Unless you’re Harper Lee or a handful of other authors, being a writer is a lot like making your bed or brushing your teeth in the morning. You finish a book and then you’ve just gotta start another one.
And seriously, brush your teeth. You have a hunk of spinach or kale flapping around like a windsock when you talk.
The question is: After you’ve invested months, years, even decades, living with the same handful of characters, how do you meet new ones? There is no Tinder for story characters. Other authors don’t set you up with a friend of a friend’s main character on a blind date.
The good news is that you don’t end up with Bill or Jill, fraternal twins who both sport wooden eyes and an unhealthy love of onion, garlic, and Limburger cheese sandwiches. Unless you’re Lemony Snicket—for him, those characters might be pure gold.
But assuming you’re not Lemony Snicket, you gotta figure out where to meet these characters. Just like in real life: Before anything else happens, you need to find each other. A main character meet-cute, if you will.
It starts with an idea.
Another thing you need to find. Are you writing a book or doing a scavenger hunt? They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but that’s fodder for another blog.
So where do you find ideas? It’s not like there’s an idea store you can cruise through. Your muse could inspire them—yours, not mine. Mine either says, “Do it yourself.” Or she’ll hold one out to me, only to snatch it away when I reach for it.
Seriously, my muse treats me like she got assigned by losing a bet—and somehow that’s my fault.
But I digress. Actually, I digress a lot. I’ve sorta made it an art form.
Ideas can come from lots of places—books you’ve read, TV shows or movies, snatches of conversation when you’re at the mall or in line at Starbucks. Something you hear or see that catches your imagination and you think, “That might make an interesting story.”
Stephen King says it isn’t a writer’s job to find ideas, just recognize them when they show up.
Once you recognize them, it’s always a good idea to take them out for a test drive. That means asking a lot of questions. Let’s say your idea is a new girl, starting high school in a new town, making friends with a circle of loners that everyone else avoids.
Then you start asking “what if” questions: What if she doesn’t really like them at first, but she and the one boy her age keep getting thrown into situations where they have to be together? Oh, and what if they’re vampires? And what if they have to be constantly on the move so nobody realizes that they don’t age?
It snowballs from there. More questions. Research. “This might make a good ending.” And presto, Stephanie Meyer writes Twilight.
And once she finishes Twilight, it all starts again.
Blog’s over. Go brush your teeth already.