Where Do Authors Get Their Ideas?
When your teacher assigns a fiction story, do you wonder what to do first? “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Such sage advice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but not so easy when first learning how to write stories.
Authors’ ideas for their stories come in many sizes and shapes. One might begin with an event that the author has witnessed or heard about. In the author’s trusty notebook, always with her, she jots down people, events, feelings, really anything that she observes. Later, one of these observations might fascinate her enough to develop into a story. Another author might read lots of stories in the chosen genre—the subject matter, such as mystery or adventure—and a story idea begins to form. And yet another might begin with a character, or even a title. James Howe thought of his character Bunnicula long before he wrote the book. R.L. Stine wrote the books in his Goosebumps series only after thinking up the titles. Jotting down your thoughts and ideas is a good practice. Many an author has learned that they think they’re going to remember an idea then find that it is lost to them later simply because they didn’t write it down.
Secret in the Stars, as you may know from reading my blog post, “A Ghostly Presence,” began with an event: a visit to a Bed & Breakfast where I used to live in Purcellville, Virginia. The proprietress raved about her husband’s hobbies, including renovating the grand old white-washed brick Victorian home, built in the 1700s. As she talked, I felt his presence everywhere.
As we climbed the stairs to look at the bedrooms for our guests who would be attending a wedding, she said, “Oh, here’s my husband now.” I turned expecting to see him but saw no one. She pointed to the figure of a man painted on the wall and said, “It’s silly, but I made this painting of my husband climbing the stairs. I see it every day. It helps keep his memory alive.”
Once I latch onto an idea, I like to plan out my story in a diagram, such as the Venn diagram and Flowchart that you use in school. I’ve created a Web Diagram of the process I went through while developing Secret in the Stars. The Abi Wunder Mystery series is a trilogy, so the end of Book 1, Secret in the Stars, hints at what’s to come in Book 2, Secret in the Mist; and Book 3, Secrets of the Heart, completes Abi’s journey into her special ability to see into the unknown, with an insight into what she can do with her ability in the future.
You can make your own sketch like my Web Diagram, only leave the circles blank. Then fill them in with your story idea. It might help to make notes on scrap paper as you go. When I first started Secret in the Stars, I couldn’t have filled out an entire diagram. But I could have filled out some of the circles. You can do the same thing. Fill out only the ones you know, then spend time thinking about how you want to form your story, jot down notes, and fill in your diagram until you have enough to begin writing. Remember this rule of thumb: give yourself time to develop your story. If you lay the groundwork by creating a diagram, then you have most of the work done before you even begin to write.