Mining for book ideas

Sunday is my absolutely favorite day for reading the newspaper as I love diving into the New York Times.  Usually, I just digest it and enjoy but always in the back of my head, I am asking myself whether or not the story I am reading might be a book.  Today I actually read two, one about a Holocaust survivor who died last year at the age of 97 leaving $40 million and no will, and the other about an enemy agent in New York City during World War II called Doll Lady. I think that each of these stories could be the basis for either a book of narrative nonfiction or even a novel.

In fact, I find book ideas everywhere especially in the obituaries which are often filled with rich and colorful material (one of my clients is publishing a book in June which began many years ago when I read one of these pieces).

I am always intrigued about where writers get their book ideas.  With nonfiction, many times the author explains this in their book’s preface or introduction.  Novelists on the other hand rarely explain where their ideas come from and so I am wondering, those of you who write fiction, what inspires you to write the stories you write.

5 Responses to Mining for book ideas

  1. jeffo says:

    For me, ideas usually come from multiple sources spinning about my head over a period of time. As an example, a conversation with my daughter about someone she knew sparked a character that I just *had* to write about. I had no idea what the story was, or anything else, just what this character was like. A Facebook friend request from a person I went to high school with but quite literally never, ever talked to gave me an opening scene. Finally, I typed a line that came out of nowhere, and I had a story. Everything else flowed pretty well from there.

  2. For me, fiction usually starts with empathy and a question: What would it be like if X, Y, or Z happened to me? The response to that can cook for a while until I chance upon a first line that seems to have a bit of the voice of the piece and I follow it to see how far it goes.

    • D.C. DaCosta says:

      Interesting point about the first line. That’s important.

      I always find the LAST LINE (or last paragraph), too, before I write anything down.

  3. D.C. DaCosta says:

    I do get a lot of ideas from short (3 column inch) stories in my newspaper.

    I also think of famous people and how things might have been for them if one event of their life had been different. What if Elizabeth Taylor had married Roddy McDowall? What if Bob Hope’s family had not moved to America?

    Or I take real people or events of my own experience and muddle them up with other people or events that I can imagine. (This is easier than either of the above approaches.)

    The ideas aren’t the hard part. The hard part is using one’s free time to get it down on paper, and then to stop polishing it to death.

  4. Songea says:

    I cut a snippet from my life and take it in a completely different direction, far beyond or far different from anything I would ever attempt in my “real” life. It makes the writing project personal and exciting, even when it’s extremely difficult.

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