Monday, January 10, 2011

The Idea Factory

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.


  1. For the article on the woman who can't feel fear: If you want to read something like that, check out Francine Pascal's Fearless series.

    This is great advice, though. You never know where you will find your inspiration!

  2. Very cool idea--reviewing news feeds! Must remember that.

  3. Love this idea! Oddly enough, I got a story idea from an Oprah show. One of the guests had a completely unique story and I thought it might be cool to hear about it from a teen POV. :)

  4. Thanks, Liz!
    Amanda - I'll have to check that out!
    Pam - that's so cool! Ideas can come from anywhere!


  5. You're absolutely right about eh Idea Factory and its workings! :) I got the idea for my dystopian novel from Biology class! An article about Dolly the Lamb turned me on to the idea of a human clone. Anyway, I love the idea of a character unable to feel fear. Brilliant, Kim!

  6. Great idea. And I agree, if you keep your eyes open, you'll find ideas in places you never would have thought to look. Can't wait to hear how you came up with your ideas.

  7. Love the ideas -- especially the ability to not feel fear. That would be nice to have but also scary. Thanks for sharing about reading news feeds!

  8. This murder house story sounds quite interesting. I could see it being freak me out creepy or just a great paranormal book.

    Thank goodness the idea factory is still in business!

  9. Thanks Kat, Natalie, Julie & Nikki!

  10. I'm so bad at reading the news, but after reading this I now want to religiously follow it. :) Have a great weekend.