One of the questions famous authors are asked most frequently by their readers is: Where do you get your ideas for stories? To some readers, this process of generating ideas is mysterious, almost mystical. But authors find that creating concepts for stories is just part of their job. They train their minds to continually provide them with fresh ideas to put down on paper. But sometimes they too are amazed when an idea occurs to them, seemingly out of nowhere, they grab a pad and pen, and a few hours later they have a rough outline of the plot for their next novel.
Everything writers experience in the course of their lives can be source material for their literary works. In that way, writers are always “working”, even if they are just sitting at a café watching the people go by or listening to conversations. Professional writers train themselves to be keen observers of the world around them and expert listeners. Everyone they meet becomes a potential character for their stories. Ideas for new stories are all around them, waiting to be discovered.
When they visit someplace new, they pay close attention to all the details—the sights, sounds and smells—that other people might overlook. It is by incorporating the little details into stories that the writer makes the stories a more vivid experience for the reader. Writers are curious about the world around them, always asking questions and wanting to learn more.
Particularly memorable experiences in the writer’s own life are often the inspiration for stories. These could be happy memories, such as the first time the author fell in love, or it could have been a tragic or frightening event. The key is the professional author knows how to take their own experiences and make them meaningful to a broad audience of readers.
Writers employ many different means to generate ideas for their stories. Some are avid readers of newspapers and magazines. They draw from current events when developing their stories. They might pick out a small news story and build an entire plot for a novel around that idea. Mystery writers, for example, often are eager readers of true life crime stories.
Even though their formal university education may have been many years ago, writers are lifelong learners. They constantly explore new subjects and gain additional knowledge they can employ in their stories, to take their stories in new and exciting directions. Because reading books can spark the imagination, many authors visit the public library seeking inspiration.
Many writers use a “what-if” technique to come up with new ideas. For example, “what if one morning a man walked into the office building where he has worked for ten years to find his company and all the employees were gone, and a different company had taken its place?” Playing the what-if game is a valuable mental exercise to help you develop new story ideas. The possibilities are endless.
As writers progress in their careers, many find they never run out of great ideas. It becomes easier and easier to generate concepts for stories. In fact, they accumulate more ideas than they can possibly turn into books in a lifetime. Some novelists have plots for a dozen or more books tucked away in their files. Other writers find that ideas come more slowly and have to be developed layer by layer through a trial and error process. Even if it sometimes seems like a struggle to come up with a viable story concept, the point is the professional author keeps working until the ideas begin to flow.
A difficult decision all authors face is which idea to choose to turn into a story, from among all the possibilities they may have come up with. They must decide whether the idea is strong enough to sustain reader interest. And it must sustain the author’s interest as well. Writing is hard work, and a book project can take six months or more to complete. When choosing an idea the author must be certain that he or she will remain excited about the potential of the idea for the duration of the project; if the author loses interest, the readers probably will as well.
Popular stories begin with an intriguing idea, and successful authors are highly skilled at generating ideas that readers will find irresistible.