What’s the Big Idea?

One of the major questions writers get asked all the time is “Where do you get your ideas?” Few of us actually know how to answer this…not that we don’t try. :razz:

I’ve heard other authors reply with quips (“Oh, you know, Target — they have everything”) or, alternately, try to give an explanation that is somewhat coherent at first but, despite sincere effort, still ends up sounding like a James Joyce-esque stream-of-consciousness ramble, i.e., “Well, see, I was watching this episode of The Vampire Diaries one night when I thought about how the town, Mystic Falls, reminded me of this place my grandfather told me about when I was ten…not the town where he grew up, but this other one he visited, only it didn’t have ghosts, vampires or witches in it…anyway, there was this ring in the episode and it had special properties, but in the town in my grandfather’s story it was a bracelet, and I wanted to write something where the bracelet and the town have a long history, but more with a time-travel sort of aspect to it, maybe tied to the clock in the middle of town…you know, like the clocktower in Back to the Future, only there wouldn’t be a Delorean or, really, any other kind of car involved…”).

You see how this can get convoluted pretty quickly.

Well, truthfully, I sound almost exactly like that every time I try to explain to anybody how I came up with the premise for According to Jane, A Summer in Europe , my latest work-in-progress or any of my other books, LOL. For me, at least, the idea for a novel rarely comes from just one source, and the components that make up the characters, plot, setting, etc., are always some bizarre amalgamation of elements and experiences.

Because of that, it’s not really one idea, it’s more like collecting an interesting handful of pieces belonging to a complicated jigsaw puzzle — one I’ll need slowly put together (and discover more pieces for) as I’m writing the manuscript. After a couple of weeks, I might have a sense of the boundaries/edges of the final picture and some of the colors and images contained within it, but I don’t know what it’s really going to look like for a long time…and I couldn’t be more clueless in explaining where, when, why and how I picked up all the pieces for the story at hand.

But here’s the thing: Even though I realize this is the way the writing process works for me, and even though I know by now (after having completed about a dozen contemporary romance or women’s fiction manuscripts) that I simply won’t be able to see the project as a whole until after I finish the first draft, my mind remains boggled by the sheer number of puzzle pieces out there just waiting to be snapped into place by somebody…somewhere.

This is particularly overwhelming to me this week because I finally finished the novel I’ve been working on for two years (hallelujah!) and am getting ready to select a new idea for my next book. There are SO MANY potential ideas, though…I truly don’t know where to begin!! It’s like someone dumped the contents of 17 different puzzle boxes onto the floor of my office, laughed demonically while mixing them up and said, “Have fun putting one of these together!”

So, I’m trying to narrow my choices, decide which type of story I want to tell and in which specific genre. I’m asking myself over and over again, “What’s calling to me now? What am I burning to write about?” and then pausing to listen carefully in hopes that I’ll hear a clear response.

All I can say for sure is that, right now, I still don’t know where the next big idea I have will come from…just that waiting for it is exciting (and a little scary) because there’s such a world of possibility out there.

I’d love to know — what was a book you read that you felt had an especially cool premise? For me, I thought The Time Traveler’s Wife was a pretty creative story idea…

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend :smile:.

About Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant is a chocolate addict, a music junkie and the USA TODAY bestselling author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and A SUMMER IN EUROPE (2011), all from Kensington Books, as well as a number of light romantic comedies, including THE SWEET TEMPTATIONS COLLECTION (2013) and PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT MATCH (2013). Her latest novel -- a coming-of-age romantic mystery called THE ROAD TO YOU -- was just released in October 2013!
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20 Responses to What’s the Big Idea?

  1. Amy Remus says:

    Great blog, Marilyn! Creativity in making things up just doesn’t come easy to me. I am in awe of how a writer comes up with stories because I have never been good at that. I always read books to my kids because I couldn’t make up stories very well. I love reading everyone else’s creativity, though! I love getting lost in a fun story that I would have never been able to dream up on my own. I used to just read contemporary romance and while I still like that I really love mixing it up with books that add to the romance in suspense, historical or paranormal romances. I don’t think there is one story that I can pick out that has an especially cool premise because they all do to me! I haven’t read any of your books yet – which one would you recommend I start with?

    • Thanks, Amy!! I’m so glad you liked the post! And I’ve had a similar experience in finding myself lost in a book world that I didn’t make up and being totally amazed by another author’s creativity… Every book is like a window into some aspect of that writer’s particular universe. I love that.

      As for which of my books to read first (*grinning and hugging you for asking!*), the answer is going to depend on how you feel about steamy love scenes… 😛 This web page has full book descriptions http://www.marilynbrant.com/MBbooks.html but I’ll tell you a little about each:

      According to Jane was my debut novel — it’s about a young woman who has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head giving her dating advice. So, there are romantic, comedic and paranormal elements, but there’s also more sexual explicitness there than in my other books. Be forewarned!

      For pure contemporary romance with a few hot scenes, my 2 ebooks (On Any Given Sundae and Double Dipping) fit that profile best and have lots of ice cream references, too, LOL. So, if you love reading about food…

      And for women’s fiction stories, A Summer in Europe is longer and more descriptive than my others — it has a major travelogue thread and it delves into physics, philosophy and music, as well as romance and relationships. Friday Mornings at Nine is another longer and more complicated story — it’s also my most serious novel so far because it involves difficulties with friendship and marriage.

      Whew! Long message ;). Hope you have a wonderful weekend!!
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …My September Reads…& a Wine Tasting!

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    The first time I heard the premise of According to Jane, I thought ‘Wow! What a great idea!’ And then: ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ 😀 The ice cream theme in your books are great, and so is a summer in Europe. Love that!

    Dale Mayer has unique ideas for her books. And Misty Evan’s Witches Anonymous books have a fantastic premise, especially with the heroine’s former lover – Satan – popping in each book. But I agree with Amy that it’s hard to pick one especially cool precise. There are many cool premises. A lot of them by my friends.

    • Edie, thank you ;). And you know how I love my ice cream!!

      I’ve been intrigued by *so many* of the Magical Musings contributors’ book ideas, too. It really does make it hard to narrow things down to just a few titles when we’re swimming in a pool of such fresh and wonderful story concepts. Sometimes, it’s the idea itself that’s so unique. Other times, it all comes down to the way a story is told… For me, no matter how fantastical or paranormal the premise, if I find myself fully believing those characters could really exist, I get reeled in…
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …My September Reads…& a Wine Tasting!

  3. Misty Evans says:

    Marilyn, congrats on finishing the wip! What an awesome feeling that is.

    I always have multiple books working in my brain. Currently, I’m writing Dancing With the Devil, WA5, and I started Bulletproof, the fifth super agent book this week. Meanwhile, I’m editing a Thanksgiving novella with characters from The Secret Ingredient. That feeling of 17 puzzles on the floor…I know that well!

    Have fun picking your next book. And I agree that The Time Traveler’s Wife was an awesome premise. Very unique. Edie’s Galaxy Girls series is like that too. Very different premise and so much fun to read!

    • Thanks, Misty!! You’re right about the awesome feeling… I’m trying to enjoy it for a *little* while, until I have to face revisions, LOL. Then I’m sure it’ll be back to me pulling my hair out ;).

      And yay to you on all the writing you’re doing!! That’s a lot to juggle… I loved your Witches Anonymous premise (and the execution of it!), so I’m excited you’re working on another. And a new super agent book, too! That’s wonderful. But you’re making my TBR pile even BIGGER :).

  4. I hate when people ask me that question (where do I get my ideas) because I sound like a rambling fool! lol. its so true, its always a variety of things that come together and make the story. And I’m with you, i have so many book ideas in my head that its killing me not to be able to work on them all.

    • Lori, ha!!
      Well, clearly, I know *exactly* what you’re talking about when it comes to those rambling story descriptions :). My brother-in-law asked me on the phone last week how I got the idea for the book I just finished drafting, and he must have thought I had some kind of serious attention disorder the way I was going off on tangents (“…and THEN there was this old Boston song…”), lol. Glad I’m not alone!
      Enjoy the long weekend…

  5. I just tell people I have an over active imagination and leave it at that. There are so many stories I wish I had come up with. The one that keeps coming to mind is Dracula.

    • Karin, every once in a while I wonder what it would be like to contribute a character to literature that lives on in readers minds for decades or centuries… Dracula definitely qualifies ;).

  6. Cynthia Eden says:

    Congrats on finishing! And this was a great post. I feel your pain on the so many ideas issue…I often wish I could write faster so I could do all of those ideas.

  7. Hey, Marilyn! Congrats on finishing your ms! Woo hoo! I really enjoyed reading this post – I *always* enjoy reading your posts – and I know that your next story will rock just like all your others have. For me, it’s usually one tiny little thing, like a sentence I overhear, or something written in a magazine, that sparks my imagination and gets me creating a story and character in my head.

    Happy holiday weekend to all you guys!
    Robin Bielman`s last blog was …This week…

  8. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Marilyn,

    I hate being asked that question!! It drives me nuts. Honestly I have no idea where my ideas come from. They are usually odd and offbeat and come at me out of the blue. I try to write a line down in case I forget it, but most of my ideas are books now and the ideas keep avalanching toward me!

    Congrats on finishing!
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Blog Tour for Family Blood Ties series – Vampire in Denial and Vampire in Distress!

  9. Liz Kreger says:

    That’s a question I really don’t mind answering. Mostly because people really don’t expect one difinitive answer. I usually tell them that a lot of scenes morph out of conversations I’d overheard in restaurants, or something I read in a magazine or even saw on the street. The world is rich with ideas and I think it takes an author to recognize potential fodder for a book. Hell, I can take a look at a photograph in a magazine and the ideas can start churning.

    Great blog, Marily, and congrats on your release.

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