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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blog Tour! Welcome Author Kelly Harmon and BLOOD SOUP!

Guest Blog Post: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Kelly A. Harmon
April 9, 2010

I’ve heard some people say that they would like to write a book, but they don’t have a good idea for one. Or, that they don’t know where to get any ideas...as if there were a store you could visit.

Science fiction author and editor Harlan Ellison has stated that anytime a fan or interviewer asks him the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" he replies "Schenectady." He’s making a joke, of course, and perhaps blowing off the questioner. But I like to think he’s also encouraging that person to think, “Schnenectady? What’s in Schenectady that we haven’t got here?”

And the answer is: nothing.

In his book, The Writer’s Idea Workshop, Jack Heffron says, “The ideas you seek, the ones that you’ll use to write beautiful work, are already inside you.”

I agree with Heffron, and take it a step further: ideas are all around you, not just inside. And certainly, not all in Schenectady. The problem, I think, is that people expect to discover a book idea as a whole: that plot, theme and characterization spontaneously arrive into a writer’s mind. It is possible, but the truth is, most ideas start out small. They need to be nurtured like seedlings, watered with other ideas and allowed to bask in the sunshine of creative manipulation. They don’t sprout full-grown...and the greatest ideas can come from the smallest of seeds.

Ideas can be triggered from anything: a conversation overheard at the local coffee shop, the lyrics to a song heard on the radio, something witnessed during rush-hour traffic. Some people leaf through magazines for inspiration. If you’re stumped for an idea, try your local newspaper.

Today, my paper carried a story about a teen-aged girl, recently diagnosed with diabetes, who is making and selling ribbon hair barrettes to raise money for diabetes research. It’s a lovely story, but not one of great novel-making. So turn it on its ear:

∙ Write a story about a teen lying about being sick in order to gain the sympathy of everyone around her. The money she makes selling trinkets doesn’t actually get donated to research: she buys drugs with it.

∙ Maybe the girl’s mother is slowly poisoning her. The girl is dying, but Mom’s getting all the sympathy. The barrette money is feeding mom’s make-over: hair, nails, cosmetics, clothes. She’s losing a daughter, but she’ll look fabulous at the funeral. (Or worse: the barrette sales are buying the poison Mom is using!)

∙ This could even be an urban fantasy: the girl isn’t ill, she’s demon-bound. Unless she can break the curse, she’s as good as dead anyway. She needs the money to buy the services of a witch who can rid her of the demon. Can she make enough?

If you don’t like the news, try Heffron’s idea and seek ideas within you. Is there a particular memory that leaps out? Maybe you were once involved in something that causes really strong feelings, or have a memory of someone or someplace that you’ve never forgotten.

I once knew a guy in school who carried around a small bag of oregano. I can’t remember his name, but I remember that smell and how he used to try to fool people into thinking he was “cool” because he smoked pot. Where’s that guy now?

∙ Perhaps in college he graduated from oregano to the real thing, but the stuff he got was laced with something else. He became violent and beat someone near to death. He was tried as a juvenile, did some time in reform school. Became a cop. But now that he’s on the up and up, the person he once thrashed is trying to take him down.

∙ Maybe he graduated to pot and loved it. He can’t keep a job, loses his family and winds up homeless. On his way home from panhandling one night he witnesses a crime (committed by a demon, witch or vampire if you want to take the fantasy route) and has to convince the authorities of what he saw. Do they believe him?

The briefest of headlines can become the idea for a novel:

∙ The President Signs a Bill into Law (What does that do to your protagonist?)

∙ Hundreds gather for Fallen Police Office (What if no one gathered?)

∙ Fire Damages Houses, Displaces 20 Residents (Where do they all go?)

∙ Motorcycle Shop Evacuated After Explosions from Chemicals, Ammo (Is this shop owned by your protagonist or antagonist? Who was injured in the explosion?)

None of these ideas will make a complete novel by itself. However, with some consideration, a strong dose of what if, and a little nurturing of details–that creative manipulation I spoke of-- any one of them could bloom into a lush, verdant story.

A tale of murder, betrayal and comeuppance.
King Theodicar of Borgund needed an heir. When his wife, Queen Piacenza, became pregnant, he’d hoped for a boy. His wife, along with her nurse, Salvagia, knew it wouldn’t be so: with each cast of the runes, Salvagia’s trusted divination tools yielded the same message: “A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.” The women were convinced that the child would be a girl.

When the queen finally gives birth, the nurse and the king are equally surprised. The king is faced with a terrible choice, and his decision will determine the fate of his kingdom. Will he choose wisely, or will he doom Borgund to ruin?


Kelly A. Harmon said...

Thank you for hosting me today! I look forward to hearing from other folks about where their ideas come from.


Naomi said...

I love the idea of the demon-bound girl! Now that's a novel I would read.

Margaret West said...

I think only writers can really see the world around them lol We can look at a beach and in our mind create huge galleons on the ocean, or mermaids on the rocks. Things inspire us, people make us think more...a writers life is full of imagination. Nice post kelly. Really interesting.

Ginger Simpson said...

The last thing I need is more ideas. I can't shut off the constant flow of characters in my head. I'm never lacking a good starting point...it's keeping the flow going while I fight off the other voices, yakking at me to tell their story. *lol* No wonder I'm wacky.
Great post for those who need the inspiration. Gotta run, Carrie is screaming she wants out of prison and Sunshine just finished tye-dying her shirt and is contemplating putting on that damn locket that's killing anyone who dares wear it. *lol*

Lorrie said...

As a writer, like you, I play the "what if" game. Give me a phrase, a song, a newspaper article and I think "what if?" Then my imagination runs wild.
And yes, the story needs nurtured and probably tons of research.
Very nice post, Kelly. I enjoyed the read.

Amy said...

Great post Kelly.

Yeah I agree anything triggers my muse. :)

RowenaBCherry said...

Fascinating post, Kelly. What a delightfully twisted mind you have!

Diane Scott Lewis said...

Since I write historicals, often my ideas come from history, or even as a child, from historical movies.
Your blog is a great start for people who need inspiration.
My head is always full of ideas I don't have time for, LOL.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Naomi: I love the idea of a demon-bound girl, too! And I only just thought of it when I was writing this post. Funny how those ideas just pop up. I'm adding that to my TBW pile: to be written!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Margaret: I've gotten some of my best ideas while sitting on a beach. For me, it's not only inspiring, it seems to help me channel "good writing energy."

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Ginger! But the voices in our heads are why we do this stuff, right? :) Thanks for the teaser on your WIP: now I REALLY want to read them. The locket story sounds pretty cool...

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Lorrie - I have to admit that sometimes I forget to play the What If game...even though it's such a terrific plot generator. Although...it's turning into an awesome car ride game when I get tired of "I Spy..."

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Amy and Rowena....thank you for the kind words. I'm glad you liked the post!

Rowena: can I quote you on my blog as having said I have a "delightfully twisted mind"?

(That has such a great ring to it!)

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Kelly!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Diane. Historicals are great for ideas, aren't they? I just finished reading Imperium by Robert Harris...and it caused a landslide of ideas for me.

Thank you for the kind words about my post!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi, Brynna! It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Kim Richards said...

Hi Kelly,
I agree with you on how ideas can come from anywhere. Great post too...now I'm going to have to spend an hour or two brainstorming. :)

Lori said...

Hell, I am full of ideas, its the execution of actually writing that fails me. I have the worst grammatical issues and even less patience. If I didn't I too would be motivated to write.

Yolanda Sfetsos said...

Hi Kelly! Very cool post.

I love the way ideas just creep into your head when you least expect them. And yeah, just about anything can spark them. :)

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Kim! Thanks for stopping by. Good luck with that brain storming! (I'd love to know what you come up with.)

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Lori! The trick is to turn off that internal editor while you're getting it all down on paper. Don't worry about typos, loose ends, (small) plot holes, bad dialogue and overblown scenes...just write. Tell the story, then go back and clean it up later.

I bet you can do it! (Anyone who reads like you do -- LOVE YOUR SITE -- can definitely write a book.)

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Yolanda! Fancy meeting you here. Thanks for the kind words.

Realizing that ideas "creep" into your head is sparking something for me right now. Can you imagine a world where ideas are sentient little things that walk around on their own and crawl into people's minds?

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Kelly! I love Neil Gaimon's answer to this, when he's asked where he gets his ideas from: the idea store. If only! Writers develop an additional sense, I think. Maybe it's the "what if" sense. :) Sprinkled with a hefty amount of determination and perseverance!
Congrats on your release! Wishing you much luck.

Mary Ricksen said...

What a great title. I love it Blood Soup. I can't wait to read it. What a great story, this is gonna take me awaaayyyyy!!