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…