“ Well, the first thing you should have is an idea and then… Well, first you need something to write with. They… they know that. Well, obviously you need a writing instrument and you need an idea. I’m just not sure which should come first.” –Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan in The Woman in the Car 1.11

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Are there any Bones fans out there?

Oh, wow, yes I see you all. Remember this hilarious interview from the first season? I do. As a writer myself, I love it any time they work in details about Bones’ writing career. Moments like this make me giggle.

Though, I think if she went about it scientifically, she’d find that the idea usually comes before you even pick up the pen. The idea is, in fact, the reason that a writer starts writing.

You hear a lot about writers and their muses. This is it. The idea is the muse. The idea is the thing that gets us up in the middle of the night when we have a 6 a.m. shift and makes us turn the laptop back on. The idea is the thing that makes us laugh and cry and tear our hair out when we can’t quite figure out a certain part of it. Ideas don’t always come when it’s convenient and hardly ever when we have a pen or a piece of paper handy (often they like to come when you have one, but not the other). We learn to carry notebooks with us and enough pens to supply a small classroom, because, when that idea comes you don’t want to lose it. (Any fledgling writer’s out there, learn now. Go get a small notebook and a pack of pens and keep them with you at all times.)

And ideas aren’t that hard to come by. We are inundated by them (which is sometimes a problem). What’s the saying… “There’s nothing new under the sun”? It’s true. Original doesn’t necessarily mean brand spanking never-seen-the-light-of-day new, but it does mean that you’re looking at something in a new way. Think about all the retellings of Cinderella that there are out there:

  • Ella Enchanted
  • Just Ella
  • Ever After
  • A Cinderella Story
  • Before Midnight
  • Princess of Glass
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Those are just the ones that I could name off the top of my head. I know that there are oodles missing from that list. Each one of them tackles the “original” story in a different way. They play with characters, relationships and even the very plot.

This is one of the reasons that reading books is so very important. Reading provides constant exposure to other ideas. Ideas outside of our own experience and exposure. And you never know where a story idea is going to come from. You can find them in books, movies, music, dreams and life experiences just to start. Don’t believe me? I can give you a few examples.

My first “novel” (which is unfinished because I lack the skill to rewrite it into what I want it to be) was inspired by Lord of the Rings. Not the movies, but the books. I mean, the movies are awesome, but it wasn’t until I read the actual books that I realized that I wanted to be a part of that world. TROA (Still working on an actual title) started out as a LOTR fanfic and evolved from there (more about that later).

There’s also Shattered, my own Cinderella retelling (as a lover of fairy tales, I felt that I had to  add to the list at some point) which was inspired by a movie. That one came to me one day while I was watching Ella Enchanted with friends. It struck me that it might be kind of fun to write my own reinvention, but the kind of character that I envisioned wouldn’t be one to just sit idly by and let her stepmother bully her. So I started wondering: “Apart from horrible curses, how could I get Cindy to act so out of character and make it credible?” And then the answer came to me. Of course, that is still highly top secret. You’ll read about it someday.

And then there is my current WIP, Mind Games. My baby. The book that keeps trying to grow up too fast. This one is a hodge-podge of ideas and inspirations ranging from manga to previous story ideas.The first actual scene I wrote was inspired by a dream (which was the product of an Alias marathon and a Kelly Clarkson song). The idea was in my brain brewing, but I didn’t know the characters or anything about them. My dream didn’t lay out the whole book, it was only the one scene, but that was enough for me to sink my teeth into the idea and really start to develop it. Of course, that scene has since been cut. Sad, I know. But the story moved away from that plotline and into something better.

And that’s my final bit of advice. Don’t get too attached to your ideas. They’re going to grow, they’re going to evolve. So often ideas start out as a question, that becomes more questions with each answer you discover and the idea becomes more than you ever imagined. Remember that first story, TROA? That’s actually an acronym for the original title, The Ring of Alythya. That story started from a simple question (I am bearing my former sixteen-year-old soul in telling you this): What would happen if there was someone who was born to face down Sauron? That little bit of fanfiction eventually ceased to grab my interest (I think that character could win some serious Mary Sue prizage), but the idea was still there and some of the scenes I’d come up with were kind of decent. TROA started as a LOTR rip-off that was truly cringe-worthy, but with each successive edit/rewrite I discovered that even though the characters (and I) thought it was about a ring, in the end it wasn’t about the ring at all. It was about making the main character into someone who step into the role she was being prepared for. (Or course, it still is kind of Lord of the Rings-y, but now it’s more because they share the same genre.) I had to let go of a lot of my first ideas somewhere around draft four or five (And I’m going to have to let go of more when I’m ready to pick it back up again). It wasn’t pretty. It hurt. And turns out, it was better without all that gunk. Writers are like parents, we give that idea years of our lives, nurturing and growing it and then we have to let it go make its way in the world. We have two choices: We can let the idea change as the years pass, allowing the story to be its own person. Or we could be that psycho parent that forces their kid to wear children’s clothes and locks them in a closet. You know, the scary one that has to appear in at least one episode of every crime show? (Mrs. Epps anyone?)

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