Where do you get your story ideas from?

Picture of Path thru woodsHaving just finished my latest book, Starheart, I’ve been kicking stones and looking under bushes for the next story idea and I got to thinking; where do other people get their inspiration? Dark paths into an even darker wood? Things that go bump in the night? Beasties hidden behind bushes?

I well remember when I first came up with The Iron Admiral. I have a thing for men in uniform and I’ve had an abiding interest in military history so my leading man was going to be an officer. Since I was still working in the computer industry at the time, the idea of a heroine who is a computer expert was something of a no-brainer. I rather wanted my male MC to be a little bit older and very senior because while junior officers get to do all the derring-do, senior men have to make such very difficult decisions. Does he send a battalion here, knowing they’ll be decimated, but trading off the strategic advantage over there?

These decisions must be excruciatingly difficult to make, but it isn’t very sexy. Readers want action, excitement and, in a romance, both the hero and heroine together. Orson Scott Card, in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, cautions writers against having generals and admirals as the MC for that very reason. He cites James T. Kirk, Captain of the starship ‘Enterprise’, who went off exploring the different worlds the ship encountered. He makes the point that “any captain of a ship or commander of an army who behaved like Captain Kirk would be stripped of command for life.” So very true, so if I wanted to have an admiral as my MC, I would have to arrange things so he did have freedom to manoeuvre.

To come up with a plot, I turned to history. In 1939, Hitler was spoiling for a war. He and his generals were willing and ready, Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin and the way to the East was open. He just needed an excuse. The West was still hoping diplomacy would work, British Prime Minister Chamberlain had triumphantly waved the 1938 Munich agreement as he landed back in London. If Hitler wanted his war, he would have to arrange for one. Accordingly, on 31st August, 1939, German operatives wearing Polish uniforms seized a radio station in Gleiwitz, a town just inside the German border, and broadcast an anti-German message in Polish. To make the attack look more convincing, the Gestapo dressed a known Polish sympathiser in the town in a Polish uniform and shot him. German tanks rolled into Poland on 1st September.

And that, dear reader, is how I came up with the outline of what has become The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy. As it happens, Starheart (which will be published next year) takes place in the same universe as the two Iron Admiral books. I’m thinking this next one, might, too. I have the germ of an idea…

How do you get inspired?


About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 1 May 2011, in Iron Admiral, On writing, Research, Science fiction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. simon betterton

    Really interesting to see where your ideas come from. My mind strays all the time towards the ‘what if…?’ type of question. So it only takes something odd to happen or someone say something, and my brain is trundling off down that road. The latest one started after I heard a strange sound behind a high wall on a campsite in Sardinia, but there was no way for me to see over it and find out what was making the sound. I got the whole story going while staring at the roof of the tent early the next morning.

  2. I’d say 50% of my ideas land almost fully formed in my brain and I have no idea where they came from, which makes me a big believer in the collective unconsciousness theory. The other half come from day-dreaming when I think ‘what if this happened’ as Simon said above. I love finding new stories. The new idea is the best part of writing.

  3. I usually start with an idea from some kind of prompt. Sometimes there’s a call for submissions that I want to respond to, and that gives me a start. My last short was in response to a call for stories about healing, and I wanted to avoid the doctor-patient and doctor-nurse romance tropes. Put that together with having done a lot of research recently for something else on the Israeli military, and suddenly I had a story featuring a doctor working in one of the refugee camps in Gaza, and an Israeli soldier.

    The key thing for me is that once I have that seed for the character, my subconscious picks it up and runs with it. I know it’s working when things start popping out that don’t logically follow, but I know at a gut level that they fit, and then I have to poke at the character to get them to explain why they’re reacting that way.

    Sometimes I’ll borrow bits from my friends as starter too. I have one character in a WIP who’s a psychologist and kabbalistic magician working for the Mossad. His fundamental approach to life was lifted wholesale from a friend who’s a gamer and physics geek. They both approach emotional issues a bit like engineering problems – if I study this long enough and collect enough data, it will make sense.

    I would never, ever try to just write something where one of my friends (or God forbid, me) was a thinly disguised character. It always seems to fail horribly when the author does that, at least in the samples I’ve seen.

    Once I have the characters, usually all it takes is a bit of external plot, and they’ll be off and running, with me trying to keep up.

    • I never use me or my friends in my work, either. I know what you mean about gut feel and poking at the character. When you’re actually talking to them, you know it’s working.

  4. I’m like Natalie. Sometimes they come fully formed. Other times just the slightest prompt can get me playing what if. I got an idea for a movie when I heard someone tell a co-worker they didn’t have time for lunch. I’ve started not even writing the ideas down anymore unless I can still remember them three or four days later. If can still remember them I know they’re good. If I can’t I don’t worry about it. Right now I have too many ideas to ever be able to write anyway. Unless I start writing super fast. But new ideas are so much fun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: