Getting Book Ideas or, The Barbecue Revolt – Esri Rose
I have never been asked where I get my story ideas. I have had people say, “You’re a writer? I had this idea about a bear cub who bonds to a Cabbage Patch doll. You should write about that.”
The trick isn’t coming up with ideas per se, it’s coming up with ideas that fit within your genre, have enough conflict to carry a whole book, and fall in the ideal spectrum between something fabulously unique but not so unique that it will baffle your publisher’s marketing department.
If you’re really on the ball, it should also feature some quirky product, animal, place or cause that will get you featured in an online newsletter with ten thousand rabid fans.
The best way I’ve found to get raw material is through conversations with friends and family. Once you hear a new anecdote, news item or last night’s wacko dream, you start to riff on what ifs. The result is usually something that’s at least a little unique, because these conversations involve speculation and pushing the envelope.
Ideally, friends bring the following idea-generators to your attention: current events (which you don’t have time to read because you are writing), horrible events (which you avoid listening to because you are a sensitive artist), or workplace events (because they have real lives and you don’t). Extra-special friends will also share weird events that they heard about because they belong to specialized clubs or organizations. Those friends are gold. Not only do they know about fascinating subcultures, but they often have access to the aforementioned rabid-fan lists.
Let’s look at a conversation I had with my husband recently. We had just seen a portable fire-pit at Target, and I wondered if it was legal in our city, since it had a screen over the top. Most open-fire devices are outlawed here, including BBQ grills for renters. You can only own a grill if you’re a homeowner.
“That would start a revolution in this country,” I said. “We let politicians get away with a lot, but if they took away our grills, people would take to the streets.”
Joe agreed. “Angry men in aprons, brandishing oversized forks and skewers."
“That’d be a good political-parody book,” I mused. “The Barbecue Revolt.”
That’s a decent book idea. It’s unusual, has plenty of scope for conflict, and you could pitch it to barbecue-lover newletters—maybe even get a product-placement deal. Unfortunately, I don’t write political or social satire. Carl Hiaasen, if you’re reading this, take that idea with my blessing—just don’t forget to put my name and website in your acknowledgements. Thanks, man. We’ll have lunch.
What I currently write is elf-based romantic suspense. Let’s see how we can change this idea from political satire to something I could potentially write and sell.
Breaking the idea into its components, what do we have? First, there’s barbecue, a pastime with a history of humor and also gender division. Then there’s out-of-control fire, a natural disaster that lends itself to people with painful pasts, as well as legal problems and mysterious deaths. There’s the notion of outlawing something, which affects local politics and struggling businesses that will be hurt by the legislation. There’s revolution over an unpalatable law, and the safety of the group versus the rights of the individual.
The trick is to play with the idea. Don’t feel like you have to map to the original concept or use all the pieces.
Idea for a Paranormal Romantic-Suspense
Leeta is the only elf in four centuries to have fire-kindling powers. Unfortunately, she can’t control them. When she starts a wildfire that destroys two human houses, the fleeing owners see Leeta’s unharmed figure walking through the flames. Incidents like this put elves at risk of exposure, so Mikelor, the elves’ best tracker, is put in charge of capturing Leeta. His job? To bring her back for the ritual that will erase her gift and leave her a husk of herself. But when Mikelor meets Leeta, he begins to question his orders. Is the possibly increased safety of the group worth the sacrifice of this one elven female? When Mikelor himself is taken captive by humans, Leeta and her uncertain gift are all that can save him. Will Leeta risk herself to help the nemesis she has come to love?
Possible promotional tie-ins: You could have Leeta befriend a pet or wild animal that escaped the blaze. Put a fire pet-rescue decal in every press kit, or send a press kit/book to animal-rescue orgs like the IFAW. Hell, give ‘em some money.
You can see that it bears almost no resemblance to the original concept, but who cares? It’s an idea! Okay, I covered my genre. Let’s see how you do with your version of this idea (or give an example from scratch). And don’t worry if your tie-ins are the same or similar. Rabid-fan groups are always eager for reading material that resonates with them. There’s room for all of us.
(Word of warning: The above idea, while solid, is not so unique that I hesitated to share it. Don’t go public with a truly outstanding concept. Not that people will purposely poach it, but a published writer might think your idea is one of her own two years down the line, not remembering that she read something similar in cyberspace. Your great concept could hit the shelves in her book before you even get an agent. Ask about my embarrassing songwriting moment and I’ll share in the comments.)
Esri Rose’s first elfy book,
Bound to Love Her,
is available for pre-order
Labels: Bound to Love Her, Esri Rose, story ideas