Because I’ve written several times about getting story ideas from dreams, I may have given the impression that that’s where all my ideas come from. While it’s true that most of my novels have at least one scene based on a dream, not all do, and only two are wholly based on ideas derived from dreams
My first published novel, A School for Sorcery, was written originally to submit to Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award competition, then an award offered to an unpublished manuscript by a new woman fantasy writer. The novel was designed to appeal to Andre Norton, and was based largely on my own years of experience as a middle school teacher. I’ve explained this many times, but what I don’t think I’ve said is that I’d met Andre Norton and heard her speak at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, which I’d begun attending when I set becoming a published author as my goal. Something she said in one of her speeches caught my interest. She declared that she did not like a book in which the protagonist dies, and she strongly recommended against writing such a book. For some reason, I considered that a challenge. I was determined to prove that it could be done successfully.
So in A School for Sorcery both the protagonist and the antagonist die. Yet both also survive. The manuscript won the award, the book was eventually published, and remains the most popular of my books. I was later fortunate enough to get to know Andre Norton personally, but I never told her that it was regarding her statement as a challenge that provided the impetus for the plot of A School for Sorcery.
Another novel for which I haven’t tried to find a publisher because it’s way too long and needs either to be cut drastically or divided into two parts, and I haven’t decided how to do either, is based on three things. The first is the report about Japanese princess Masako, a commoner wed to the crown prince of Japan. She suffered from depression and even lost her voice for a time due (according to the article) to pressure put on her to produce a male heir. I borrowed aspects of her story, though changed enough not to be recognizable. The second influence was Gaudi’s architecture, specifically some of the towers on buildings designed by him. On a trip to Spain I was fortunate enough to visit Barcelona and see many of these buildings. The novel, if it ever gets published, will be titled (I hope) The Twisted Towers. Again, the description of the towers in my novel doesn’t actually match Gaudi’s towers, but nevertheless they formed the inspiration for them. And the third is that I’ve always been fascinated by accounts, true or fictional, of underground cities, and a photo in the local paper crystallized that fascination for me, and led me to put an underground complex into the novel.
Finally, the idea for Mistress of the Wind came from a photo I cut out of a magazine. I often hunt for and save photos that intrigue me and can furnish story ideas. I don’t remember what article this particular photo was illustrating, and I can no longer find the picture, though I thought I’d kept it. But I recall it vividly. It was the picture of a young woman holding on to a tree to keep from being blown away by a strong wind, her full skirt billowing behind her like a sail and her hair streaming about her face.
Ideas come from anywhere and may provide a large portion of a novel’s plot or may simply offer a small seed from which, if nourished, a novel may gradually grow. Ideas for a novel may come from several disparate sources that jell into a single plot or, as in the case of the dream that gave me the plot for Seduction of the Scepter, may have a single source so compelling that an entire novel can be built from it. The important thing is to value everything, no matter how small, that makes you think, Hmm, that might make a good story. That sort of idea comes all the time to writers. We don’t have to hunt for ideas; they find us. I remember when, several years ago, my phone rang, and when I answered it, a male voice said, "I found a crystal and made a hand." It took me several seconds to realize that the speaker was the watch repairman to whom I’d taken my very old watch in despair because foolishly I’d worn it while working in the yard, and I’d lost the crystal and the minute hand. But in those several seconds I thought, What a great line to put into a fantasy novel. I haven’t as yet used it, but I haven’t forgotten it, and it yet may appear in a novel.
If you are a writer, where do you get ideas for stories or novels? What do you do with them? Do you keep an idea file for ideas you can’t act on immediately?