Finding New Book Ideas

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

I’ve been chatting this week with a few clients about new projects that they are working on. I love talking about new ideas and giving input. There’s something so exciting about a new, fresh book idea. I’m always blown away by the intricacies of the ideas and the depth they have. Sometimes I wonder how my clients come up with these stories. Whether a book is fiction or nonfiction the idea has to come from somewhere.

One client was able to come up with three wonderful ideas for suspense books without any trouble at all. And Michelle here at Books & Such has been known to come up with a detailed idea based on a sliver of a prompt within 5 minutes. The “writer brain” amazes me. I am somewhat creative, but stories don’t float into my head like that. Inspiration for writing must come in many different ways for writers.

I know some of my clients are inspired by something emotional that happened in their lives. Other clients are driven by a deep desire to help people get through something and that sparks an idea. Others see something in the news or on TV that sparks the imagination and gets the story going.  And I know one of my clients got the idea for her story based on a dream.

What sparked the idea for your current work-in-progress?

Do you do best with brainstorming an idea by yourself or do you enjoy running the idea by someone at some point during the plotting process?

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What sparked the idea for your current work-in-progress? How do book ideas come to you? Via lit. agent @RachelLKent Click to tweet.

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75 Comments

  • My morning commute starts out with the news, traffic and weather on the radio, followed by prayer time. Those conversations with God are the source of my best writing ideas. I can show you the short stretch of road where God gave me the outline of my book in progress.

    The radio news takes all the events of the world and sums it up in two minutes. Little did I know that God condensed years of future work into a two-minute revelation.

    Those morning moments are micro as well as macro. My road time is a frequent source of the precise phrase or rearrangement of paragraphs that solves some writing roadblock.

    Such an intriguing question, Rachel. It will be fun to read the answers!

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Thanks for sharing! I can’t concentrate well in the car so that would not be my thoughtful place. I am so glad that it works for you though! I’m looking forward to reading these answers as well. Diving in now. :)

  • Reading about history almost always sparks ideas for me!

    I like to develop a fairly solid plot and then run things by my critique group, especially if I feel something just isn’t “clicking.” :)

  • The original idea for my current WIP was sparked years ago, although now it is quite different. With any story, I do a little brainstorming then bounce the idea off my sister who is a writer.

  • Rachel, my current WIP was sparked by the lack of Warrior Cat books for my daughter to read. She’s 14 and loves all things about animals, regardless of what age it is intended for! And the idea/path came instantly to me. She helped me brainstorm through the whole book. Plus, I had finished my nonfiction, didn’t have an article to write at the moment, and I needed to write!

    My nonfiction idea came to me as I was crying my heart out to God.

    I usually brainstorm myself … but every now and then when I have too much on my plate or exhausted, I recruit my husband and girls! When I’m writing an article … I spend much time in prayer, and I’m amazed at the locations I’m at where God gives me direction … I may be at the theatre or listening to my pastor … but when the idea hits me, I’m ready to write!

    • My kids LOVED the Warrior series! We read almost all of them out loud. And thats a lot of books. :)

      • That is a lot of books, Karen! My daughter loves the super editions, too! Huge word counts! We are running out of space in her room for them all … and she loves them so, she can’t bear to part with them. I was sort of happy that she got a Kindle for Christmas! Hee, hee!

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      I’m sure my daughter will love those books too. She seems to adore cats and I don’t understand it! (I’m a dog person.)

      I wonder if more nonfiction ideas are born from personal experience than anything else.

  • It fascinates me to hear where story ideas come from. My current WIP came about as I considered what it felt like to be invisible in a very public setting. How many people haven’t been there at one time or another in their lives? The story turned out differently than I originally envisioned, but the invisible aspect still plays a role in the story.

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Interesting question. Hmmmm…classes at Bible college gave me interesting ideas. Also I wrote a whole novel manuscript during the time that our church split. I didn’t think it had anything to do with the split, but two years later looking back on it I realized that it did…and that I needed to go back and revise to make everything less…upset. But what I remember most was finishing up a correspondence writing course and not knowing what to write. I had ideas good enough for articles and stories but nothing good enough for a longer work. So I had a nice long bath and prayed and immediately had 2 great ideas that have kept me busy for a good decade. Now I certainly know that God did not promise me publication, or even that my words would touch others. I don’t know that. What I do know is that He clued me in to something that I was passionate about and was willing to write about for 10 years. He reminded me of the classes and information that I loved Something that I could learn my craft completing because I loved the ideas and was interested in them. I’m still working on one of those stories that came to me that day in the bathtub praying. I am grateful that He cares about our woes, even if it is something as simple as thinking that we have nothing to say.

  • Sometimes my ideas come from scripture or spark from something I saw, but my last story idea came from a news headline. The first thing I did was text a writer friend and then the plot took shape and turned into a fun suspense to write. I’m always super appreciative of your ideas and input,Rachel! They are invaluable. :)

  • Rachel, undoubtedly the most frequently asked question of a writer is “Where do you get your ideas?” Mine come from things I see, read about, hear about, think about. The most valuable thing to come out of any writing conference I’ve attended is the question Alton Gansky taught me to ask–“What if?”

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Asking, “What if?” I love that! Thanks for sharing this, Richard. (And thanks to Alton as well.)

  • The idea from my WIP (working title “Magic Dragon”) came from the Book of Ruth.

    For “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart”, it came from Pierre Teilhard de Jardin’s work on angels.

    And for “Emerald Isle”, it came from an Irish Tourism Board travel poster.

    My reference to Magic Dragon is actually the MOST I’ve talked about a WIP, ever. I’d rather have the work spring fully formed from the head of Zeus, so to speak. Saves embarrassment if it turns out to be unreadable.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      :) Well, I appreciate you opening up about your current WIP.

      I haven’t ever heard of someone being inspired to write a book by a travel poster before. Very interesting!

  • My two books have both been inspired by struggles I see young women facing in real life. So they start with a concept/theme. After that, a character comes to my mind and the story is on!

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    My ideas come from all over! And I love brainstorming ideas with other writers, but usually I brainstorm solo. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Have a terrific weekend!

  • That’s one of the reasons I love rooming with Michelle at writers conferences! Her creative mind amazes me.

    The idea for my upcoming May release (Out of the Ruins) came from watching a PBS documentary about the San Francisco earthquake. They showed interviews with a few EQ survivors who had been children during the disaster. Their first-hand descriptions got me thinking–what would it be like to walk through a city that had been reduced to rubble and flames? It’s those “what if” questions, like Richard said.

    • Documentaries always set the wheels in my head to turning.
      Love that your upcoming release is set in a city we live 35 minutes from and visit often.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      With all of these earthquakes around the world it seems like your book is going to be very timely even as a historical. I am so sad for those people in Chile. Earthquakes of any size are scary. A big one like that must be terrifying.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      Hey, thanks! It can also be problematic as when I hear an unexpected noise downstairs and am terrified to investigate because of ‘what if?’. :-)

  • The emotional roller coaster I rode in high school provides the framework for a lot of my stories. I also find myself getting ideas almost anytime I go for a walk or a drive while listening to music…I give God the credit for good ideas. I know I’d be creatively bankrupt without His help.

  • Jim Lupis says:

    My inspiration comes when I hear stories of ordinary people overcoming great adversity. “The resiliency of the human spirit, combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, makes for an incredible life.”

  • My first book idea came from a Google search on New Mexico history, simply because I wanted to read about the history of New Mexico (history nerd). Then I saw an article about The Long Walk, then I went nuts and kept reading, and reading…

    And like Richard Mabry said, the “what if?” question hit me. “What if a soldier got so ruined by battle, that he ran?” The implications of that thought opened a Pandora’s Box for me. For three books!

    While at Canyon de Chelly in November, I was standing on the canyon rim, 1000 feet above the canyon floor, and looked over and saw a crevasse big enough to hold a man, a man with a Whitworth rifle. Which was still deadly at that range.
    By the time my hosts turned and saw me, and said “Will you get down from there?!” I had book four all planned!

  • I’m a people-watcher so I study folks wherever I go, and I get my inspiration from a variety of places: the coffee shop, the mall, and even church. Sometimes, I study magazines and clip interesting photos and play “what if?”

    And since we live a culturally unique part of the world (and near a vacation mecca) I also glean ideas from observing unsuspecting tourists. ;)

  • Ashley Mays says:

    My most recent WIP came out of a conversation with a friend last year. He’d asked how I ended up moving so far from my home and my family when I was so young. When I told him about an ex-bf who had threatened and stalked me, he said I needed to write that story. So I did!

    Most of the time, though, my ideas come out of a place of empathy. For me, the drive to understand others and their hearts through difficult circumstances usually births an idea.

  • Angela Mills says:

    My current WIP idea came to me 3 years ago in the shower. As soon as I got out, I jotted down the first scene and filed it away. I was currently working on a non-fiction book and another novel, but I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. I finally shelved the other books and wrote the first draft of this one in a few weeks. I think it had been percolating in my head the whole time.

    I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I have way too many. I have more ideas than I could possibly write in my lifetime. I keep an ongoing list of detailed ideas in several places. My brain used to overwhelm me, but I found out a few years ago that getting the idea down and filing it away is enough to satisfy me.

    The too many ideas isn’t just for books, it is articles, blog posts, ministry ideas, business ideas, things I want to do with my kids, homeschool ideas, etc. It can be frustrating at times. I have learned to accept it :)

    A friend of mine wanted to start an online business that I’d had the idea for a few months prior, and I was able to send her six pages of ideas that I had detailed out. Other friends have wanted article ideas and I was able to share a dozen off the top of my head. So my brain can be a blessing sometimes.

    I just always have to make sure I keep my focus on what I am currently doing and to not let myself say yes to too many ideas at one time.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Sounds like you and Michelle have a lot in common! I’m glad that getting the idea down on paper helps corral your creativity.

      I think being a creative person is wonderful!

  • Lori Benton says:

    By now most of my stories set during the 18th century get sparked by the research I’m doing, or have done, for a previous novel. I can’t see running out of ideas any time soon, although not all of them could sustain a novel. I start a file for them and if they have true potential, they start drawing details to themselves like a snowball rolling downhill. If they don’t, they fizzle out, or maybe get reworked into something else.

    For my current WIP (a two book series) I decided to take a common occurrence on the 18th century frontier, well known from history and novels, and turn it on its head by switching the stereotypical roles of the key players in the scenario.

  • What a great topic. Most of my ideas are hashed in the lonely confines of my home, but I love brainstorming with others. I often do it when having plot issues.

    My current WIP was inspired by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books. I love how feisty and unconventional Anne can be. I’ve worked that in to Amelia’s attributes as she struggles with the death of her parents and living with a spinster aunt who is all about family duty and social responsibility.

    My favorite idea, however, came from a news article I read when a wife got caught trying to solicit two different people (one of them related to her) to kill her husband.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Isn’t it sad that the murder plotting stuff is REAL and happens all the time in real life? People can be so messed up. It does make for a great starting place for fiction though!

      And I love the Anne/Amelia idea! Anne of Green Gables is a wonderful place to get inspiration.

  • Michelle LIm says:

    I absolutely love brainstorming! Sometimes it is helpful to bounce ideas off of other writers and sometimes it is just the act of sitting down and writing forward when new ideas are sparked.

    A lot of my initial story ideas are sparked by a cool news story, or interesting new suspense element being discovered.

  • rachel m says:

    My agent sparked the idea of my current project-in-progress in one of our fun, rambly skype calls :) GO AGENTS

  • I often get ideas while driving, but can’t write them down. I’m currently working on a story based on something my grandfather told me when I was a kid.

  • Christine Dorman says:

    Thank you, Rachel, for this topic. It brought back fun memories of why I started writing my current novel-in-progress. I had come across a game online which had three columns for putting together names. There were typical boy and girl names in one column. The other two columns had random words so that there were many possible combinations. I love names so I started playing with the possibilities. I came up with a name I really liked: Keena Mythweaver. “Mythweaver” just stirred something in me, so I turned off the game and sat down with a notebook. For the next few hours (literall) I wrote down words that excited me, such as unicorn, dragon, lightning, thunder, pixie, sidhe (the Irish word for faerie), and many others. I also wrote the names of trees, flowers, and a number of words like weaver (dancer, singer, maker, etc.) Next I went to an online list of Irish girls and boys names. Finally, I put together a whole list of names. I still have the file on my computer. It’s labeled “Names for Fantasy Literature Characters.” A few that I came up with were: Amber Dawnwhisperer, Kayla Reedtender, Aisling Thistlewraith, Siobhan Willowshee, and Keira Nightsinger. As I came up with the names, the characters took a general shape. For example, Siobhan Willowshee would be a faerie (a sidhe), Kayla would be a water sprite, and Keira would be a banshee. I can’t tell you how excited I got doing this (I’m strange; I admit it).

    After putting together the list, I wanted to write a story about these women. As I’ve mentioned previously, Irish culture is very strong in my family (we only came to the U.S. a couple generations ago), and I grew up on stories of banshees, ghosts, and faeries on the hill, so that’s where I drew from. I decided I would write a light, fun short story about a teenage faerie. I love unicorns, dragons, and thunderstorms, so they came into play as I formed my main character, Siobhan. She has a gift for making thunderstorms (my faeries have certain gifts; they are omnipotent). She is at the point in her life where she has to choose what she’s going to do with her life. She is offered the opportunity to train to be a Unicorn Protector, but she is attracted to being a Dragon Learner–a forbidden and dangerous path. Because of my spirituality, I gave Siobhan the conflict of discerning her true path and how she’s called to use her gifts. I knew from early on that she would be attracted to the Dragon King who would try to seduce her (in more than one way), and that she ultimately would have to decide how much of herself she was willing to give up in order to obtain her desires. The unicorn in the story acts as Siobhan’s (usually unwanted and unappreciated) mentor and voice of wisdom.

    Shortly into developing the story, I realized that it was insisting on being a novel rather than the light short story I’d planned. Still it’s been fun going on this journey with Siobhan and her friends. By the way, the only name that made it intact from my original list to the current version of the novel is Keena Mythweaver. I still love that name! Also, I love the character (who is Siobhan’s aunt), and the next book will about her as a teenager.

    To quote Bob Hope, “Thanks for the memories.”

    Have a great weekend.

  • Laura Frantz says:

    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes ~

    Ideas are infinite—writers are hardwired to think that way. We keep it fresh by using new people, mixing character types and putting them in a different setting. It’s always the first book all over again, but one idea can be told a thousand different ways. There are 88 keys on the piano, but you can make an infinite amount of music from those keys.

    NORA ROBERTS, Time Magazine, Nov. 29, 2007

  • Kiersti says:

    Fun topic–thanks, Rachel!

    I guess my current WIP came from several places…I’d wanted to write a story about a Navajo Code Talker of World War II ever since I really started learning about them, and I actually got to have dinner with a Code Talker and his wife a couple of summers ago, but it was a “someday” idea. But through a brainstorming session with my critique partners at Mount Hermon last year, the idea came of writing the story of a contemporary young woman who gets to know an elderly Navajo Code Talker, and weaving his historical thread through the story. I also realized that since the number Code Talkers (and WWII vets in general) still living is diminishing fast, it might be better to research and write the story sooner rather than later! 20,000 words of false starts later, though, the contemporary young woman’s story just wasn’t working. Turned out she wasn’t the right main character! It wasn’t until a moving interview with a friend whose son has severe cerebral palsy that the right contemporary main character popped into my head. And the story went from there. :)

    So–I do a lot of brainstorming on my own, but I definitely also need people to brainstorm with and bounce ideas off. One of my critique partners brainstormed a lot of the early story with me at ACFW this year (we were roommates)–her help was invaluable! :)

  • Judy Gann says:

    One evening I was having dinner with a friend who asked my advice about how to help her daughter with a difficult issue in her life. I’d been through what her daughter was experiencing. At the end of the meal my friend commented, “God always uses your experiences in your writing.”

    The next day I read about the birth of a baby in the Denver Public Library. Wham. My friend’s comment and the news item ignited the spark of an idea that became my WIP.

    Oh, and just to squelch any rumors, I’ve never given birth to a baby in a library. :-)

  • Inspiration is triggered by so many things, big and small.
    From house floor plans to ghost towns, from a toy to an unusual occupation, from the name of a flower to a scent that triggers a memory, from the texture of an object to wrestling with an injustice that confounds you, and so you write to untangle the turbulence.

    The flicker that started the idea for my WIP came from a history article I read in a local food magazine. I live near the setting, which makes research trips easy. :-)
    A friend of mine featured a short write up on my story on her blog.

    http://sydneyavey.com/2014/03/26/writing-california-point-reyes-cow-heaven/

  • Becky Jones says:

    My ideas sprout from good conversations!

    Particularly, with my husband…he’s a treasure trove of random facts (fly-paper brain!) and has a habit of being a bit too good at cutting to the heart of an issue. We have some terrific debates. And those fiery talks…in the car, or over a pot of late-night coffee…work their way into a lot of my writing.

  • Jack Bybee says:

    Ms. Kent:
    What idea sparked my historical fiction? A writer’s workshop with Nancy Turner [Author: These is My Words, My Name is Resolute etc.] When I ran my idea passed Nancy, all she said was: “Write it Jack, write it!” Now it is written (After 5.5 years)
    The Journal of Rudd is a journal (fictitiously) written by my grandfather, who, upon running away from a farm in Iowa, was shanghaiied in SanFranciso harbor, rounded Cape Horn, hit by a tsunami (rogue wave) mutiny in the South Atlantic, jumps ship in Cape Town, South Africa. Meets Kipling, Rhodes, the young Winston Churchill and others while helping relieve the siege of Mafeking.
    That manuscript is a few days from completion.

    While writing The Journal of Rudd, it occurred to me, that if the following: Kipling, Cecil John Rhodes, Col. Robert Baden Powell, Winston Churchill, and Muhandous Gandi (all in South Africa when Grandfather arrived there, 1901.) Now, jump to apartheid South Africa (1960’s), take Kipling, Rhodes, Churchill, H.F. Verwoerd, P.W. Botha, Madiba Mandela, Andre Brink, and Alan Paton (the latter two being authors in trouble with apartheid.) Now put them all around the kitchen table. Now… let them speak.

    How can I write this? I lived under apartheid for 36 years. Well…?

    Ooh, I am in search of an agent for the Journal of Rudd – yes, I do have a proposal written.

    Would love to hear your thoughts if you have time.

    Yours truly,

    Jack Bybee, B.A.
    Author: Journal of Rudd
    Kimdog’s Tale er… Tail.
    Climbing off the Edge of the Ledge
    Shorts on the Near Death Experience

  • I love exploring the choices other authors didn’t take. I’ll often read novels, and wonder why the characters(author)chose the path they did, and not the other one. I’ll say, ‘What if the farmboy chose not to follow the wizard on the quest for the mcguffin?’

    Thus, great adventure comes to Podunk Village.

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