Sunday, 29 January 2017

But where do your ideas come from? By Hilary Hawkes

If you're a children's author sooner or later you are going to be asked THE question.

You'll be sitting with a group of children. It might be a school visit - or maybe a bookshop visit. You'll have finished inspiring everyone with your stunning talk about your book. The children, or possibly the grown-ups, will be waving their arms at you: because it's time to ask questions.

You'll have been fine with:
How old were you when you started writing?
What were your favourite stories when you were seven?
What are you going to write next?
or even:
Do you like X-Factor?

No problem with those questions is there? But then here it comes - without any warning, so you'd better be ready:

But where do your ideas come from?

Aghhhhh!  The first time I was asked that question I didn't speak for a full thirty seconds. And a class full of little seven year old faces stared at me in expectation.
Obviously they were expecting a stunner of an answer.  There was surely a magical land where authors went to get ideas for books. And I was about the reveal the secret, right?

I've always thought there ought to be a magical land of story ideas. Perhaps hanging from the trees would be Plot Nuggets. Just pick one and inside would be an intriguing idea, complete with characters, conflicts and resolutions.

Or maybe there would be a kind of supermarket for stories there too. There would be character aisles, theme aisles, rug pulling moment aisles, protagonist aisles and happy ending aisles. We could just stroll along with our shopping baskets (trolleys for longer length novels) and pluck our ingredients from the shelves.

Or perhaps the magical land of story ideas would have a giant pond. Just cast your net and see what interesting characters and plots you catch.

A writer friend of mine swears that her story ideas start with dreams. Luckily she has extra entertaining and publishable dreams then.  So far mine would be too crazy loopy to turn into books I think.

Another friend shared the Card Method idea with me once. "Make yourself a set of blank cards and divide them into three groups," she enthused. "On Set One cards write short descriptions of different characters. On Set Two cards write 'problems' or something the characters must overcome or defeat. On Set Three cards create the final endings. The idea is to take one card from each set and think up a story based on these choices." That hasn't worked for me either.

The truth is ideas don't really come from anywhere consistently do they? For me the idea for a book can come when I see something funny or when someone says something and I think: "That would make a great title!" Or a situation or a scene can inspire the seed of a story. 

But sometimes I think an idea can come from a place deep inside a writer's heart and soul - as though it was always there just waiting patiently for the right time for you to find it and be ready to write it.

The only thing I know really is that ideas all begin very small: like an acorn waiting to grow. And these little acorns can be anywhere. There seems to be a limitless supply and they can turn up in the most unlikeliest of places.  Once you have one little 'acorn' you know it has the potential to grow into one whole story - as long as you give it a lot of care, attention, hard work and time.

But what did I say to that group of waiting seven year olds several years ago now? My acorn of an idea for that book had come when my then ten year old had come home from school looking glum, cross and fed up. His school football team had just lost a match. The score was twenty nil and apparently this was all a disaster. Obviously, I was all soothing and sympathetic, but then rushed to my note book. A year later, after a lot of thinking, character and plot invention, tweaking and more thinking, Twenty Nil and Other Disasters emerged.

So no magical land of ideas for authors. But always oodles of magical moments writing, reading and sharing stories with children.

What about you? Where do say ideas come from?

Hilary Hawkes

Twenty Nil and Other Disasters!


Rowena House said...

Lovely blog. As you say, each story seems to have a different genesis. My first completed script born out of a place, second from a old photograph used on a TV documentary, and WIP from an exercise in writing a premise! An inexhaustible supply of ideas, but oh! The hard work turning them into something whole :-(

Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks Hilary. I tend to go with the soul/awen approach here in Wales but I fancy a go at the nugget tree when that doesn't work.

Hilary Hawkes said...

Interesting how ideas can come in so many different ways, Rowena. Thanks! Please let me know if you find a nugget tree, Steve :)