Ideas come from everything. -Alfred Hitchcock
We’ve all heard the stories. Stephenie Meyer dreamed the meadow scene of TWILIGHT and was compelled to write about the characters in her dream. J.K. Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter stories while traveling on the train from Manchester to London. Veronica Roth found inspiration for DIVERGENT from various sources (read her blog post here).
One of our goals here at YA Buccaneers is to provide information, motivation, and resources to help us all become better writers and readers. That’s what the LEARN THE ROPES bucket is all about. Today is all about writing and inspiration.
Sitting down to write can be a really scary task, whether you’re writing your very first short story or your seventeenth novel. But something has urged you to give it a shot, and that something is usually an idea that has nestled itself in a corner of your mind and won’t go away until you do something with it.
So where do the ideas come from? Where do you find your inspiration?
I often tell my kids, "Pay attention to the world around you," and I have to say that most of my ideas come from observations and my curiosity to know more about what I see -- followed by the creation of a fictional reality.
A few years ago, my family met up with some of my college girlfriends and their families at Jellystone Park in Warrens, WI. My kids were still pretty young and we had a great time on the lazy river, at the water park, and playing mini-golf. As we drove our rented golf cart through the campground, I saw a group of teens hanging out at the bandstand and I wondered what this experience would be like for older kids. My curiosity about that -- and many other unusual aspects of the place -- became CLOUD 9, a coming-of-age story of a girl who spends her summers at a 1950s-themed campground/resort.
Here's how some of the other Buccaneers found inspiration for some of their projects:
The idea for my next project came from memories of a hidden forest my older siblings told me about when I was little. One of the blocks we'd pass on the way to school wasn't shaped like the others and, when I asked about it, they told me it was because that block hid a huge forest. I've always had an active imagination, and just thinking about that forest - and the possibilities! - made my head spin. What would you find there? How big was it? What would you see? How far could you go? I imagined it would be like Mary Poppins's bag, a limitless, magical place. The perfect place for adventures.
I never found a way into the forest (and started to doubt its existence), but many, many years later, I had a thought: What would have happened if I found a way in?
Much of the inspiration for WHERE THE WATER FALLS, a contemporary YA set in Honolulu, Hawaii, came from personal experience. You always hear the experts say to write what you know -- and sometimes, that's where you find your best story ideas.
We've all been through devastating break-ups before. Unfortunately, one of mine back in high school involved a friend and my boyfriend. There was some arguing and it may or may not have caused my fist to go flying...which resulted in a connection with his nose, and my hand in a sling for a few weeks. And then while I lived in Hawaii going to college, I was playing chicken out in the ocean and accidentally threw up all over the boy that was holding me up...it was awful and horrifically embarrassing -- but I've found years later, it has made for some really great writing content!
On my way back from a trip in the spring of 2011, I found an article in a newspaper in the Calgary airport. The title was: Would you go to Mars, knowing you'd (probably) never come back? The question was both fascinating and seriously terrifying to me, as was the article. (Space, while beautiful, breathtaking, and amazing, also scares the crap out of me.) So I set out to tell the story of a teen girl who has to deal with this very situation, and who doesn't even get to make this decision for herself. How much would that suck? A lot, I'd wager.
The idea for THE LOST PLANET wasn't so much a product of What if? thoughts, although I do have a small notebook where I scribble down those ideas for potential later use that I have learned to carry with me wherever I go. For THE LOST PLANET, though, my inspiration at the time was pretty simple: I like action movies and movies set in space, and I wanted to write an action-adventure about kids in space. Then I started with characters -- names, personalities, conflicts, and then I thought of how I wanted the action to start (BOOM), and how I wanted it to end (high tension! big twists!). Everything in between was, to quote E.L. Doctorow, "driving at night in the fog."
I was interested in writing about a character with a major phobia. I was also inspired by a show called Obsessed that used to air on A&E. It followed people with OCD and other debilitating phobias as they tried to overcome them through exposure therapy. The show was really intense and I thought it’d be interesting to see a teenager go through that. I didn’t want to be quite so intense so my book, THE RIGHT EXPOSURE, a ya contemporary, incorporates some humor, along with photography, friend-drama, and of course, romance.
The idea for my WIP came from a conversation with my husband about how fast technology is developing and the direction it seems to be going. Popular electronics are getting smaller and more portable all the time. It’s all about the convenience of accessing information and entertainment whenever you want it. So what if those computers weren’t merely at the tip of your fingers but in your head instead? My main character and her predicament popped into my mind, and I made an offhand comment to my husband about it. He said it would make a great story. At first, I thought the premise seemed farfetched, like something that could only happen in a sci-fi novel. Then, I stumbled across a few online articles that suggested my idea was not only possible, but confirmed that scientists are already experimenting with this sort of tech in a medical capacity. Amazing but also very scary. The story took hold of my imagination and hasn’t let go since.
I always believe I don't find ideas to write about, they find me. Usually, it begins with a question, maybe after reading a newspaper article or hearing a line in a piece of music. And then I begin the "what if?" question. The funny thing is, once I decide on a simple idea, often that thing will pop up again and again in my life.
I have a kind of crazy inspiration for my WIP. I used to work in an Epidemiology lab during college and as I was taping my gloves to my biosuit and switching on my air respirator I was like, "What if one of these pathogens escaped, mutated and destroyed the whole damn planet...and what if it was MY fault?!!" Thus the idea for my WIP ISIS was born. :)
This crew has certainly found inspiration in varied (and somewhat unusual) places! I never know when inspiration will strike -- or as Heidi said, when an idea might find me, so I keep a small notebook and pen with me at all times. Sometimes I jot down a name and a characteristic or situation and a story grows from there. Sometimes I write entire scenes. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue. Every day I overhear or observe some little nugget for later use.
How about you? Where have you found inspiration? We'd love to hear about it!
And if you're just starting out, make a commitment to write down those ideas that swirl through your mind every day. Carry an inspiration notebook with you. Write down at least one observation each day that's piqued your interest. And let your imagination carry you to a new world.
What's behind this door? Who is responsible for the graffiti? Jot down some notes or write an opening scene.