Where do fun, new story ideas come from? The short answer is they come from the darndest places, often when you are not looking for them and when finding them is downright distracting from whatever you are trying to do.
The idea for this blog post, for example, started when I was planning a very short non-fiction piece on maypole dances and how the leadership of Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony both went after Thomas Morton for his maypole dancing at Merrymount, a little known colony around what is now Quincy, Massachusetts.
Why on earth was I going to write about Maypole dances in Merrymount?
My elementary school taught us maypole dancing one spring, and it was fun, and since this is May, it seemed like a logical time to reminisce. I also enjoy the ironic tie-in with my wet-blanket Puritan ancestors who really knew how to kill a good party. A trait that has been passed down through the generations, but I digress.
My plan was to spend about fifteen minutes refreshing my memory on the history, which I was already familiar with from researching Plymouth and the “Pilgrims, then to write a quick post about it for my blog. After that, I would get back to my rewrite of my contemporary romance, which is coming along very well and needs to not be interrupted for long.
Adventures in Wonderland
And then? Down the rabbit hole I went. I have always studied Morton’s clash with his uptight neighbors from the perspective of his uptight neighbors, since they have been a topic of much research for me. But if I was going to talk specifically about him, not just how the sanctimonious thought he was doing the Devil’s work, I needed to learn just a little more about him and about his colony of Merrymount.
I knew it would be fun. I should have known better than to dive in, really I should have. He and the colony proved far more juicy than I had imagined, and far less repugnant than most European colonizers, and I kept following links. My list of book references I needed to read grew longer and longer, and before I was even aware of it, I was plotting character arcs, conflicts, relationships, sexy scenes under the maypole, and creating a delightful, and accurate, multicultural cast of characters.
Nope, not for the blog
There was no way I could write about it for my blog. I couldn’t stop doing research, and every time I told myself I would stop, I found “just one more” trail to follow. I wouldn’t have finished it until a had a complete draft of a novel. Which led me to what I am actually writing about for this post. Story ideas. Horribly unruly and uncooperative story ideas.
How do I find story ideas?
I am a nerd. Shocking, I know. You would never have figured that out if I had not alerted you to it. Because of my nerdliness, I do tend to find story ideas in exactly this way. I read up on something for another reason, and people start jumping off the page at me and screaming for attention. Unless….
Unless I am actually looking for them. Then they all get busy somewhere else, and I have to drag them out as they scream colorful, historical, insults at me. This is why it is critical to keep a journal of some sort precisely for the rabbit hole story ideas that run all over your productive work until you are actually looking for them. Capture them before they get away!
How do you care for your ideas in captivity?
Once they have been suitably and humanely placed in the intellectual wildlife refuge of a journal, come back and feed them often. Let them run around a little in your brain each evening so they grow and get stronger, and then, when you have finished your current work, then you can set them free and start writing them. They will be livelier and more cooperative for their time hanging out in your idea halfway house. Knowing they are there, clambering for your attention, can also help keep you from lingering longer than is healthy on your current project.
So, where are Thomas Morton and his Utopian colonists right now? In their own Scrivener file, with all their links and lots of bawdy ideas, where I can visit them regularly and encourage them to play and grow strong so they are ready when their turn comes and they can’t go hiding on me when I need them.
What are those ideas waiting for?
What is coming before Thomas and friends? I am so glad you asked! Ok, you might not have asked, but I am excited, so I will tell you anyway. I am editing two books right now. My contemporary romance with suspense, A Dangerous Education, and my gritty historical romance, Devil in our Hearts. They are both steamy and full of adventure, and while life has thrown some hiccups into my timeline, one or the other will be out before the end of the year, depending on how editing and cover design progress.