Many times when I give a talk or get into a conversation about my writing, this question invariably arises: “How/Where do you get your story ideas?” At first, I used to answer, “From everywhere!” And while that answer is true to an extent, I realized that wasn’t exactly the question most people want answered. People want to know how were you able to sustain a plot from beginning to end and did you make that plot compelling enough for a reader to want more long after they finished the book…for the third time. Once I figured out the underlying question, I changed my response to, “My characters.”
On my hard drive, I have a file that has story idea after story idea; but less than half, probably even less than a third, have either been started or completed. The idea isn’t enough to begin writing; I need a character to claim that story as his or hers. So, essentially, I have a library of ideas and I’m merely waiting for a character to check one out. Sometimes, multiple characters check out similar ideas, and instead of feeling panic, I just roll with it. Every character isn’t the same, so every character won’t react to a situation the same. It’s the same as when a friend and I could watch the exact same movie and have completely different interpretations of what we see. I do enjoy watching the story unfold; it’s surprising how many times I’ve been surprised by my own stories as I write them!
Of course, it’s much easier when a character comes in with his or her own story in hand, as Gunnar did with The Beauty Within; unfortunately, this also means I’m on call 24/7, for Gunnar presented me with his story at 3 in the morning! This isn’t to say the characters have free rein, either. I still must learn about their likes and dislikes, their goals and ambitions, their hopes and fears. Sometimes I think a character is one way, and then I write something and he or she reacts in a completely unexpected way but it’s so right that I have to go back and make sure 1.) the clues had been there all along and 2.) it will help the story move forward. Nine times out of ten, the character is right and I have to learn to go with the flow. On the other hand, when the characters stop speaking to me, then I have to set the story aside until they decide to inspire my muse again. There is nothing worse than forcing a story to be told.
At times, there are some details I have to change in order to satisfy the potential market/editor/agent, but it’s usually something like age or height if it’s something not too incredibly important to the character’s essence. There are people I trust off of whom I bounce ideas or even help me shape and mold the characters and their personal stories to help me write. Those people are invaluable to me and every writer needs that type of person to give worthwhile feedback. Yet in the end, it’s my job as the author to sell this character and his or her story. I take that responsibility very seriously. This character chose me to be his or her bard; I can’t half-step with that task.