One of the most common questions writers are asked is where they get their ideas. For me, different books begin in different ways.
Usually, I get ideas by playing “what if?” It’s something I can do deliberately. I read something or hear a news item or even a commercial and ask myself if there’s some way it could be twisted to create a good story.
Asking what if?
That’s how I got the idea for The Wind Reader. I was doing a giant jigsaw puzzle while my husband watched the old TV show “Psych” in the next room. You may recall that show is about a fake psychic whose help the police ask in solving a crime. How would that fit into a traditional fantasy? Well, the fake psychic could become a fake magician. The police could become the royal family asking for help in preventing an assassination. Hey! I could work with that. Many drafts later, The Wind Reader was born.
Similarly, I once heard a radio report about a South American clothing factory in which the women workers complained to the owner about how he ran the place. He got so frustrated he threw the keys on the floor and said, “If you think you know so much, you do it.” So they did. A worker scooped up the key, and they turned the factory into a more profitable enterprise, at which point the owner wanted it back.
Can I make a YA traditional fantasy out of that? You bet. My main character is right there in the woman who scooped up the key. But I have to twist the situation a bit to make it fit. What factories could exist in my created world? I decided I could work with a glass maker. That book now exists in draft form.
Spin off from existing stories
So “what if?” is my usual idea generator, but other possibilities exist too. Deep as a Tomb is a spin off from The Wind Reader, which I wrote first but let sit in draft form for several years. In The Wind Reader, twenty-year-old Prince Beran is the one who drags Doniver into the palace to be the royal fortune teller. I got interested in Beran after writing about him. Deep as a Tomb is about Beran as a teenager living in his grandmother’s household with the daughter of a would-be rebel.
Similarly Inspired Quill has agreed to publish a book about Jarka, one of Doniver’s street friends in The Wind Reader, and I’m working on a book about his other friend, Dilly. So existing characters can suggest stories too.
Listening to the voices in my head
Finders Keepers started in a way I’ve never experienced before or since. I was pottering around the house one day when I heard this voice in my head saying, “I’m not a thief, not really. The thing I steal doesn’t belong to the people I take it from. Of course, it doesn’t belong to the person I steal it for either.” And bingo, that was it.
I was intrigued by this character and wanted to know more. Who was this not-thief? What was he taking? Why was he taking it? Who had it? Why was it valuable? Who was he taking it for? Answering those questions gave me a fleshed-out idea for the book I wanted to write.
Looking back, I realize that thieves are common in fantasy literature, so maybe my reading had planted the book’s seed in my brain, but boy, did it surprise me. So the lesson I learned from Finders Keepers—and it’s a little disturbing—is to listen to the voices in my head. Sometimes the best ideas are ripening there, ready to be heard.
Bonus: Some teasers from The Wind Reader:
Last autumn, out hunting, I stumbled on an empty house with dishes still on the table and a baby’s rattle on the floor. That was what Fever left behind. That and graves in the meadow. (Ch. 1)
Every street kid was close-mouthed about some part of what had dumped them in the gutter. If you were friends, you left them alone about it because that was the stuff that broke their hearts. (Ch. 2)
The wind box glittered in the low morning sunlight streaking across the river. I could picture the Powers swirling their breath through this box, pleased with the space their people had made. (Ch. 6)
The Wind Reader is live on Amazon on Friday, but can be purchased direct from the publisher, Inspired Quill, starting today. Small presses benefit when you buy directly from them because they don’t have to give a cut to a retailer. You can do it at the IQ link I provided.