Authors get asked fairly often where they get their ideas. It's a question that doesn't always have an easy answer. Story ideas come from a variety of sources and most of the time you're just given a clue, something that piques your interest. It could be almost anything--a picture you see online, a single sentence that you hear in your head, an offhand remark you overhear in a restaurant, or any random scene you might happen to witness as you move about in the world--like a motorcycle cop, carrying a big red-and-white stuffed dog, striding through an airport lobby. Then comes the hard work of hunting down the rest of the story, or building an entire world in which to place it, piece by piece.
Every once in awhile, however, the fates smile upon you and you find yourself gifted with an entire story, and pretty much all you have to do is write it all down.
Apparently, I get some of my best ideas while I'm asleep. I think it's probably pretty common to wake from a vivid dream with the germ of a story idea rattling around in your head, but I've actually had the experience of dreaming up entire stories, from start to finish, often with character names included.
And although it's true that, a lot of the time, dream stories don't work out the way you want them to, it's always an amazing feeling to wake up with a new idea in your head, to lie in bed and go over the story--both to cement the idea in your mind, and to search for flaws in its logic that will prevent you from bringing it to fruition without a lot of adjustments.
One dream story that worked out pretty well for me was my book Finders Keepers. It was science fiction, set in a future where age-altering technology not only existed, but proved to be an important plot point. It also served to explain away the seeming age-discrepancy that would have made no sense at all in a contemporary romance.
The other day I woke up with a fabulous idea in my head. It was set in the early 1980s and followed the adventures of a trio of street musicians who emigrate from Ireland to NYC in hopes of making it big, only to meet with tragedy in the form of a ferry boat accident in the East River that claims the life of at least one of the main characters.
That part is all fine. Where I ran into trouble was when my dead girl came back as an angel (well, sort of an angel, anyway) in order to save the life of the last remaining member of the trio, who was having a hard time dealing with survivor guilt.
Do you see the problem yet?
The beginning is set thirty years ago, which makes perfect sense from an economic/political standpoint. And if I have my heroine die in the '80s and come back "now" I get to play around with all the ways the world has changed in the past thirty years--which is a lot of fun. But if my hero has managed to make it through those same thirty years, why would he suddenly need an angel now--never mind one who appears so much younger than he is?
I keep thinking that all I really need to resolve this is a time machine...but I suspect only Douglas Adams could get away with combining ghosts and time machines in the same story.
Ah, well. It might not be ready to write, but it was still an entertaining dream, and I still believe it has potential. I have the image of my ghost girl burned in my mind. She's wearing a flowery dress and doc martens as she emerges from the subway and looks around Times Square for the first time in three decades. I can't wait to figure out the rest of her story.