I get asked that all the time. I guess most writers would say the same. So what’s the answer? Well, ideas come from all over the place.
My first novel Maneater is about a werewolf called Laura Greenacre who wants to avenge the death of her clan.
So there’s an idea: a revenge novel. About a werewolf.
Newspapers are a useful source of ideas. Local newspapers used to be great. They had all kinds of stories. Keep your eye on the shorts, those two-paragraph stories that run down the side of a page.
I read something once about a guy stealing a JCB; you know, one of those big yellow diggers. He went on the rampage with it along his street because his neighbors, apparently, had made complaints about him; called the cops or something. Now that’s a scene. Build a story from there. Why did he get that crazy? What caused his neighbors to complain in the first place? What’s going to be the consequence of his actions?
I once wrote a short story called The Librarian. It was about a lonely old man who stole library books to build his own library in a spare room in his house. This story came from two sources.
One was a two-paragraph court story I read in a local newspaper about a man fined for pinching books from his library.
The other idea came from one of my own obsessions — putting books back in their proper places in bookshops.
When I browse bookshelves it bothers me when I see a Michael Connolly novel mixed up with James Ellroy’s books. I will return the Connolly where it belongs, either with the rest of the author’s books or in the “Cs”.
In my story, the character tidied up the shelves in his library in this way, putting books back where they belonged — or so it seemed. He was also tucking them into his coat and walking out with them. He loved books. He was passionate about them. He hated how people disrespected them. He thought people didn’t deserve libraries. So he built his own with books he stole. Eventually he burns his library and himself because the philistines are coming to arrest him and take his books away. He does the worst thing you could do to books — he burns them. But only because he loves them. A twisted kind of love, maybe, but he did not know that.
Another source of ideas is combining genres. Throw in romance with vampires, see what you get. Oh, that’s right: Twilight. Toss some Vikings into a bowl and mix with aliens. That will get you Outlander, a 2008 production starring Jim Caviezel and John Hurt. How about space invaders in the Old West? That’s Cowboys & Aliens.
The new sub-genre of pastiche is becoming popular now, thanks mainly to its inventor the writer Seth Grahame-Smith, creator of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Why not update a real, historical crime and transplant it to the modern day? I did that with Pariah, inventing a mythology for Jack the Ripper and transplanting him into 21st century London.
So just a few ideas there about… ideas! I’ll talk more about how to develop snippets and scenes into stories over the next few weeks. But the best advice I can give you is: Let your imagination soar.