Where Do Ideas Come From? by Claire Merchant
I’ve written twenty novels. It’s a bit insane when I stop and think about it. I hope that I never run out of ideas, and considering that I’ve got four new stories that I’m working on, I seem to be doing okay so far.
A lot of people have asked me how I come up with the ideas for my stories. The short answer is that there are a lot of different things that spark them. However, since I am a writer, I feel the need to expand on that answer for all you aspiring writers and curious critters out there.
Firstly, let it be said that I don’t just get writer’s blocks, I get entire brick walls. Sometimes they last for a day or so, sometimes a week or two. I find that they come mostly after I finish a story—kind of like being in writer’s limbo because I’m trying to get out of the mind of one character and into the shoes of another. So, when those bricks begin to pile up and my creative juices begin to feel like cement, here are the tools that I use to get cracking on a new story.
1) Personal experiences. This is a big one because it’s incredibly hard to write about things that you don’t know. I’ve drawn on a lot of my experiences as ideas in my stories but of course, when fiction is involved it’s always fun to embellish them a little. For instance, ‘Mistry by Moonlight’ was born because I had lost a lot of weight like Taylor Mistry but unfortunately—or fortunately, on my trip back from Italy, I didn’t save a wolf on the side of the road which led to me being a magnet of misfortune. Regardless, I started with the idea of being uncomfortable in my skin and went from there. It’s quite amazing what you can spin when you have a solid foundation.
2) Songs/Quotes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a song and it just sparks a chapter idea or a concept that turns into a novel. Music is creative and inspires creativity. It has the power to speak to the soul and can capture emotion in three or four minutes. I have soundtracks for all of my stories of the music that I was listening when I was writing them.
3) Conversations. Honest to goodness, sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m not in a fiction novel. Sometimes I’ll be talking to one of my friends or just, you know, some random person and they’ll say something that sprouts an idea of a conversation between characters. Even fictional conversations need to feel natural, so pay attention to how people talk and the words they use. A lot of people have specific phrases that they like so keep that in mind when creating a character and their dialogue.
4) Pictures/drawings. Ever heard of the expression that “one picture is worth a thousand words”? Sometimes if I get stuck on how to write something I’ll google it (beware the search engine as they are huge distractors but they also can be brilliant for inspiration). I am a visual person, and images trigger my imagination, so I find that if I can see something then I can better write about it. Sometimes if I can’t find a picture I’ll try drawing it myself. It can help to remain consistent with descriptions especially for mythological creatures. But, well, I’m more of a writer.
5) News stories. I’m not a huge fan of the news. I prefer to live in a fantasy world where we all like each other, but there are the odd stories which filter through into my protective bubble that are simply too delicious to be real. Not specifics, but research is always fun. They can act as triggers for your own ideas.
6) Dreams. I have written a lot of my stories from dreams. I’m not even kidding. Like, I don’t know what’s going on in my brain but heck, I’ll take it. Dreams are great because they’re experiences that you don’t have to physically experience. But yet, you still go through them and feel what you would and don’t even have to get out of bed. Yes please. But seriously, if you can remember your dreams when you wake up, write them down. You never know what might come of them.
7) Characters/back stories. When I write a story, I try and create characters that are three-dimensional so I can better think like they would in a given situation. This also applies to my supporting characters and sometimes when I finish writing a story, there is another story in there to tell. For instance, South Coast Son was actually born from another one of my stories. The character of Samuel Saber was a minor character in Paige’s story, but when I thought about it, I really wanted to know more about his motives for breaking up with her. Who was he? Why did people care about him? I started from there and explored his background, his family, and his passions, and once I’d figured that out, the ideas started flowing. Around five of my stories have been born from supporting characters. It’s super fun to better get to know the people of South Coast.
8) Emotions. Ah, man. This one is the essence of every dot point above. Writing is how I have made sense of a lot of things in my life and a lot of things that I’ve felt. I tend to soak up emotions like a sponge which is both a good a bad thing. Good since I feel like I can better explain how I’m feeling, but bad because sometimes I feel like I’m a live wire. I use my writing as a way to channel it and apply different feelings and emotions into situations that my character faces. I might not go through exactly the same thing as my character has, but if I know the way they’d react to it, I can tap into that emotion to describe it.
So there you have it. Those are my eight tools for breaking down walls and searching for inspiration. For anyone who wants to begin writing, probably the best advice that I can give is to just have a walk in your own shoes and see what you can come up with. Everyone has a story and stories are everywhere. All you need to do is find them.
Claire Merchant is the author of Mistry by Moonlight (2013), South Coast Son (2014), and the just released Forever Ruby. We look forward to at least three more books from Claire, Knowing Nora, Midnight Mistry, and Mistry at Dawn.