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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Inspiration - Grab it when you can by Diane Gaston

My friend Karen Anders (here with me at the 2001 RWA conference) is a fountain of story ideas. They come pouring out of her-good ideas, often complete with character names and settings-too many to possibly write. Me, I’m lucky if I have one idea at a time, and I always live in fear of my idea fountain running completely dry.

I'll never have those grand, full-blown ideas like Karen has, but what I've discovered is, all I need is a glimmer of an idea.

The Mysterious Miss M started with a glimmer of an idea. I was entering lots of contests for unpublished writers at the time and I had this notion that I needed a very strong and memorable first scene, because contests typically involve the first pages of a ms. I wanted something to make those editor or agent final judges sit up and take notice. So I hit on the idea of a sex scene in Chapter One. I asked myself, “What sort of Regency lady would have sex in Chapter One?” That’s how my idea grew.

Mostly for me the glimmer is a character. My Harlequin Historicals have all been connected so there is always a character in one book who becomes the hero or heroine of the next book. Then I ask, “Who would this character fall in love with? What is the worst thing that could happen to the character?” I build the story from there. For example, for Emily, the heroine of The Wagering Widow, the worst person for her to fall in love with was a gambler, and what if she married him? Cyprian Sloane of A Reputable Rake was a sort of bad guy in Wagering Widow. For his story, I thought, what if he wanted to become reputable? What sort of woman would ruin his chances?


Sometimes an idea comes from unexpected places. One day I found a book on the Barnes & Noble sales rack, Buried Alive: The Terrifying History Of Our Most Primal Fear by Jan Bondeson. I got it in my head that it would be a cool idea to have my hero buried alive. That was the genesis of my Diane Perkins book, The Marriage Bargain.

Sometimes an idea comes late, but when you find it, you know you have your story idea at last. The idea for my October 2008 book, Scandalizing the Ton, initially came from characters, Adrian Pomroy from Innocence and Impropriety and Lydia from The Vanishing Viscountess.
I built a whole story around them, proposed it to my editor who accepted it, but said, “Diane, do you realize you have ended three other books with an abduction?” Doh! I could not do that again. My friend Julie came upon the idea of making use of the scandal and newspapers and gossip, a minor element in my original story. I knew instantly that this was the key. I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of celebrity and the paparazzi. All I had to do was bring that into my Regency.

My point is, you don’t have to have a full-blown idea, just a glimmer of one that excites you. Then build upon it.

And you really only need one idea at a time.

Have you ever built a story on only a glimmer of an idea? Where do your glimmers come from?

Read an excerpt from Scandalizing the Ton on my website. Enter my contest. Scandalizing the Ton will be available in bookstores October 2008.

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13 Comments:

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I know my books get started with very small ideas. Sometimes, it's a scene in my head that needs to have a book constructed around it. Or a song lyric, or even the melody. Or a line of dialog I simply have to use somewhere.

 
At 11:50 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

To me, it's like staring at the letter dice in a Boggle game and suddenly seeing a word. I'm always gathering tidbits of information, I'm always seeing the patterns in peoples' behavior, whether individuals in the moment or whole cultures over history. When I need an idea, stuff starts to percolate inside. If I struggle to come up with something, it tends to show that struggle. It's when one comes in a flash that it's good.

Diane, my first two elf books involve a villain and some sort of kidnapping, so I had to make sure to avoid that with the one I'm plotting now. The flash of insight I had with Book 3 started with the idea of an evolutionary twist between elves and humans. I decided to make my heroine part elf and a DNA scientist, then allowed her to communicate with her chihuahua, gave her a missing father and a lost twin, and added a secret elven society with a crazy leader. But it all built from that initial flash of insight.

 
At 11:55 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Crap. I just realized that Book 3 has a kind of kidnapping, too. It just takes place at the beginning instead of the end. (sigh) I never noticed the abduction theme in your books, Diane. Maybe people won't notice mine, either.

I guess it's blackmail or theft of a vital object next time.

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Esri,
I like how you describe those flashes of inspiration. Every once in a while I have one, and I write them down, so I can eventually write the story.

Don't worry so much about the abduction. It is at the beginning this time!! :)

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

LOL, Esri!! Your ideas sound great! Love your elves.

Terry, good point. I started a book based on a song. I know it was Steve Tyler singing. Is that his name? Anyhow, music is great for glimmers of inspiration for me, too.

Diane, I think I'm more like your friend, Karen, where ideas frequently flood my mind. I have to quickly write it all down and put the ideas in a folder for future use. This happens often. Too many ideas, too little time!

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

I am of the too-many-ideas-too-little-time club, too, Theresa. And as of this weekend, 2 more, though they're short stories.

Songs are great inspirations, too.

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Right now I am in the bind of too many ideas and not enough free time to write the books (darn DDJ)! I do keep index card boxes on each idea and jot all of the ideas about that story on index cards. It helps. The bad thing is when you hear dialogue from one book when you are supposed to be writing another one!

The idea for my as yet unfinished book DREAMS OF ANGELS came sort of like yours, O Divine One. I was entering contests and realized you had to have a great hook in the first few pages to get a judge, editor or agent's attention. So what about a proposal at a ball where the hero and heroine have just met? I will go back and finish the book because I really love it. It has a big place in my heart because while my parents wrote to each other for a year while Dad was stationed in Germany, they had never actually met. They met on May 4th, 1956 when he came home to the States and traveled to Alabama to meet her (he was a Pennsylvania Yankee. They had one date. He proposed. She said yes. They were married on May 11th, 1956. They were married for 40 years when my Dad passed away. Mom still says he is the love of her life.

I make notes of things I read in the news or in research books too.

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I decided to make my heroine part elf and a DNA scientist, then allowed her to communicate with her chihuahua, gave her a missing father and a lost twin, and added a secret elven society with a crazy leader.

Of course you did, Esri. Who wouldn't have come up with that idea??

I envy you flooded-with-ideas people!

O Doggie One, I love your parents' story. It's very romantic!

 
At 1:56 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Louisa, what a beautiful story!

I'm suppressing one story while plotting one. ("Down boy! Down, I say!") I never knew why people wanted more hours in the day until I became a writer.

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Diane: [grin]

In this WIP, I believe I've finally internalized a key concept in writing paranormal: THERE IS NO POINT IN HOLDING BACK.

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

At least, I hope there isn't. We'll see what happens the book after, when I can't use twins, talking animals or crazed secret-society leaders, because I used them all in this one.

(scratches head) Earthquakes?

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Ha ha. That's the problem with not holding back, Esri!

Is it possible to use up all your ideas in one book???? (another thing for me to worry about)

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I never knew why people wanted more hours in the day until I became a writer.

Esri, this is a great quote!

 

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