Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I've had this idea - Sharon Kendrick

If there’s one question that every published author gets asked more than any other – this is it. Where do you get your ideas from? A bit like asking where I buy my tea from (Marks & Spencer!) or my delicious sheepskin boots (Ugg!).

But ideas – at least, the ones which we use to kick-start a story – are unpredictable and temperamental things, even though they can start out so promisingly. Sometimes they leap out at you in the proverbial light-bulb moment. Suddenly you can’t stop smiling. You have an idea! And then you start writing and gloom begins to descend as you realise that it just ain’t gonna work – sometimes for no apparent reason.

This can also happen when a first line jumps out at you. It is a beautiful thing – that perfect first line. Sometimes it is a line of hard and mean dialogue, bitten out by the hero – which perfectly encapsulates all the qualities which will at first infuriate and then gradually intoxicate the heroine. Or it may be a heartbreaking piece of narrative which will make you see right into the heroine’s soul. Or it will be a question that has you itching to know what the answer could possibly be.

And then you realise that this “perfect” first line is taking your characters and your story in a direction that is hopeless. Often to a dead-end which kills off your love-story. I recently wrote a first chapter in which the heroine accidentally (i.e. By a complete coincidence) came across the hero (a King) while he was gazing moodily out to sea. I could see the scene so clearly that it almost felt as if I was there! The chapter ended with him staring at her stonily and saying, “I doubt whether we shall meet again.”

Can you spot the error? If they happened to meet again it would be yet another coincidence (which would stretch credibility and make the plot very flimsy. As a reader, I always wonder what would happen if you took the coincidence away – would that leave you with no story at all? And if so, then that doesn’t auger very well for this once-in-a-lifetime love-affair, does it?). Also, if our powerful hero has said they won’t meet again – then won’t he look rather weak and foolish if they do?

So I had to junk the whole chapter and begin all over again. And this is a hard lesson that every writer has to learn. Sometimes, no matter how good the idea is – you have to let it go. Because something – no matter how well thought-out - which robs your story of passion and power is nothing but a very BAD IDEA!

But I’ll leave you with a thought….sometimes you get ideas in the most unexpected places. The recent heavy snowfall in England had me out crunching through the icy landscape with camera to hand. I took a photo of this lonely tree – simply because it was so lonely. And then….if you look closely – there is someone there. Who? I imagined the same tree in spring. In summer. In autumn – before the snows of winter came around once more….and then I imagined a woman waiting for a man, who never came…..and a story was born.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Sharon Kendrick


Donna Alward said...


I had this brilliant first scene for my lastest and I'd been waiting to write it for what felt like MONTHS.

I wrote it and it was ALL WRONG. I had to junk the first chapter TWICE.

So I understand exactly.

Rebekah E. said...

Thanks for the great post.

Mary said...

Thanks for answering a question I've had for a while. It's interesting to see where writer's get their inspiration from. Sometimes I wonder though where Stephen King gets his ideas from, then I think....he must have very vivid nightmares. lol

Marilyn Shoemaker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marilyn Shoemaker said...

Great post Sharon and until you mentioned the person in your photo, honestly I didn't see it!

I can remember reading a post on Sandra Matron’s blog where she said she listens to people on a train, at the mall, in a store and that's where she got her ideas.

Kate Walker once wrote a book after listening to a story on the BBC.

And people meeting again, India Grey recently wrote Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper and that very thing happens and she wrote it brilliantly.

Sharon said...

Donna - I am nearing that chapter-junking phase of my latest book - oh, the heartbreak of having to let it go!

Sharon said...

A pleasure, Rebekah E (what does the "E" stand for?)

Sharon said...

His books possibly serve as some kind of catharsis and therefore Stephen King probably doesn't HAVE nightmares, Mary!

Sharon said...

That's the thing isn't it, Marilyn - so much of life we miss by not looking in the right places....

Pat Cochran said...

Not an author, but I can understand
all the twists and turns that try to trip you up! I agree with the blog commenter who mentions vivid dreams.
I've had a few doozies lately! LOL!
Especially when I was taking certain
sleeping pills. I stopped taking them
because of the wild dreams.

Pat Cochran

Marilyn Shoemaker said...

Sharon, oh no......junking a book? I can't imagine what heartbreak after spending all of that time and love. You're so creative, are you sure?

Michele L. said...

Oh wow! Maybe that is the key to creative book plots is writing down your dreams. Oh boy, have I had some crazy and very romantic ones. I will never forget one time dreaming that I was at a Christmas party at this huge mansion. The food buffet was enormous! It was in 4 different rooms! I was absolutely drooling looking at all the food!

I remember thinking to myself in my dream that I would have to pace myself if I wanted to try as much as possible of the buffet. Just as I was going to pick up a plate, I woke up! I was so mad that it was a dream because it seemed so real!

Linda Henderson said...

I don't know how all you authors keep coming up with great stories, but I'm sure glad you do.

Sarah Morgan said...

Sharon, great post! I never like to think too closely about where ideas come from - it's a bit like riding a bike - if you think about it too hard, you might fall. And don't talk to me about junking chapters - I have more words in my recycle bin than in my documents file. But you're right of course that ideas spring into the brain and the skill is then turning those ideas into a wondeful story - as you always do!

denise said...

Enjoy your post!