more story ideas then I have time to write them all. And choosing which one to focus on can be a challenge. Even more of a challenge is keeping my muse focused on the story I’m currently working on. She’s easily distracted by shiny new story ideas.
So how do you spot a story idea:

1. Be prepared

Like the Boy Scout motto says, be prepared for new ideas at all times. I mean this in two ways:
Be prepared to accept new ideas. Let your creativity be open to spotting and latching onto an idea when one presents itself. Don’t necessarily seek out ideas, but let your muse spot one the next time you’re at the grocery store, your kid’s soccer game, or at the family reunion (families are great fodder for books, but tread lightly, they are still your family).
Be prepared to take notes. As Ben Franklin said: by failing to prepare, we are preparing to fail. Don’t get caught empty handed! We’ve all heard stories about napkin-born ideas, where someone had this groundbreaking idea and the only thing they had to write on was a napkin. I’ve done this and let me tell you, writing on a napkin isn’t easy! Don’t let this happen to you.
Carry a notepad, or a tablet, or even just your cell phone. Always have a place to jot ideas down at any given moment. When the idea hits you, write it down immediately. Purge the story from your mind by noting everything that comes to you in those first minutes. It might not make total sense, it might be riddled with spelling errors, it doesn’t matter. What matters is capturing those fresh thoughts while they’re still fresh. If it happens when you’re driving, pull over! A friend of mine just the other day told me how she had to pull over, even though she knew she’d be late for an appointment, because she had to get this new idea down before she lost it. Personally, I love Evernote (learn more here.) It’s installed on my laptop, my tablet and my cell phone. So no matter where I am I can access my notes, and they automatically sync with one another. Love this! Heck, most of these blog posts were started in Evernote. But being the practical, and sometimes overly-prepared person that I am, I also carry a small notepad with me just in case. Overkill? Maybe, but for me it works.

2. Pay attention.

Be aware of your surrounds while letting your imagination run wild. When you experience something unique, even if it only lasts a moment, hit pause on life (just for a minute.) Let the moment tumble around in your creative mind and percolate. It only takes a few seconds for the most amazing computer in the world – your brain – to start analyzing and connecting dots. Do you see the beginning threads of a story idea forming?

3. Create a solid foundation with potential for growth

Yeah, your new story idea has potential. Take a moment to celebrate this small victory.
Next time we’ll dig deeper into your story idea and figure out if it has enough substance behind it to support a novel of 40,000+ words.
Where do your ideas come from?

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