My writing partner and I were brainstorming a new book idea, and I thought I would talk about my brainstorming process in the hopes that maybe someone out there would find it useful in some manner.
There are a few things I regularly use for plot ideas:
1) Conversations. Any and all. Often, it will be a nondescript, non-writerly type of convo, but something said will spark an idea. For instance, recently a friend of the beloved’s parents was talking about live TB germs still hanging around someplace. Scary huh? So then I wondered what would happen if someone came into contact with them, and then others came in contact with him, and so on. It’s still fermenting, but the wick has been lit. 😀
2) News. Not usually the local news, either, although occasionally I’ll find something intriguing. Nope, I’m talking about world news and the Peculiar Postings on MSN. A plot element from What Lies Beneath came from a story about a boy who’d drowned. Sometimes health or science news also gets the gears going, too.
3) Science. On Thursday I discovered Discover Magazine. Found some very interesting information on the sleep cycle (which is always interesting, after having almost been diagnosed with narcolepsy), minimally-conscious states (not a vegatative and not a coma –a cross between the two), and some intriguing news on memories (another passion of mine — memory in some way or another always creeps into my books). Just from persuing the headlines and reading articles that looked interesting. I should have been a scientist, I swear.
4) Dreams. I have very vivid, very unusual dreams that I can usually remember in graphic detail. It could be that I’ve trained myself to ponder things unconsciously, or maybe it’s my meds (a certain medication is known for inducing vivid dreams and nightmares). I have at least 3 plotbunnies connected to dreams, and other plot elements that came from a dream. If you find you can’t remember your dreams, tell yourself as you’re drifting off that you will remember. Be prepared to jot down anything upon wakening. Dreams tend to dissolve the more awake you become. I try to latch on to something and more or less “memorize” it before it vanishes. Those few minutes upon waking are the most critical.
Another thing I do is ponder any issues I’m having with a novel as I’m drifting off, which insures that I will dream about it. Recently, a tiny part of a dream spawned the sequel idea for Pirouette.
5) Juxaposing two or more very different ideas. I purposely look for strange or contradictory ideas to combine for novels. I take what I mine from other sources and work it out in my mind, asking myself “what if?” questions. The entire concept of Requiem in Blue was built this way: combining cyborgs, underwater, and mind control. Same with What Lies Beneath — empathy, insanity, and dolphins.
6) Other books. Books inspire me. I don’t ever copy; rather, I twist and bend the core idea (sometimes juxaposing stuff as above) to come up with my own spin on it. This I disocvered from Holly Lisle’s workshop: How to Steal Ideas Ethically (or some such. Can’t remember the exact title). Requiem in Blue was originally one of these. I read Starfish by Peter Watts and fell in love. What I liked the best was the underwater millieu and how the people were modified to live in deep sea. I took that, and ran with it. If you hadn’t known this ahead of time, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell: the plot, combined with the mind control, is completely and entirely different, as are the circumstances as to why these people are living deep in the sea. The only resemblance to Starfish now is the core idea that sparked it.
Same thing with Holly Lisle’s Talyn. If you haven’t read it, go read it NOW. It is awesome, thrilling, terrifying, and beautiful all at once. Well, the idea of enemies joining together (and a few other things too — don’t want to spoil it) intrigued me. What Lies Beneath has elements similar to that, in the romance end of it. But the similarity ends right there.
7) Song lyrics. Now, I have what I call “movie images” appear in my head as I’m listening to music, pretty much without any conscious control. I’ve always done this, even as a kid, and it helps me brainstorm and get new ideas. But some lyrics will actually inspire plots as well as the imagery. Queensryche’s “Suite Sister Mary” became the template upon which I plotted (ok, semi-plotted) Requiem in Blue. “Silent Lucidity,” also by Queensryche, inspired a VR plotbunny very recently. A song by the band Creed inspired an alternate reality romance plotbunny I’ve had for gosh, years. Queensyche’s “The Hands” inspired parts of Requiem in Blue (it’s also the protagonist’s theme song). It’s really amazing what cool things happen with music.
I also use music to help me write. Oftentimes if I’m stuck, I’ll just close my eyes and let it do its work. Usually, it’s enough to get me moving again, and that’s what counts.
8) Real-life events. There are a few novels that started out purely as semi-autobiographical, as a way to make sense of something that had happened to me. Usually, they grow beyond that, and take another form, but that’s how some of them start. One such novel, “Transparent Eyes,” started out as a way to get back at someone (fictionally) who’d hurt me. TE grew beyond that, and is now Footsteps of Ghosts. The original elements are completely gone, and it’s a story in its own right.
Take caution when plucking things from your own life — there’s always the chance of lawsuits. Granted, the law can be a bit ambigious, but it’s always good to hide any real-life stuff behind a good fictional situation.
Another old plotbunny is a multi-generational family story that I’ve been meaning to write, to help cope with some of my own personal issues. It’ll be fantasy or sci-fi, most likely.
And, Dagmar, another plotbunny, came from my grandparents’ love story. War romance, Irish heritage. The rest is completely different, but that was the inspiration.
Once I get the kernel of the idea, I let it perculate. I have a good memory so that’s not hard, even with multiple ideas (although I have been writing them down as of late). I always ask myself “what if?” questions, and try to tighten the screws on the poor characters. Torture, that’s the name of the game. I’m evil, LOL.
Sometimes I use Tarot cards, using them to answer those “what if?” questions. I’ve come up with some awesome ideas that way.
So now you know my process. It works very well for me. And it’s basically just being aware of things, and always looking at different perspectives. The belief that anything can result in a story idea helps. 😉 And perhaps that’s why I have so many…..because I see them everywhere. I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas.
Hopefully this helped you in some way!