People often as ask me how I come up with my story ideas. Wouldn't they be surprised to know that my ideas arrive usually by chance? Story ideas are as wild and free-falling as the stories themselves. Unpredictable and fluid. I once got an idea for a book during an afternoon drive through a neighborhood. With my hubby at the wheel, I was free to peruse the landscape at will. We drove past this cute little cottage, tucked between two much larger homes....and suddenly a story erupted in my head.
In truth, the cottage in that story is hardly ever mentioned, but it was the stepping stone for an idea that spun into a rather interesting piece of work (which I may or may not release one day). That’s the way those ideas are sometimes; all it takes is one small thing, and suddenly a whole new world has opened up.
Frequently I get ideas from a question I ask myself, just like I did for my soon to be released novel Saving Cruz. I was watching the local news one evening and they were reporting on a fatal car accident where the driver fell asleep at the wheel. I recall asking myself "how would someone live with themselves if they survived an accident like that, knowing they killed others?" And thus, my story was born.
Sometimes story ideas are much less inspiring. I might see a handsome actor - like his mannerisms, the sound of his voice perhaps - and suddenly he becomes a muse for a story I dream up. Occasionally I'll be listening to a song and something in the notes or lyrics will send my brain spinning. This is how it works with us writers. Our brains are always "on" and nothing can escape our writer's trap. Be warned...you might one day be a character in someone's novel!
I will sometimes name characters after folks I know. If a character closely resembles someone I know in behavior, then I try to give them another name. I've used comments friends and family have said, quirky lines my kids have rattled off, and oddities we all have, simply to give my characters more “real” humanity. For example, a character in an upcoming novel has a weird obsession with men's hands. Yep, that's me. So while my friends and family are now worried that their every move is somehow being monitored by the writer over here, I will always throw my own self under the bus as well (time and time again!).
A writer’s brain is a beautifully ever-changing, yet flawed organ. Our ideas are plentiful, but so are our doubts. We see the world through a deeply layered pair of spectacles, and yet we are always asking ourselves if this story has been told before. My answer to that is...yes. Most likely all story ideas in one way or another have been told. But THIS story and THIS idea will only be told in your voice once and only once. Our writing voices are as rare and beautiful as those random ideas and oddities that appear out of thin air. Embrace that voice, hold tight to your ideas, and keep dreaming up those stories!