Allyson James aka Jennifer Ashley

Because I talked about specific ideas for specific books in an earlier post, I thought I’d talk about where a writer’s ideas come from in general.

I know writers who get annoyed when asked where they get their ideas. I think that’s because we’re not always sure—ideas come when you least expect it, and they rarely come fully formed. Pieces add up and become stories, and we can’t always remember what was the initial spark.

I’m not always irritated by this question because I think it’s an intriguing one. Where do ideas come from? What sticks in the imagination and causes our brain to build them into stories?

Ideas come from everywhere. A good writer is an observer, one who views every single thing he or she does as food for a story. Riding a bus, watching other people, listening to what they talk about. You don’t have to travel to other countries to find substance for stories; they’re happening on your street in your city every day.

Reading newspapers, not just the dire news on the front page, but any stories in all the sections. News of a missing person might spark a story told from the perspective of the missing person. News of people reuniting might spark a novel about long-lost sisters finding each other and what happens after that.

I write historicals, and research often gives me good ideas either for a main story or for secondary characters. People in the past did amazing things—they weren’t much different than we are now. I remember one story about an eighteenth-century couple who’d courted each other for forty years and finally decided to get married in their sixties. Reading about real people, or reading their diaries and letters or magazine articles can give you stories with amazing depth.

Writers should keep themselves open all the time to ideas. Ideas are everywhere, pouring through the universe. Conversations with friends, a game (either played or observed), hands-on classes, family reunions, and so forth are all food for novels. People you meet randomly, something unusual happening to you or a friend, a move to a different city—all food for novels.

I’ll repeat how I got the idea for my current Berkley release, Dragon Heat, by Allyson James. I was staying in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. I was by myself, so I only used one bedroom, and it suddenly occurred to me that it would be very cool if I opened the door and found a dragon lurking behind it. He’d be in a fold in reality between his world and mine, and he’d funny and snarky and like to watch television.

My imagination started to go. I wondered what a person would do who found a dragon in their apartment, and what their ensuing relationship would be. Because I liked romance, I imagined the snarky dragon stepping through the door and shifting into a gorgeous human male. All that from looking at a bedroom door in a New York apartment.

That’s just a taste of where ideas come from. If you’re a writer looking for ideas, stop everything, look around, observe, and then let your imagination run wild!