Lari’s Writing blog

What if…? The birth of an idea, and how it felt

Today, I had an idea for a book.  I thought “What if…?” and sudddenly there was the idea.

And because I scribbled down what happened at the time, I thought I would share it with you, because one of the questions I get asked most often is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’

I was meant to be doing boring businessy stuff (it’s the tax return deadline at the end of the month) so I thought I’d take a break from adding up numbers and make a list of the books I’d like to write next.  Not the next book (that’s First Aid 4) and not the one after that (I’ve started researching it) but what will I write after that.  I started making a list of the ideas I’d had, to see which one seemed most fun.  And as I typed an idea I’d got from one line of a previous novel, and always meant to follow up…

…it suddenly happened.

I found myself typing a line which started “what if they all…” and then a whole sentence and a question mark.

And I felt it.  I actually FELT it.  An idea.

My pulse got faster.  My hands went a little bit cold.  I sat up straighter.

I felt physically quite strange.  Like I’d been running too fast, or just started a fever, or almost fallen over an edge but just caught myself in time.

My body actually reacted to this idea.

Then the idea took off.  I stopped writing a list and started writing a book.

I started thinking of characters (and here is one answer to where do ideas come from  – one of the characters seems to have leapt directly out of a nonfiction book I got for Christmas, so if I’d been reading a different book this week, this idea would have been different.)

Once I started thinking of characters, I started hearing their voices. I heard them talk to each other, insult each other, ask each other questions. They were meeting for the first time, and they didn’t really like each other.

Then I thought about names, because I can’t get to know characters until they have names.  But names are tough. Every name has to mean something. And all the names I wanted for these characters were great for them, but didn’t work in a cast of characters.  My first attempt all had Ss in them.  Every name started with S, ended with S or had S in the middle. Reading the book out loud would have sounded like snakes telling stories.  Then my next attempt had all the names ending in A.  That wasn’t any better. So I got distracted by looking up lists of names on the internet

Then I had to stop, to be a mum, and take my daughter up to her sports club. So I got a fresh notebook and a pen, and I scribbled all the way up the road and through the park.

By this time, I was seeing the characters, not just hearing them. Maybe getting out into the fresh air helped.  I could see a boy with long damp hair, a woman with a shivering animal in her arms.  Wooden desks, and a large creature with a stony face in the corner…

So now I have a first scene, I have a problem to be solved, I have characters I already feel a connection to.   I don’t have time to WRITE it yet, but never mind. It’s there. I’m excited about it, and I’ll write it soon!

So THAT is how I get ideas.  When I should be doing something else. From the magic words ‘What if…’ From passing thoughts I had when I was editing other books.  And from whatever is around me or rattling round my head at the time.

The fact that I had such a strong reaction to this idea, and got so involved with the characters and the story, gives me confidence that it’s a strong idea.  I have ideas every day, I scribble dozens down when I’m listening to the radio, or chatting, or reading, or cooking. But very few of them become books. But I think this one will.  I do hope so…



7 Responses to “What if…? The birth of an idea, and how it felt”

  1.  Lindsey Says:

    Wow! Sounds a powerful experience.

  2.  laridon Says:

    It was a powerful experience – it pretty much always is when I have an idea and it grows so fast. But this time I caught not only the idea but the process as well – probably because I was sititng at my computer rather than scribbling on the back of an old manuscript, or a shopping list. I type at thinking speed, whereas I don’t write quite that fast! So, another story which is desperate to be written. They’re queueing up. I’d better get on with it!

  3.  Barry Hutchison Says:

    Brilliant post, Lari. That new idea feeling is great. I had a similar experience yesterday when out walking the dog. I looked up at the trees and thought “What if…?” and now I have a whole book buzzing around inside my head trying to get out. Like yours, this one will have to wait, but it’s there. It’s already a real book.

    It just isn’t written down yet. 🙂

    I was going to blog about the creation of ideas myself later, following on from my thunderbolt yesterday. Mind if I link through to this post, too?

  4.  laridon Says:

    Yes, please do link to this! I’d love to read your post too.

    I was answering emailed questions from P6 kids at Calderwood Lodge Primary in East Renfrewshire just a couple of days ago. They’d clearly put a lot of thought into them, and one of the questions was “Where do you believe your ideas come from?” I thought ‘wow, that’s a very interesting way to put it’. The word ‘believe’ hits it on the head – because it is a matter of faith for writers that we will keep having ideas, and also a sublime mystery where they come from! So, yes, let’s hear where your ideas come from too! (All 49 of them, in 3 years! I’m still amazed at your work rate…) And looking forward to the new book, when you get time to write it!

  5.  Alastair Says:

    I love that feeling when an idea just hits you! Often I honestly don’t know where an idea has come from, because it grows gradually, or it is an emalgamation of several ideas I’ve had (some of them ideas I’ve not thought about for years!) But, yeah, sometimes they really do just hit me. Sort of like a heavy object cartoonishly falling from the sky!

  6.  laridon Says:

    Interesting that your ideas feel like something falling DOWN from the sky. I’m pretty sure I felt that most recent idea rise UP, almost like it was coming up through my body to my fingertips. Strange. And a bit weird. But very wonderful!

  7.  Alastair Says:

    Your experience entirely internalises the origin of ideas, where as mine externalises it. Which, when I think about it, makes yours make more sense. Stories come from within us, and my imagining of it falling from space almost seems a denial of responsibility for it. And yet I’d never thought of it like that before!

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Lari Don - Children's Author
I’m children’s writer, and I write this blog mainly for children – readers, young writers, school classes, book groups etc, who want to understand how a writer writes. Everyone else welcome too though! And please do comment if you have any questions, or want me to blog about anything specific.