Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Alex Beecroft joins us today to talk about something that authors have to find every day – new ideas for their stories.

I’m no good with blog posts.  I couldn’t do what Erastes does, and write something interesting every week on a different topic, because when I sit down to writealex writer's block something, I never can decide what.

So I thought for this post I would tackle the question of inspiration.  Where do writers get their ideas from?  Why do some ideas never make it to book form, while others get endlessly recycled with hundreds of writers treading and retreading the same old ground in slightly different ways?

This morning, I got this delightful piece of spam in my inbox:

“Am sorry for the late response, my computer broke down so I lost almost all my business contacts including your contact email and phone numbers until I was able to trace your alternate email. As I promised your family about your late father’s share of the fund. Please see directives below.
I am on my way to Bangkok for 1 month and 2weeks trip. I was able to seal the deal with Mr. Andrew Song but the amount he confirmed to me with his Bank of America account was not complete so I guess he messed up my deal and trust in him. Therefore on my return from Bangkok, I intend to start my own private business and you can be my partner if you desire. I just bought a new estate in Hawaii and will be moving there from Bangkok while my family will join me later. I have a new dealer now and they can export the following items:
Customized and polished Diamonds
Amethyst Stones
Precious Cut Stones
Calibrated semi precious stones
Double cut Diamonds & Single cut Diamonds.

I have asked my representative in United Kingdom (Mr. Richard Hearths) to transfer your family’s share of the recently concluded deal with Phillip Pitts which is US1, 950,000 into your account through his bank. I rather will prefer that you do not let Phillip and Andrew Song know about my new deal with Goshi Exports in India as it will have to be between two of us. I do not need a Buyer as I will seal the deal with you when I am back.
alex indiana jonesBill Harris”

This is spam with a story in it.  This is the Indiana Jones of spam.  Can you imagine?  Who is Bill Harris?  He’s obviously talking to our hero, whose father has died in mysterious circumstances.  I bet he was murdered when smuggling the diamonds out of South Africa.  Was someone on the Bangkok end of the deal in on the job? And why is Bill so concerned that the Indians not know what’s going on?

Suppose this was set in the 18th century?  Then we have Imperialistic machinations by the members of the East India Company.  Perhaps Bill is really Sir William Harris, a renegade member of the Honourable company who is working against their heavy handed business practices. Or it’s later, the era of boat-planes and bi-wings and H Rider Haggard type adventures in far flung locations where piles of treasure still lie for the taking? 

Whatever you make of it, this is a piece of spam like a diamond itself, and I treasure it.  I have a special folder on my computer for spam like this, which arrives with inspiration attached. Normally I have to look harder for a new idea, and my most reliable forms of inspiration are visual – TV, movies and sometimes pictures.  I know a lot of people get inspiration from books, but I can’t seem to do that.  I need something that bypasses the writer in me and goes straight for the id, and pictures do that. So, for example, my latest novel, Shining in the Sun, (which is currently out seeking a publisher) was inspired by a combination of my summer holidays andalex darren this picture 

I was so struck by the vitality and sensuality of the picture that I wanted to know who this young man was.  So I put my hero in a position where he came across the guy unexpectedly at the sea side, and I found out all about him at the same time my hero did. I have a special love for villains, sidekicks and walk-on characters in movies, as very often the third spear carrier from the left will have something about him that makes me wonder what his story is.  Or I’ll wonder what that villain would be like if he had grown up in a loving family on a different planet, or if he’d suddenly decided to change his ways.  Sidekicks in particular tend to be the kind of under appreciated, quirky characters who inspire me to wonder what someone like that would be like if he was to be the hero of his own tale.

I also enjoy taking tropes and twisting them a little – so John in False Colors is simultaneously the Natural Leader and the Nervous Virgin.  Max in Shining in the Sun is the Villain because he’s the alpha male, whereas Jasper in The Wages of Sin is an alpha male born into a position in society that requires him to be subordinate and meek, and he’s done his best to fit into that position.

alex jasperSo how about you?  Do you get inspiration from other people’s books?  Or from conversations overheard at the supermarket?  From Wave’s Friday Guys?  I confess that Jasper would not be the man he is had I not seen this picture of Kent Edwards on the left (Kent Edwards has been on the oldalex garnet blog many times because he’s so great looking) and Harry and Garnet from Blessed Isle owe their existence toAlex harry2 these photos on the right.






But I’d love to hear where you find your inspiration.  And if you’re a reader I’d love to hear about the stories you desperately wish writers would give you more of, but you just can’t seem to find.  There’s probably someone listening right now who would be struck by the lightning of inspiration and start writing the story you want to read, just from being given that first spark of an idea when you mention it.


  • “Strange Fortune”, it was.
    And running with evocative phases, your own, .. one of those old time adventure stories, when the world seemed like a bigger and more marvelous place and you could still believe in magic., hit the nail on the head. 🙂

  • Not directly related at all, but the use of evocative phrases to sum up the overall “feel” of a story (as opposed to an in-depth review and accurate labelling of plot points, POV, character motivation/backstory and sub-genre), as a sort of shorthand for myself, led me to note in my own list (a spreadsheet I’ve been using for a few years) that the recent Josh Lanyon release was “a wonderful mixture of historical m/m romance adventure – an H Rider Haggard for GLBT Action story”. *g*
    Please write one, too!

    • Oh you thought that too? Was that “Strange Fortunes”? I thought it was like one of those old time adventure stories, when the world seemed like a bigger and more marvelous place and you could still believe in magic. A bit like Patrick O’Brian’s “A voyage to Samarkand” as well, and I can’t think of higher praise than that 🙂

      I must admit, I’m tempted!

  • I could mine some family history for ideas, I know that. My mother’s parents in particular. Stories I know about them make them sound like they’re characters from a Catherine Cookson novel.

  • I was so enthused by the idea of One Note, yet so continually stingy that I thought I would see if I could find a free alternative. And I could! So I’m now having great fun adding notes to my new Evernote notebook. Thank you!

    I’m with you on the need to write things down, though. I tried dictating a story just recently and had to give up after 300 words.

    • Cool. I hear good things about Evernote too. I think the key is having things all together, not scattered through loads of files.
      I could never imagine actually dictating prose! I can see that it’s useful for people with difficulty typing for whatever reason. But otherwise – seems weird! But each to her own and all that.

      • So far I’m very impressed with Evernote. Up to now I’d been keeping research in bookmark folders in Delicious, but this is much better. Now I need to experiment with my camera to see if I can use that to input research notes from books into the same place. What fun! 🙂


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I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports - especially baseball
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