Choose Your Own Writing Adventure – How I come up with Ideas

Often when I tell people I am a writer, they pepper me with questions, and during such discussions I’m often asked ‘Can I be in your book?’ or warned ‘You won’t ever write about me… right?’. So I figured I would blog about my writing process now that I’ve written for a while and can actually say how I come up with ideas, characters and situations as well as the metamorphosis they undergo even as I write and rewrite. And overall, as you will see below, I can make no promises, but even if I happen to write a little something about you, the odds are you won’t even recognize it.

First, something has to strike my writing fancy. Sometimes these ideas come from eavesdropping (OK, most times). Sometimes they are things that have happened in my life. Or sometimes they come from events that have occurred to friends, family, and acquaintances. “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I think. “I wonder how that would work or what if that happened to someone else, someone with this or that type of personality.”

With each idea, I take that situation and think about it, mull it over add many ‘what if’s. In fact much of the process contains ‘What if…”. It’s like a massive huge choose your own adventure novel. And it goes a little something like this:

Idea 1  – Overheard in a food court:

A sister’s neighbour’s roofer accidentally got an address wrong and no one noticed until everyone came home from work and the job was completed.

  • Ouch. That’s a huge mistake. What’s the fallout? What happened and what happens floats through my mind: Does he lose his house because of the botched job he now has to pay for, loses his wife, his family, his children? Why did it happen – was he exhausted because of a newborn or because he was having an affair. Was it even his mistake? What transpired when they all found out? Was a normally passive housewife consumed with rage? Did the roofer go out, get drunk and drive home only to cause a tragedy for someone else. What if, what if, what if…

Idea 2 – Overheard at a temp job:

A young couple travels overseas to Asia on a dream vacation. They break up mid trip and are forced to fly home on the same flight – with her parents.

  • This was from a male’s perspective. First I would change to a woman’s point of view, because I write mainly about women. Then I ask all sorts of questions: How did they break up? How did she feel? Who broke up with who? Why didn’t either of them change their flight? I would make them married and force them to sit together on the plane. With her parents. Is there a dispute on the flight? Maybe with her parents. Maybe she’s pregnant and no one knows. What if she’s relieved and has been having an affair the entire time? What if she was waiting to break up with him until after the trip? Travelling is a huge stressor on relationships. This is an intriguing for plot and character development to me. Hmmm….

 Idea 3 – While doing some data entry:

The last name Roach appeared before me.

  • I continued typing, all the while thinking – What if a girl was deathly afraid of cockroaches and suddenly the man of her dreams appeared with the last name Roach? Does she turn him away because of it, stay and never change her name when they marry? What if they bump into each other over and over again over the years and fate is trying to push them together? What if they have kids who go the Bob Marley way? ‘Hey roach, pass the roach?’ All these thoughts floated through my brain within seconds. Interesting…

Now: Marrying the three ideas, here’s the loose idea I’ve come up with:

  1. A married couple and kids are on a flight to Caribbean. She’s terrified of roaches, but married a man with the last name Roach. She never changed her name. (in all likelihood, unless I have a good reason for it, this might get dropped somewhere along the line – Although there are huge roaches in the Caribbean…hmmm…)
  2. Just before the flight, he gets a call about a roofing job gone awry. He owns the company. He works. A lot. “Workaholic” her wife says. They argue on the way to airport. His almost cancelling the trip was the last straw in their relationship (although honestly, in my mind he’s already changing into a big shot executive who never takes breaks and had grumbled constantly about the vacation he doesn’t want to take).
  3. But now they’re flying south. To the Caribbean. For a family wedding! And he hates her sister, who is the one getting married – just made that last bit about the sister up – fun really! Although I have no idea why they hate each other yet.
  4. No one knows they’ve just split. It slowly unravels over a week.
  5. Heck, maybe they’re in Jamaica, just to keep things even more interesting….

The possibilities are endless and obviously there are other characters and many scenes to sort out, but this is how it all starts.

These are just a few examples that I overheard that piqued my interest that I probably wouldn’t ever use (although its all sounding more interesting as I added elements, truth be told). As you can see, it’s all one big Choose Your Own Adventure and by the time I’m finished with it, the situation is vastly different from any original I might have heard or experienced.

They all get muddled, thrown together and are melted down like chocolate into a gooey mess. Then as I work my way back up and mold them into the shapes I want and with each rewrite (this is because I’m a pantser and things change – too often), they alter, have additional layers and texture added like wafers and caramel and hopefully the end result is a delicious treat.

Characters are a bit different and are actually largely molded based on the ideas I’ve come up with and how I think different personality types would react to the situation I’ve created for them.

But I’ll save that for another post…