Tag s | Ideas

In Search of Ideas

Authors, I’m guessing you’ve heard this question over and over: “Where do you get your ideas?” I know I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Now, if you’re like most writers I know, ideas for possible stories come fast and furious—most of the time. But what to do when you feel as though the idea well has run dusty and dry?

Well! Let me share a few standards that I, and other authors I know, rely on:

The Media

That old saying that the truth is stranger than fiction has stood the test of time for one reason: It’s true! I’ve discovered that the news, whether on TV or in a paper or online, is a veritable mine of ideas just waiting to be…well, mined. <grin> It just happened to me again this morning. My dad was reading to me from the local paper about a hit and run accident in our area. At 3 am day before yesterday, a woman driving a pickup ran a red light, slammed into a van carrying workers on their way to a job, then jumped from her truck and ran away. One worker was killed, three others seriously injured. The police finally caught the woman at her home, and when they did so she was suffering from a multitude of injuries, probably, the authorities said, from the crash.

SO, I’m listening to him read, and this is where my mind goes:

What if the woman they arrested wasn’t the one driving the truck? What if it was someone who wanted to kill the driver of that van? So she stole the pickup of a woman she’d been watching, a woman who lives alone, who is known to drink excessively, who has received at least one DUI. Just before she steals the pickup, what if she attacked the inebriated woman, causing her injuries? Then she takes the pickup, T-bones the van to kill the driver, then takes off. Of course, when the authorities come after the woman who drinks, they won’t believe it wasn’t her, that someone just “happened” to attack her and steal her pickup.

And on it goes from there.

Okay, I’m not saying the idea is perfect, but what I am saying is it’s amazing how many real stories can spark a “What if” scenario, than can then become a book.

Personal Experiences

Some of the most powerful nonfiction I’ve read has stemmed from what the author, or someone close to the author, really experienced. Who are the people around you? What are their stories? What about their stories gets your heart pumping, sparks your outrage, warms your heart? Listen and ask questions. There are stories just waiting for you to discover them.


One of the best things you can do when you’re looking for ideas is people watch. Seriously! Go to the mall, an airport, the park—any place that’s busy. Then sit down, and watch. Watch the interactions between people. Watch expressions and body language. Look at how folks are dressed, what they’re doing, how they act.

We have a bohemian community not too far from us, and it’s a veritable feast of odd characters to observe. There’s the man trapped in his own world who sits on the same bench every day. He’ll watch people passing by for a minute, then suddenly he freezes in whatever pose he is in. He sits like a statue for five minutes or so, then comes back to life. A few minutes later, he freezes again. It’s as though he just catches some inner bus to another destination, then comes back. I’ve watched him a number of times and wondered…

What happened in his life that brought him to this place?

What does he see, hear, think, feel while he’s checked out?

What if he’s not really crazy, but he’s some researching watching to see how people react? Or what if he’s an undercover cop, and this is a persona he’s created to keep an eye on the bad guys? OR, what if (and this shows you how bizarre my brain is) what’s going on in his head is reality, and I’m actually a part of the delusion??

Watch people, let your imagination run wild. The ideas and stories will follow.

Okay, those are a few suggestions for sparking ideas. Now, your turn! Where do you find ideas for the books you write?

Can’t wait to read your responses!

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Fresh Formulas

Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.

These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Three)

So, there I were, surrounded by publishing professionals, faced with the question of whether or not we liked–or respected–our end consumer: the reader.

Publishing folk are a freaky bunch. They love to think and debate and share ideas and dissect and explore. Get a whole room of editors going and nothing is sacred. At the same time, everything is. At their core, publishing professionals recognize–and love–the power of words. Spoken, written, sung from the rooftops–words contain the power to create and cultivate, encourage and empower…or decimate and destroy. These particular folks also love God and His Word. So their drive is work on books that impact lives rather than books that just entertain.

So, what did they say, these learned, insightful, imaginative folks? At first, nothing. They stopped–really stopped–to consider the answer to whether or not they like the reader. Publishing pros are great at pondering.

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Loving to Laugh

At least once a week I’m asked if romantic comedy is currently marketable. While sometimes this category seems hot and then cold, I’d say that sharp, witty, well-executed romantic comedy can find a good home no matter what the publishing season. Note that I take the adjectives I used seriously. This is not a category that most writers can whip off with little effort. Successful writers of romantic comedy are gifted with the ability to find humor in everyday situations and the talent to share that humor in an entertaining way. The writing must fly like a magic carpet. The reader is looking for a fun story.
One successful writer of romantic comedy is Gail Sattler. Here is a great tip from Gail:

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Two)

So what are some of the answers I’ve been given to the question “What makes a Christian book Christian”? Consider the following:

Written from a Christian world view Story offers hope Core of the story shows importance of faith in Christ

Similar to the things you all wrote in your comments (though I think your responses went far deeper.) But I’ve also been peppered with the following critical comments regarding Christian books:

It’s safe It doesn’t challenge the status quo It doesn’t leave anything unsettled, everything’s resolved Quality doesn’t match that of ABA books Easy answers Doesn’t make readers think Affirms readers beliefs and perspective
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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part One)

I had this discussion over a year ago on my blog, but thought it would be a good discussion for all of you, too. In some ways, publishing is in a state of unbelievable flux. In others, it’s utterly grounded and unshakeable. Good and bad on both sides.

But here’s what I find fascinating–and a bit worrisome. There’s a seemingless endless debate on what makes a Christian book Christian? Is it the context of the book or the faith of the author? What’s in the book or what isn’t? The tone or the specifics? Believe me, when I find myself in this debate, the answers come fast and furious and are as varied as can be. But before I share any thoughts or conclusions, I want to know what you think.

So, as a reader or a writer, what are you looking for in a book from a “Christian” publishing house? Or from a Christian writer.
What do you expect to find.
What do you expect NOT to find?
What makes a book “Christian”?

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The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread?

Guest Post by Teddi Deppner

Today debuts our first guest post. I first met Teddi at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference while she sat through my Major Morning Track, listening patiently to 8 1/2 hours of lecture over four days. She has recently been asking some penetrating questions about technology and the publishing industry so I invited her to create a post and express those thoughts for your discussion.

Teddi Deppner has published hundreds of websites over the last 15+ years in her work as a professional web designer, marketer and consultant. Recently, she has launched on a quest to map out simple, effective strategies to share with creative people using the Internet and social media for their business. Find her latest projects at www.TeddiDeppner.com.


Thanks to Steve for the opportunity to share some thoughts with his audience. This post, intended primarily to open a lively discussion, was sparked by an article by Craig Mod about “Post-Artifact Book Publishing”.

Craig’s essay presents the idea that books have traditionally been artifacts: the concrete, physical products of an author. He diagrams the process and participants in the creation, publishing and distribution of this artifact and how things are changing now that books have become more than static artifacts.

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To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

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Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

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