As I’m twenty-seven and am working on my third novel, I’m regularly asked, “Where do you get your book ideas?” What I find interesting is that the answer to this question is different for each of my books. I think that this shows that you can find ideas in so many places, and I really think that every writer is different. I know that for me personally I get story ideas all the time, but I rarely get book ideas. What’s the difference? To me, story ideas are things that you could write a story about (duh), but you couldn’t necessarily make it a full novel. I personally get book ideas (ideas I could write a full 50,000-100,000 words about) every couple of years. So today I’ll be sharing where I’ve gotten the ideas for three novels I’ve written/am working on, as well as where you can find book ideas.
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Where I Found My Book Ideas
Here I’m going to explain a basic overview of the plot as well as where I got the idea for them. I hope that this helps you in your literary endeavors!
Aureole: This is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. When I was in high school, I went through a phase where I read everything that Jane Austen ever wrote, even the unfinished pieces. I was a fan of most of them – or at the very least okay with the ending – except for Mansfield Park. Without giving too much away, I felt like the main character moved backwards at the end of the book. I’ve talked to plenty of people who disagree with that, but it has always irked me. The solution? Rewrite the book in a modern setting with a different ending! This was a great strategy for me because it was my first novel. I wrote most of the first draft in NaNoWriMo on 2008 during my senior year of high school. While I had written by plenty of short stories before, this was my first big writing project, so it helped a lot that I had the structure of Mansfield Park to lean on.
The Literary Magazine (TLM): This is a contemporary fiction novel that’s a bit harder to explain because there are several story lines and main characters. 1) Becky White, an incoming high school senior who is trying to go above and beyond to pad her resumé going into college applications. 2) Elizabeth Grey, her high school teacher who is trying to write a novel and adjusting to her fiancé’s family, a long-time political family. 3) Nicholas Sargent, Elizabeth’s fiancé and ADA, who will be running for Congress within a few years and is trying to figure out if he actually wants to marry Elizabeth. So, where did I get the idea? I started freewriting. After I published Aureole, I felt a void from not writing regularly. I would set a time and pop in my headphones and just write whatever came to mind. When I started writing, I didn’t intend for these characters to be in the same book, but the more I wrote, the more it made sense. And then I wrote an outline and started writing in earnest!
Unnamed Magical Murder Mystery (M3): Basically, M3 is if Harry Potter met Nancy Drew. August goes to college. More specifically, it’s a college for witches. She wants to find herself, adjust to college, and solve a murder. You know, normal college things. I’m less than 10,000 words into it, but it’s so much fun.
Where You Can Find Yours
Read a lot: This is a big part of writing advice across the board, but it’s definitely a good one. Read a lot! Expose yourself to new ideas! You might even get a book idea. Like I said above, I hated the ending to Mansfield Park. While I chose to retell that story (more about this next), I could have gone in a different direction. I could have written a story slightly inspired by it, such as one with a character like Fanny – the main character of Mansfield Park – in a completely different scenario. You could even argue that M3 is inspired by Harry Potter and Nancy Drew. To be completely honest, I’m unsure that it is because I’ve read a lot of fantasy and a lot of mysteries, but it could be inspired without me really realizing it.
Retell a story: This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – telling a story that already exists in a different way. There are tons of retellings out there. Clueless is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, Ella Enchanted is a retelling of Cinderella, Wicked (the book and of course the musical) is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Bridget Jones’s Diary are both retellings of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Lion King is a retelling of Hamlet, you get the picture. You could do a modern retelling of a classic text and you may or may not change parts like I did. Or you could turn the text on its head and do it completely different from the original. Robin McKinley has done several fairy tale retellings, including multiple retellings of the same fairy tale. Go wild!
Think about what sort of book you’d like to read: This is an amazing piece of advice that I love. As you can see above at how many retellings there are, you can always write a story that already exists but in a different way. But you can also think about what sort of story you want to read that doesn’t already exist. I don’t think I’m experienced on this side of things to make definitive statements, but I have to imagine that there aren’t enough stories out there about people of color, people who identify as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, disabled people (okay, on this side I am experienced), etc. But let me be very clear: do not write about a story that is not yours to tell. Basically, if you’re white like I am, you should include non-white characters in your book – because they exist so they should also exist in your novel, duh – but they should not be your protagonist who the story is about because it is not your story to tell. ANYWAY. Those are not the only cases of books that you may want to read!
Free write: This is pretty much just what it sounds like. Like I said above, write whatever comes to mind. I think that it’s best to give yourself some sort of timer, as that reduces the likelihood of distractions. Get distracted by social media? Not worth it if you’re just going to write for thirty minutes! Find what works for you and do this regularly enough until you find a novel idea. This does not mean that you have to use every free write exercise you do as a part of your book. Let’s say you do this five times. Maybe two of those times give you ideas for one story. Maybe four of them do or even just one! Again, find what works for you.
Ask yourself, “What if?”: What if you were just minding your own business and saw a mafia hit go down? What if you were going to college and found out your parents were getting divorced because your dad had a secret family? What if you lived in poverty and then won a hundred million dollars? What if you lost everything in a hurricane? Basically, there are a million “what if?” questions you could ask yourself that would make great novels.Where to find novel ideas. Click To Tweet
Great Resources for Writers
Big Magic – I love this book so much! It is so necessary for all creative people. I love it so much that I own two copies (one on Audible, one paperback) and have highlighted it and taken notes. This book changed my view on writing and on my creative life. Most importantly, it changed my view on my relationship with writing. (And it should go without saying that this changes are all positive.) Check out my review.
Structuring Your Novel – You have your book ideas. Great! What next? This is such a great hands-on book to answer just that and to help you write an amazing book. I’ve used this so structure M3, and I think that will make a huge difference. There’s also a workbook. Check out my review.
Writing Down the Bones – I love this book so much and I cannot recommend it enough to any writer. There are a whole lot of different tips for every type of writing issue or part of writing. Plus, this is a lot less dense than Big Magic or Structuring Your Novel and the chapters are a lot shorter. If you want bits of writing advice in small clumps at a time, this is the book for you.
How To Choose and Build a Powerful Theme for Your Story – This is a blog post from the amazing blog Well Storied. If you’ve got a general idea but aren’t sure how to take your story to the next level, this blog post is for you! You should also check out the awesome free email course Mapping Powerful Plot Arcs, which I can personally recommend because I’ve used it myself.
Where do you find your story ideas?
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