When asked about where his ideas for a fiction book or story come from, award winning science fiction author Orson Scott Card says that ideas come from everywhere. He says, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
So, how do you become one of those people who see the ideas? Here are six ways to come up with great ideas for a fiction book.
1. Combine Three Things
Take three seemingly random things and combine them to create a story. Choose an occurrence or situation, a person, and an object. Pick these items out over the course of a day or a week. You might keep a little journal to jot down interesting items you see throughout the day.
Once you get a group of items listed, start playing around with ideas for stories. Perhaps you have a woman struggling to get on the bus with her infant, a tattered old jacket on a park bench, and someone whose uncle just died. Perhaps that becomes a story about a young woman who has lost everything, a widow who is looking for her husband’s long-lost niece, and an old letter abandoned in the pocket of a jacket by the dying man.
I just expanded three things to a few characters and the hint of a plot. Now, you start asking questions. Why doesn’t the niece know about her uncle? What does the young woman need? What has she lost? What could get in the way of a reunion? Is the reunion positive, and what does the aunt have to offer? Keep answering questions until you have a story.
2. Retell a Myth
You might know the old adage about there being no new stories under the sun. The key is to telling the story in a new way, the way only you can tell it. Retelling a myth, fairy tale or folktale in a new way has been a popular way to create a novel for years.
3. Dig Into History
Choose a period in history you are interested in and look into a person or event. I saw a book about London during the 1918 flu epidemic that got my attention one day. Just browsing through, I saw opportunities for a number of stories.
What if there was an alternate history about the true origin of the outbreak? You might consider a romance between a young doctor and a struggling country girl. You could create suspense, mystery, drama or even dark comedy against such a backdrop.
4. Read Randomly
Read everything you can get your hands on. Magazines, newspapers, books, and blogs can all fuel ideas for a fiction book. Even if you already have a basic premise, you might run across an article about a young business woman and realize that a similar person would be perfect as a minor character in your book. Your book is a world full of people, so use the world around you as inspiration to fill it.
5. Browse the Public Library
Walk through the public library or a large bookstore. Pick up books and flip through them, especially books that are sized for coffee tables. These are often full of visual elements that can spark your imagination. I picked up one the other day called English Gardens at Night. The dark and beautiful photographs sparked story ideas on every page.
If you have time, find a quiet seat and just look through some of these books. Don’t force yourself to come up with ideas. Just enjoy the images. Even if no ideas come immediately, the images might ferment in your mind and provide fodder later.
6. Listen to Those Around You
I was visiting with an older couple in our community not long ago and they told me the story of how they met. This is a common thing for couples to relate, but their story was so unique and fun, I immediately thought about how someone could write a wonderful romance novel around it. Listen to the stories people are telling. They might provide you with a jumping off point for a novel.
You should also pay attention to the things people say for filling out your book, as well. At a recent community gathering, some individuals were recounting a story about a man who fell into his pond and had to be rescued. The event was incredibly funny and was better than anything I could have made up on my own.
Obviously, you don’t want to record personal events word for word in a novel, but you can use the bones of a story to create your own. I might add a variation of the pond incident into a future book, for example, but perhaps I’ll make the character a young woman.
In order to find ideas for a fiction book, you simply need to look around your world. Like Orson Scott Card says, there are hundreds of ideas floating around. They are just waiting for someone keen enough to observe them.
What about you? Where do you get your ideas from?