“You know what?” Yost said. “Maybe when we get home, I can go to the third base tree and pick another third baseman. … Obviously, third basemen who can hit and hit with power, they must grow on trees.” — Ned Yost, Manager, Kansas City Royals
Just as there isn’t a “third-base tree” where a major league team can go to pluck a great new player every time they need one, there isn’t really an idea tree either – I just like to pretend there is. Writers do have places where they get creative ideas when they need them, and successful authors are frequently asked where they get their ideas. Here are some of the places I get mine.
At the church I attend, we have a dynamic young pastor who delivers intellectually challenging sermons every week. Usually, I’m too interested in what he says for my mind to wander, but occasionally he’ll say something that triggers a reflex in my mind that leads me immediately to an idea for a new story. Without getting too specific, a couple of weeks ago he focused on an Old Testament story that caused me to think to myself, “hmm…what if that story occurred today, in a corporate setting?” I’m love the concept of recycling old ideas into new stories.
I’ve gotten story ideas from things co-workers say, special features on DVDs, and shows on the History Channel. It seems like ever since I finished the rough draft of my first book, I’ve found ideas for new stories pretty regularly – more stories, in fact, than I have time to write. Story ideas are literally all around us, we just need to look for them.
My favorite story about coming up with a character name involves the name of the main character in my first novel. The Destiny Matrix. I was in church (again), and our pastor gave a sermon about heroes of the early church. One person he talked about was named Justin Martyr – and yes, he was instrumental in giving the word martyr the meaning it has today. The name reminded of the type of character who shows up near the end of a graphic novel possessing the crucial bit of knowledge needed to save the day. It also reminded me of a Marvel Comics character named Adam Warlock. I originally intended to create a new character in my book to go with the name Jason Martyr, but eventually decided to use the name for my main character because it had more pizzazz that the name I originally chose.
I work for a fairly large company, and in the course of my work duties, I receive emails every time anyone in the company gets terminated. I see some unique names come through, and remember the best ones. I’d never use an actual first/last name combination for a character name, but have used either a first name or a last name to build one.
Finally, there are a couple of apps I like to use sometimes when naming a new character. There are several apps available for baby names, any one of which will be good for this purpose. Some apps can even provide the most popular baby names yearly, going back several decades. This can be really helpful if you’re writing about characters born many years ago. I also have an app for translating words into multiple languages. If I want to give someone a name that has a specific meaning, I plug it into the translator app and cycle through languages until I find a translation that I want to use.
Ever since my teenage years, I’ve had a knack for dreaming up scenes to go along with my favorite songs. To be honest, most of them are action scenes that go along with dynamic, up-tempo songs. The more often I hear a song, the more detailed the scene becomes. Sometimes I also come up with specific lines of dialogue inspired by songs.
These are some of the different branches sprouting from my idea tree. What works for you?