Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something Brilliant This Way Comes...Er, Maybe: The Pursuit of New Ideas

So how do you find your ideas? Or should I ask how do they find you?

There's something strange and unexpected about the discovery of a new idea.

My theory, based on my "vast" experience after completing one whole novel (haha) is that there are two types of idea people: character idea people and plot idea people.

Jeff Gerke details the two types of writers in his book Plot Versus Character. I haven't read this one, but I've heard a few of Jeff's talks on the subject and I think it is well-worth listening to one (or reading this book) if you get the opportunity.

Likewise, I believe that this goes for ideas as well. The type of idea we latch onto and the way we find our ideas says a lot about our personality.

For instance, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a character-driven writer. My characters are stronger than my plots and I know it. And I LOVE exploring a new character. Its like a flashback to my childhood. By the time I finish a novel, the character has become a friend in some strange way.

Most of my ideas start with real people. Either someone I meet, a conversation I have or perhaps someone I've heard on a radio program.

I know some ponder world events. They read newspapers. I have done this but I don't seem to feel the sense of connection for the people I read about, so it rarely leads to story ideas.

My husband writes fantasy and his ideas come straight from his imagination. I'm a bit in awe. My ideas have always been triggered by some outside source.

Women's fiction is a genre that "feels" comfortable to me. It fits the way I put the world together.

Many of my stories start with the emotional jouney: What would it be like to be _______ and go through ____________? How would it affect their relationship with God? Would it cause them to seek Him closer or pull away? How will it affect their relationships with others (spouse, children, parents, friends)?

Oftentimes there is an inciting incident but often I don't realize the direction the story will take until I get to know my character. My Book Therapy workbooks have been great in discovering more about my main character.

My first story sprang from reading a book about a former cult member who left her cult and became a Christian. I wondered what that journey would look like. What would she struggle with in her new life of faith? What would it look like to embrace grace after years of legalism?

My second and third novel ideas (now keep in mind I'm still fleshing these out) came through a door-to-door visitor and through watching a TV show.

What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Does the plot or the main character come first for you? 

 Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also currently reviews for The Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Love the questions you ask. "What would it be like to be ____ and to go through____?"

These are great questions. I can see you really put yourself in your characters' shoes with honesty and insight.

I'm not too sure where I fit on the continuum of plot vs. character. I think I sit somewhere in between. Both are really important to me. And I struggle with both equally. :-)

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks for weighing in. I am curious how genre plays in to how people brainstorm. I love your ideas!

Jeanne T said...

Great post, Julia. I also like your questions you ask in developing your character and story. :) I find ideas from both people I see/hear about and life circumstances. I've found the MBT workbooks very helpful too!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Sounds like you are a people idea person, too. Love those MBT workbooks.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great topic! I used to wonder if I'd ever get another idea for a new book. Now I'm always thinking about new ideas. I usually start with a character and then try to come up with a story for him/her.

Like an interesting waitress in a restaurant I went to - she intrigued me and someday I'll find a story to match!

Most people have stories that you can use as a jumping off point. I found the basis for my historical book in researching my English roots! Turns out my great-great grandparents were servants on a big estate - one a kitchen maid, the other a groom in the stables. That's all I had to start with and my imagination filled in the rest.

Love hearing other peoples inspirations!


Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, great sources, Sue. Now I really want to hear those stories. I'm sure I will someday :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I love coming up with new story ideas! Nothing more inspiring :) I get a lot of them from stories I've read or movies I've watched. I see an interesting or funny situation, ask a bunch of "what if" questions and all the sudden the plot takes a different turn and I have the makings of a new story.

Charlotte Brentwood said...

I am definitely a character idea person too. Occasionally I will get inspired by a "what", but usually it's a "who". In most stories I have a very strong idea of my character arcs and the relational conflict, but coming up with the actual events to move them through their arcs is hard work!

Julia M. Reffner said...


I love your ideas & I look forward to seeing them in print :)


I'm right there with you. The arcs are harder for me, too.

Pepper said...

Jeff Gerke's book is great, Julia.
A wonderful resource!
Can you be both?
For me it has depended on genre. My fantasy is plot driven, so is my spec - but my HR and one of my CR are character driven.

Can we safely say I'm just confused :-)