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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting Book Ideas or, The Barbecue Revolt – Esri Rose

I have never been asked where I get my story ideas. I have had people say, “You’re a writer? I had this idea about a bear cub who bonds to a Cabbage Patch doll. You should write about that.”

Yeah, thanks.

The trick isn’t coming up with ideas per se, it’s coming up with ideas that fit within your genre, have enough conflict to carry a whole book, and fall in the ideal spectrum between something fabulously unique but not so unique that it will baffle your publisher’s marketing department.

If you’re really on the ball, it should also feature some quirky product, animal, place or cause that will get you featured in an online newsletter with ten thousand rabid fans.

The best way I’ve found to get raw material is through conversations with friends and family. Once you hear a new anecdote, news item or last night’s wacko dream, you start to riff on what ifs. The result is usually something that’s at least a little unique, because these conversations involve speculation and pushing the envelope.

Ideally, friends bring the following idea-generators to your attention: current events (which you don’t have time to read because you are writing), horrible events (which you avoid listening to because you are a sensitive artist), or workplace events (because they have real lives and you don’t). Extra-special friends will also share weird events that they heard about because they belong to specialized clubs or organizations. Those friends are gold. Not only do they know about fascinating subcultures, but they often have access to the aforementioned rabid-fan lists.

Let’s look at a conversation I had with my husband recently. We had just seen a portable fire-pit at Target, and I wondered if it was legal in our city, since it had a screen over the top. Most open-fire devices are outlawed here, including BBQ grills for renters. You can only own a grill if you’re a homeowner.

“That would start a revolution in this country,” I said. “We let politicians get away with a lot, but if they took away our grills, people would take to the streets.”

Joe agreed. “Angry men in aprons, brandishing oversized forks and skewers."

“That’d be a good political-parody book,” I mused. “The Barbecue Revolt.”

That’s a decent book idea. It’s unusual, has plenty of scope for conflict, and you could pitch it to barbecue-lover newletters—maybe even get a product-placement deal. Unfortunately, I don’t write political or social satire. Carl Hiaasen, if you’re reading this, take that idea with my blessing—just don’t forget to put my name and website in your acknowledgements. Thanks, man. We’ll have lunch.

What I currently write is elf-based romantic suspense. Let’s see how we can change this idea from political satire to something I could potentially write and sell.

Breaking the idea into its components, what do we have? First, there’s barbecue, a pastime with a history of humor and also gender division. Then there’s out-of-control fire, a natural disaster that lends itself to people with painful pasts, as well as legal problems and mysterious deaths. There’s the notion of outlawing something, which affects local politics and struggling businesses that will be hurt by the legislation. There’s revolution over an unpalatable law, and the safety of the group versus the rights of the individual.

The trick is to play with the idea. Don’t feel like you have to map to the original concept or use all the pieces.

Idea for a Paranormal Romantic-Suspense

Leeta is the only elf in four centuries to have fire-kindling powers. Unfortunately, she can’t control them. When she starts a wildfire that destroys two human houses, the fleeing owners see Leeta’s unharmed figure walking through the flames. Incidents like this put elves at risk of exposure, so Mikelor, the elves’ best tracker, is put in charge of capturing Leeta. His job? To bring her back for the ritual that will erase her gift and leave her a husk of herself. But when Mikelor meets Leeta, he begins to question his orders. Is the possibly increased safety of the group worth the sacrifice of this one elven female? When Mikelor himself is taken captive by humans, Leeta and her uncertain gift are all that can save him. Will Leeta risk herself to help the nemesis she has come to love?

Possible promotional tie-ins: You could have Leeta befriend a pet or wild animal that escaped the blaze. Put a fire pet-rescue decal in every press kit, or send a press kit/book to animal-rescue orgs like the IFAW. Hell, give ‘em some money.

You can see that it bears almost no resemblance to the original concept, but who cares? It’s an idea! Okay, I covered my genre. Let’s see how you do with your version of this idea (or give an example from scratch). And don’t worry if your tie-ins are the same or similar. Rabid-fan groups are always eager for reading material that resonates with them. There’s room for all of us.

(Word of warning: The above idea, while solid, is not so unique that I hesitated to share it. Don’t go public with a truly outstanding concept. Not that people will purposely poach it, but a published writer might think your idea is one of her own two years down the line, not remembering that she read something similar in cyberspace. Your great concept could hit the shelves in her book before you even get an agent. Ask about my embarrassing songwriting moment and I’ll share in the comments.)

Esri Rose’s first elfy book,
Bound to Love Her,
is available for pre-order

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At 10:43 AM, Blogger M. said...

i am fascinated by your analysis. makes me realize how lazy i've been in exploring the full potentiona of my wip premise. since it's set in DIY home improvement, i totally 'get' the BBQ idea! and i loved your hubby's image of outraged men in aprons brandishing cooking utensils....

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I am thinking very seriously of revamping an idea I had for a single title historical regency, so this topic was helpful to me. The point you make about ideas evolving did it for me. That's what this idea needs to do!

I've said this before...I am not a fountain of new story ideas. Each idea I have is very hard won.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Diane and I once said that, together, we would make perfect writer. New ideas aren't an issue. Writing quickly is. My love of analysis and possibilities sometimes slows me down. The last couple books, I've been tormented by the thought that whatever basic plot I'm working on can be told umpteen ways, and surely one of them is better than what I'm currently doing. That's when I put my fingers in my ears and say, "Lalalalalalala!"

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I agree. Ideas need to evolve. For me, ALMOST any idea has the potential to evolve into a book if I let it percolate long enough. And if I get halfway through a book and feel stumped, I can usually add a new conflict or go back a few pages to see where I might have taken a wrong turn and make it work. Of course, it's not easy, but even a good strong idea isn't easy from beginning to end. At least not for me!

Can't wait to read BOUND TO LOVE HER, Esri.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

That's true, Esri. Knowing that my storyline can go down a million different paths can definitely slow me down. :)

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

My mind is pretty's been a long workday complete with dental exam squeezed in, and my mouth hurts!

I keep imagining a landowner who never bothers to visit his country estates starting a fire by mistake and the village folk coming after him, with the neighboring-estate-owning heroine leading the pack...(yeah, I only imagine in "historical" mode ;0) )

I would LOVE to hear your songwriting story.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

And I second "m" , I love the visual of men in aprons brandishing cooking utensils...sounds like a best selling Harlequin American story (is that what they call those?) just waiting to be written.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

The Song Writing Story

I wrote a lot of songs in college, and I periodically find the lyrics in old journals, etc. A while back, I was cleaning out our file cabinets, and I ran across a hand-written set of lyrics. I read through them and thought, "Boy, I really had some talent in this area." After reading through them a couple times, I even managed to remember the melody.

When Joe got home from work, I showed them to him. "See what I found today? I have to say, this is one of the best things I've ever written."

He scanned the page. "Yeah. This is a Beatles song."

It was "I'm Looking Through You." Not one of their better-known ditties. I must have written the lyrics down before the advent of Google.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Come to think of it, I think I even sang it for him, very proudly. It was really embarrassing.

Here's a link to that song, if you don't know it.

It's definitely the kind of thing I would have written, had know, been a Beatle.

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Norah Wilson said...

Esri, I bow down to you. Your ideas ROCK.

And you made me snort tea up my nose. :-)

Trying to wrap my mind around the BBQ revolt idea in the context of a vampire romance...

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Esri, Fabulous! Look what good taste you have :)

At 9:16 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

hee hee, Esri, "I'm Looking Through You." What a riot.

Maybe together we'd make the perfect songwriter, too. My role would be to tell you when you are channeling old Beatle songs!

At 9:31 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Okay, Esri, to quote Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter books "That was bloody brilliant!" Your mind works in strange and twisted ways and I mean that in the very best of ways! Yes, Gillian, I too imagine pretty much in historical mode all the time. Dead annoying at times! I never know what is going to set me off, but I try very hard to write any random idea that pops into my head down. You never know what might come of it. My currently in revisions and one and only novel came from a writing exercise in which I was asked to incorporate the words - glittering, cave, soldier and journal into a story. The rest is history. (Or at least I HOPE it will be at some point!)

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Doglady: Oooh! Them are some evocative words! Has anyone worked with one of those writer's decks o' cards? It would be easy enough to make one for yourself, or even stab down on random words in the paper. I'm a little too much of a control freak for that level of randomness. Or maybe my brain is already random enough.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

I've used those brainstorming cards and book, but never at the beginning. I sometimes use them when I get stuck or when I'm revising.


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