Today, I have the wonderful pleasure of Diana Rowland’s company here at Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings! Diana’s newest urban fantasy novel Blood of the Demon, book two in the Kara Gillian series, recently released. It’s an outstanding novel which I just had to finish reading in nearly a day’s time. Yeah, it’s that good. If you haven’t read Blood of the Demon or started this terrific series yet, after reading this post there’s a sweet giveaway at the end.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s probably the one question writers are asked the most. Sometimes there are variations on it, such as “Where did you come up with that concept?” or “What made you decide to make your magic system/alternate world/strange characters like that?”
Many writers come up with cute, clever, or snarky responses to questions like these. “I subscribe to a service that emails me fresh ideas every month, and I can return the ones that I don’t touch for a small handling fee.” “I get them from your head.” (Often accompanied with a manic look.) “Your mom!” Or, the one I use: “I have a sick, sick mind!”
But the reason that writers come up with silly responses like this is because the truth is dark, dangerous and...
Okay, it’s not dark and dangerous at all. The truth is boring.
We make them up. Seriously. It’s not exciting or interesting at all. And writers don’t have a special “creative brain” that non-writers lack. The only difference between writers and non-writers is that we go ahead and explore those off-the-wall ideas that everyone gets now and then. Seriously, anyone can do it, if you give yourself the freedom to do so. Most writers have not only given themselves the freedom to explore strange thoughts, but if they have a deadline, they have a demand to make some strange crap up! (Yes, if I have a book due in five months, I’m under a fair amount of pressure to make some stuff up, and it better be cool and good, too. Ulp!)
Making it all up can be real work sometimes, but at the same time it’s easy if you just know how to let yourself do it. Ideas happen all the time. They come from everything around you--life, experiences, overheard conversations, random observations. You get ideas all the time too, but perhaps you don’t give yourself the freedom to let your mind wander and explore that idea.
So, here are some tricks and techniques that can make it easier to make it up:
1) Write things down!
This is the most important one for me. I tend to have the short term memory of a gnat, and I can’t count the number of times my mind has been wandering and I’ve come up with a really cool plot twist, or a really neat direction I can take a character... and the next day when I sit down to write I can’t remember anything about it. [cry!] It’s especially bad when I’m drifting off the sleep. For some reason my brain loooooves to torture me by coming up with Perfect Solutions to major plot issues right when I’m all warm and comfy and relaxed. And I’ve tried repeating the Perfect Solution over and over mentally, in an attempt to shove it into long term memory. But it never works. By the next morning I’ll be lucky if I even remember that I had a Perfect Solution, much less what it was.
So, now I make myself write things down when they occur to me. I have a notebook in my purse and in my car, and I have a pad and pen on my nightstand. (And, I have the flashlight app on my iPhone, so that I can write things down without turning on the lamp--for which my husband is quite grateful!)
2) Think about it.
How often do you think of something kinda cool and interesting? Now, how often to do you sit back and muse about that cool and interesting detail? If you wrote your brilliant ideas down earlier, make sure you go back and look at them and let them fester in your brain for a while.
Which leads us to #3
3) Allow yourself to go off on tangents.
Go wild on the “What If?” Take that festering idea, and throw another idea at it. “What if vampires can go out in the sun, but instead of burning up they get an allergic reaction, so you’d see vampires raiding clinics for epi-pens...”
Okay, so that’s a bit of an odd tangent, but that takes us right in to #4
4) Brainstorm--don’t throw any ideas out.
Okay, so you might not want to use the epi-pen idea, but keep it in your head anyway, because you never know where that might lead you. When I was developing my concept of the demons, one of my “What If?”s was “What if these demons aren’t from hell at all?” which led to “What if they aren’t evil?” which led to “What if they have a completely different goal in mind instead of corruption of the good?” which led to “What if their goal is actually [spoiler redacted]?” (At which point I sat up straight and made an Oooooooh! sound!)
5) Put the whole thing where you can see it. Sometimes the strangest things make connections and spark new ideas.
It helps to have clear wall space and an understanding (or at least tolerant) spouse, too. But I can’t say enough about the value of being able to stand back and see ALL the ideas and the tangents in one place. More connections will leap out at you, and more ideas will form, and before you know it, you’ll have something that might possibly be a Workable Concept. When I’m starting a book, I have several iterations of Plot Wall. Actually, the first Plot Wall isn’t about the plot at all--it’s about the brainstorming and the ideas and the connections, and all of the things I talked about earlier. But once I have a Workable Concept, then I can go on to figuring out what happens when and how to put all the pieces together in a well-paced and plotted format.
But that’s a topic for a post of its own.
(There are more elegant forms of Plot Wall that use white boards, or that white board paint, or some variation thereof. I personally like the butcher paper and permanent marker format, simply because I have Kid and pets and Husband, and I don’t want to risk having a Brilliant Idea accidentally rubbed out.)
So, there you go. Now you know where writers get their ideas.
Told you it was boring.
Not boring at all but an informative look into an awesome writer’s mind. Thank you Diana!
I’m giving away a copy of both books in Diana Rowland's Kara Gillian series: Mark of the Demon and Blood of the Demon, a winner for each book. Here’s how to enter:
- In the comments, tell me which which book you’d like to win in the Kara Gillian series: Mark of the Demon or Blood of the Demon.
- Leave your email with your comment if it isn't part of your profile. Email is the best way to notify the winner.
- Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships internationally. US winners will receive their books from Amazon.com.
- Deadline to enter this giveaway is Friday, March 26th at Midnight CST.
May the luck of the Irish be with you!