Ideas are pesky little things. You’ve either got too many than you have time to write; or you haven’t got any at all and are desperately searching for one so you can meet a deadline.
In those desperate situations, it might be comforting to remember that you have, in the past, come up with ideas and some of them have been good. So you might try to figure out how you did that.
Thinking back to the inspiration for my novel, Mind Secrets, I clearly remember wanting to write about teenagers with special powers. I’d always been hooked by those sort of stories and continued to seek them out long after I had grown up. But that wasn’t an idea as such, it was just a theme. At the start, I didn’t have any idea about how I was going to tackle it.
So I sat down a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down “Teenagers with Special Powers”; I underlined it and then circled it for good measure. I realised I needed to work out what sort of powers they would have. I didn’t want anything too powerful; I didn’t want to turn them into comic book heroes; I wanted their powers to be believable, as if they had evolved naturally. The mind, I thought, seems incredibly powerful. The thoughts and the feelings we have seem so strong inside our own heads, that it’s almost conceivable other people could sense them. So maybe the teenagers can sense the thoughts and feelings of others. That would make them special; it would give them a certain amount of power, but it wouldn’t stop them being vulnerable, and it would put them in a position where other people might fear or envy them.
Hang on a minute — was that an idea? I think it was. But, where did it come from? It came from working through the theme and asking myself questions about what I wanted to do within the theme. So, perhaps that’s where ideas come from.
So, once I have the basic idea, I need a story in which it will fit. One type of story I like is The Fugitive-style story, where the main character is both pursuing something and is being pursued. In The Fugitive TV show, and also the later Harrison Ford movie, the main character has been wrongly convicted of murder and is being chased by a policeman at the same time as he is trying to catch the real killer. I love that sort of story because the protagonist is being pulled in two different directions at once. So I decided my main character, Michael, would be on the run from a man called Carter, but also trying to unravel the secrets of his own past.
A-ha! Another idea! But where did I get that from? Well, I sort of stole it. But in a benign, non-plagiaristic kind of way, you understand.
In the meantime, I was working on the background to the story. As I wanted the novel to have a thriller / mystery theme to it, maybe there was more to the teenagers' special powers than at first appeared. I liked this idea, so I wrote it down. But I didn’t know what it was yet, so I thought hard to come with a few possibilities and wrote them down too. After that, all I needed to do was pick the best one.
This is how most of my ideas emerge. I sit down and I think them up. I write them all down and then I pick the best ones. I ask myself questions about my world, my characters and my plot and I try to answer them. And, every time I decide on a course of action, I figure out what the consequences of that action will be and that sparks another idea.
Rare is the time when an idea will hit me out of the blue. A couple of months ago, I remember watching a television drama which was less than engaging and so my mind wandered, and I started to think of an idea for a vampire novel. I really don’t know where that idea came from, as the TV programme had nothing to do with vampires. Unfortunately, I have too many other projects to write ahead of that one, so it’s on the backburner — which is just as well as I suspect the book world is getting a little vampire-weary.
Most of the time, it is simply a case of sitting down with pad and paper and scribbling down whatever is in my head. Even when I have no ideas at all. I will write down themes that I like, such as ghost stories or time travel stories, then I might write down something I’ve seen in the street, something somebody has said, an incident in the news. Until something clicks and I bounce ideas off that until I come up with something firm. Then I write that down on a blank sheet of paper and develop it from there.
Most of the time, if you want some ideas, you just have to think of the little blighters. There’s no use wondering around and hoping the muse will strike, because it probably won’t. A walk can sometimes be a great way to refresh the mind, but if I went for a walk every time I needed to come up with an idea, I’d do a lot more walking and a lot less writing.
About the Author:Chris Reynolds is a lover of adventure stories. Chris spent her time growing up avidly reading them, watching them on TV and writing them in her school exercise books. She was often frustrated that stories written by other people didn’t go the way she wanted them to, so she decided to write her own. In the interim, she has worked for the BBC and independent radio as a journalist, written for magazines and some published non-fiction books. Now her stories are available for all to read, following the release of her acclaimed debut novel Mind Secrets.
Chris lives among the Chiltern Hills, north of London.
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On the run and without his memories, Michael escapes from a man called Carter onto the unfamiliar streets of London. There, he meets a gang of teenagers with the power to sense the thoughts and feelings of others. They live in fear of ‘the cure’, a mysterious process which takes away their power and, some believe, destroys their personality. Suspecting the cure caused his memory loss, Michael goes undercover to investigate the truth behind the doctors of the cure clinic. What he discovers leads him to a conspiracy that runs to the heart of government and reveals the shocking reality of his own past.
Mind Secrets is a compelling thriller set in a contemporary world and will appeal to anyone who's ever wondered what it's like to have mind powers.