Ask writers where they get their ideas and some will laugh and say, “The idea factory.” But it’s not a joke. The idea factory actually does exist. It’s a little section of the brain that sees things through a writer’s eye. Whether it’s a news story, a song, a piece of artwork on a wall, a snippet of conversation overheard at Panera…the idea factory is always listening, always paying attention, always wondering if there’s a story in that.
This is why I love news feeds. I’m an information junkie and read all that I can. Both because it’s interesting and you never know what you’ll learn or take from it.
For example, I read this article about a woman with a damaged amygdalae who cannot feel fear. My first thought was…wow, she would make a great character. She could be a hardcore, noir private detective. Or—for a paranormal—what better demon slayer could there be than someone who doesn’t feel fear? Or…what if the government started purposefully creating soldiers with damaged amygdalae, but their experiment went very, very wrong? In just seconds after reading the article, I had hooks for a mystery, urban fantasy, and a conspiracy thriller.
And I read this article about an Australian company offering a test that can analyze your child’s athletic potential based on DNA. And, of course, my mind started to imagine…what if all babies were tested at birth for their potential in athletics, music, math, etc. and then they were placed—unwillingly—in schools segregated by their potential and forced into careers based on their genetic code rather than their interests? That’s some cool dystopian world building there!
I'm not going to write books based on either of these articles (so feel free to take those ideas and run with them!), but I have tons of snippets of ideas like these. I keep them in notebooks and Word documents because you never know when one will lead to something more.
A few years ago, I read an article in the real estate section about “stigmatized properties” (better known as “murder houses”). The notion stuck with me and I wrote it down. Last year, when it was time for me to start playing with something new, I flipped through my idea book and this one grabbed my attention again. So I toyed with it.
What if a family wanted to move to an upscale town with a top-notch school system, but couldn’t afford it...until a house went up for sale—a murder house. What if they bought it, but didn’t tell their teenage daughter about the house’s history? And what if the murder victim still haunted the house? I played around with these ideas for a while and they ended up being the basis for my standalone YA supernatural mystery that’s coming out in Fall 2012.
How did I come up with the idea for CLARITY? That's an entire blog post of its own...coming soon!
So, my advice for ideas? Read the news. And keep your idea factory open at all times. You never know when you’ll hear the one line that will change everything.