One of the most common questions I get asked (and I think most writers get this) is “Where do you get your ideas from?”
I’m on the record as saying that I get most of my ideas in the shower. But I don’t think that’s really the answer people are looking for (even if it IS a good answer!). Nor do they want to hear that my stories are taking place somewhere in an alternate reality somewhere and I’m simply watching them and seeing what happens (even though I believe this to be true).
Instead, I think what people really want to know is, “How can another writer use your own idea-generation techniques for themselves to create a good book?” Which is something a bit more substantial, and something I can actually go into detail about.
The first thing, in my opinion, is to start creating some fascinating characters.
I mentioned before that I’ve created some characters based on roleplaying games. This can be a good place to start. A game, whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons, Storium, or an online roleplaying forum, can be a good way to delve into a character’s personality, goals, mysteries, and nuances. The more time you spend with a certain character, the more you’re going to get to know them, and the more depth they’re going to have. If a character already has a lot of depth and development before you start writing page one of your novel, you’re going to have a lot more to work with.
This is what I did with both Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, my two primary main characters. Before I ever wrote the first line of Manifestation, the first volume of the Arcana Revived series, I had written a lot of short stories and roleplaying scenes with both characters. I actually wrote over a million words on each character, most of which is now buried on some old forums deep in the web.
You can actually read a couple of the stories I was developing here on the blog. One of them, “A Hard Life in the Big Easy,” is actually the very first piece of writing I ever wrote about Gabby. It’s a short action/adventure piece showing her in a fight for her life. Of course, there are many differences between what you’ll read in that story versus what you’ll see in Manifestation (such as how that story takes place near New Orleans, whereas Manifestation is on a completely fictional world). But the heart of the character is still the same. (It also contains possible spoilers about Gabby’s role in the novel, just a warning.)
There were other characters I wrote about during those roleplaying years, but they didn’t all make the cut. For example, I had a lot of fun writing the crime lord Aamon Dukushu (especially when dancing ballet), but in the long run, his storyline didn’t feel like one I could reboot and expand upon in a new series. I also had another character who didn’t fit because she was an alien, one who didn’t work because he was designed more for a romance plot than an urban fantasy adventure, and another who didn’t fit because she was a lycanthrope and I didn’t want to include vampires or werecreatures in this series. All in all, I had over a dozen good characters with strong backgrounds and interesting plots. But I had to pick out the two gems of that batch who had the most potential for growth, the most passion, and the most ability to generate conflict.
I picked out Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah because they both fascinate me, and because they could not be more different from each other. Gabby is a poet, a gentle soul, and a girl who would never hurt anyone if she had a choice in the matter. She bears a lot of great burdens on her shoulders and she rises up to take on responsibilities that no one should have to bear. She can also get a bit sassy with a very punny sense of humor (something she uses as a coping mechanism when dealing with difficult situations).
Tock on the other hand, is a lewd, rude, crude mechanic who likes to get dirty, build things, fix things, and follow her urges. She also never takes shit from anyone and she won’t hesitate to tell you exactly what she thinks about you. Messing with Tock is generally a bad idea, though she usually won’t go out of her way to start trouble with others.
Once I picked out my two gems: the gentle poet and the shit-talking mechanic, it was a matter of putting them in a situation together and letting the sparks fly. But to get the most sparks, I had to make sure they were tied together.
I wrote a while back about the crucible, a technique for building tension by putting opposing characters in a situation where they’re stuck together. They’re either forced to deal with each other as family, as coworkers, or as people trapped in the same place and unable to escape each other’s company. This can mean either physically jailed or tied up and forced to stay together, or it can simply mean they’re stranded together, such as on a desert island. Or, in my case, in a city going through an unexplained supernatural disaster.
After that, I basically let the characters write the story for me. I had these two fascinating characters, the poet and the mechanic, trapped in a city filled with danger, magic, mystery, a touch of romance, and a dash of attitude. I could have thrown any two characters into that setting when the magical dangers started to appear, but having two characters who were both strong willed but had vastly different viewpoints made for a much better story.
It was also interesting to see how they each reacted to the dangers around them. After all, how do you think you would react if you found yourself surrounded by dangerous people with uncontrolled magical abilities, in a city held in the grip of fear and chaos? Gabby, the gentle soul, and Tock, the short-tempered mechanic, each react to those situations differently, and I feel like that adds a lot of depth to the story.
They’re my two gems, and I love them. That’s probably why I’m about to start work on the sixth novel with these same two characters, still going strong, and still completely different from each other.
Createspace in paperback