Bright sparks: Where I get my ideas for books

As an author, people often ask me where I get my ideas for books. Well, they come from all over. It could be a conversation with a friend, a TV show, another book or… just something that pops into my head. Some things inspire the main plot of the story. Other things give me ideas for character traits, dialogue, settings or subplots. And the ideas come from all over.

It starts with a thought…

My books always start with a simple spark of a thought. Something quirky or outlandish. A funny idea that I feel compelled to explore further. For my first novel, The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring, I had the idea of a man running away from home by accident. I wondered how that would be possible; where you’d run to and how you’d get there; and what would prevent you from simply going straight back home. I had a similar quirky thought at the centre of my second novel, Killing Dylan, but I won’t tell you what it is, or I’ll give the ending away.

For my new book, 46% Better Than Dave, I started with the idea of a man forced to live next door to himself – but a far better version of him. I wondered how that would make you feel, how you’d react to it, and how it would affect your life. It’s kind of an extreme version of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, and I had a lot of fun with it.

Things people tell me…

Often the stories people tell me will spark an idea, or give me a bit of extra detail to pepper into a story. In 46% Better Than Dave, the main character takes part in an extreme, Tough Mudder-style obstacle run. I’ve never done one of these myself. I’ve done a few 10k runs, so I had a little personal experience to base it on. But friends of mine have done these races, and their stories inspired parts of that chapter. Using their stories helped to strengthen mine and got me thinking about things that might not have occurred to me otherwise.

Things I read…

I’m often inspired by other authors and how they write. I also get ideas from other books I read. I’m not talking about plagiarism or ripping people off. It could be something a character does or says that sparks a thought. Or maybe I’ll read a book and wonder what if the author had gone in a different direction.

Things I watch…

Similarly, TV and movies are a great source of inspiration. With Killing Dylan, I knew I had a good idea at the centre, but I needed a character that could exist in a number of worlds to tie things together. I was inspired by one of my favourite shows, Castle, in which a successful crime novelist loves to solve crimes in real life. It’s basically an updated version of Murder She Wrote (so, reasonably well-worn territory). I thought it would be fun to spin this around and have a really unsuccessful novelist begrudgingly solving crimes and constantly whinging about it. And that’s how Freddie Winters came into existence.

Things that happen…

Just as crime writers are invariably inspired by gruesome real-life murders and crimes, I often get ideas from the news, or real things that I read about. I remember reading about a strange Elvis Presley Impersonators Convention that happens every year in a small town in Wales. It was so bizarre, and I loved the idea of it so much, I knew I had to use it somehow. It all fell into place in George Thring, when I thought about what sort of place the main character would accidentally run away to. And it gave me so much rich material for the story. So, the news is always full of inspiration.

Similarly, the idea for 46% Better Than Dave was partly based on a real thing that happened to a friend. He had an unusual surname, but bizarrely another customer at his opticians had the exact same name. And on a few occasions, they’d be given each other’s new glasses by mistake. The idea intrigued me enough that it sparked the inspiration for a whole book.

Things people suggest…

When people find out I’m a novelist, they often want to give me ideas for new books. I guess it’s like stand-up comedians, who have people offering them jokes after gigs. It’s always a lovely thought, but these ideas rarely make it into my stories. I did once receive a challenge from a friend, however, to feature a firewalk in a book. It took me a while to figure out how, but eventually I used it in 46% Better Than Dave. And it works well in the story.

Ideas that just appear…

Ideas just pop into my head, completely unexpectedly. And it happens at the strangest and most inconvenient of times. Quite often it’s in that short period when I go bed, before I fall asleep, and I jump up and write them down before I forget them. So, it’s always worth keeping a notebook by the bed. I also, bizarrely, get lots of ideas when I’m in the shower – but it’s not so easy to write them down.

So, where do I get my ideas from?

All over the place. The vast majority never make it any further than a single spark in my brain. But sometimes there’s enough there to make it into a whole book. Are you a writer too? If so, where do your ideas come from? Get in touch and let me know.

Published by Alastair Puddick

Author Alastair Puddick

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