Have you ever wondered where authors get their story ideas? When does that strike of genius hit an author? Is it like a light bulb coming on? Does the whole plot form before our eyes as a scroll rolling open? Do the clouds part, and a shining light transcends upon us with grand inspiration? I wish!
I can’t speak for all authors—maybe some do have a tried and true, legitimate eureka moment—but my own experience has been much simpler, and it varies from book to book. When I began my Hometown Holiday Heartstrings series, I knew I wanted titles that featured alliteration. I only knew that Book One would be about spring and flowers. I narrowed the flowers down to Tulips. And the title The Trouble with Tulips was born. From there, the plot began to take shape, centered around, well, tulips and all the trouble they caused between my hero and heroine. I named the rest of the series before the books were written, following the alliteration pattern, and that sparked the basic idea for each plot.
Places I have lived or visited are another spark for ideas. When I decided I wanted to start another series, I had no solid idea about it, but I decided to set it in Michigan because I had lived there and liked it. Michigan has harsh winters, and thus With Love, Melody was set in January along the shores of Lake Michigan. Let’s just say the story involves a lot of snowy weather, which guides important parts of the plot.
I like to honor important people in my life through the stories I write. [Mild spoiler ahead:] When I began planning The Loophole in Lilies, I knew I wanted each main character to have a specific medical condition that impacted their journeys to love. I gave Dusty, the hero, a pituitary gland tumor in honor of my husband’s brother who has the same condition and went through all the emotions to reach diagnosis and treatment. Kendra, our chatty heroine, had premature ovarian failure, not just because it is under-represented in fiction due to its rareness, but also because one of my dearest friends also has this condition, and it has deeply impacted her life since she was a teen. If I didn’t personally know both individuals who experienced these medical conditions, I doubt I would have written that book.
Personal experience can also deeply impact story ideas. When I chose to represent depression in a romance, it was scary. But I pushed through anyway since I have struggled with depression my whole life. It gave me a lot of hands-on experience to draw from in developing Joy, and I was so pleased by feedback from readers of With All My Heart, Joy who felt so seen in Joy’s character and her walk with depression and anxiety. Using personal life to spark a major plot point can leave an author feeling vulnerable, but it creates a beautiful authenticity, and we don’t have to worry about if we’re “getting it right” like we do when we write about something less familiar.
Bible verses have also sparked plot points for me. My last release, The Grump Who Doesn’t Belong Next Door, which came out in May in the charity anthology You Have Made My Heart, features two characters struggling to “hear” God in their lives. The Bible verse that guided the spiritual arc was Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (NKJV)
Sometimes researching a topic can bring on just the right inspiration, too. My debut series was actually Christian coming-of-age fiction with a romance thread throughout. After two titles, I decided I wanted to try my hand at Christian contemporary romance. Christmas was coming, so what better way to dive into romance than with a Christmas story? There were already so many stories about mistletoe, Christmas trees, getting snowed in, etcetera, and I wanted something a little more unique. I’ve always loved The Nutcracker Suite song “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy,” so I decided to find out more about sugarplums. After a little research and looking at various recipes for sugarplums, I concluded I would probably never want to eat one—but what if I had a character who DID? Queue my novella, A Second Chance for Sugarplums. I would never have written it if I didn’t research what sugarplums actually are first.
And if all else fails and I am thoroughly stumped on story inspiration, I take a shower. My best plot-saving ideas have always come to me in the shower.
Where, when, or how are big ideas or inspiration most likely to strike you? Leave a comment below and tell me!