Friday, May 21, 2010

Novel Ideas: Finding Inspiration to Write

Novel Ideas: Finding Inspiration to Write

by Jacqueline Seewald

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Thomas Alva Edison

Those of us who write novels share several things in common. We need to write as a form of self-expression. We are also people who like to read. We delight in connecting with a good book and enjoy reading regularly. We also read magazines and newspapers and are aware of what’s happening in the world. We feel the urge to communicate our own sense of reality through words.

So where do we find that one percent of inspiration that will guide our 99 percent of perspiration? Some of inspiration is the product of imagination. Speaking for myself, I find much inspiration in real life, living life as fully and actively as possible. For example, I became intrigued with "inferno collections" during the time of my library studies at Rutgers and while working at Alexander Library. I thought the concept would make a unique frame for a romantic suspense/mystery novel. It started when I attended a symposium where the lecturer was a Princeton University librarian who spoke eloquently about inferno collections, their connection with banned books particularly in the Victorian era. Not only did inferno collections exist in the past but still exist in more sophisticated and subtle forms today. This was how the novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION began.

The second romantic mystery novel in this series, THE DROWNING POOL, started with my talking to and observing various interesting individuals at a swim club some years ago. Kim Reynolds, a librarian with paranormal talent and crime-solving ability, will return in a third romantic mystery, THE TRUTH SLEUTH, which Five Star will publish in 2011. It too is inspired by real life experience.

For my children’s picture book, A DEVIL IN THE PINES, I created a faction story. I used the real setting of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the legend of the Jersey Devil combined with the fictional story of a little boy who learns how to deal with fear. Afton Publishing has kept this book in print from its publication in 1999 to the present. The inspiration for this particular book came from working as an educational media specialist/school librarian in an elementary library for several years and finding that such a book which was needed for school projects didn’t exist. This book filled the void.

The inspiration to write can take many forms, but I believe it’s there in all of us if we choose to follow our muse. I hope you will take a few minutes to share your own sources of inspiration in writing. What has provided you with your novel ideas?


Pauline B Jones said...

Interesting question! Let's see, got the idea for THE SPY WHO KISSED ME watching the first Gulf War. THE LAST ENEMY came about when I started to wonder what would happen if someone you met online wasn't who you thought he was. I wrote OUT OF TIME because I was intrigued with WWII. Not sure where the time travel part came from. I got the urge to write science fiction romance from watching the Stargate tv shows. LOL!

I commit random acts of writing, apparently from random inspiration. LOL

Pauline Baird Jones

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pauline,

Interesting sources of inspiration. As you point out, TV and internet offer lots of ideas for writers to develop. I know you have a unique, witty style of writing so I'd expect some quirky sources.

J D Webb said...

I get inspiration from everywhere. Her Name Is Mommy came from me sitting on a bench in a Chicago mall wondering where are the parents of a little tot sitting across from me. It was around Christmas. Too long after I noticed the little girl, her mommy came out of a store with some packages. Fortunately no one kidnapped the youngster who I estimated to be 6 or 7. Sheesh. I wanted to punish that irresponsible mother so I put her in my novel and had her kidnapped. I felt better.

Pauline B Jones said...

Yeah, I do have some quirky sources. LOL! Thanks for kind words, Jacqueline. :-)

JD, I have also used my novels to fictionally redress an issue. LOL!

dkchristi said...

Thanks for the great thoughts regarding inspiration. I am first an essayist, second a novelist. From the tiniest leaf, sparkling like diamonds with morning dew to a grand world tour: all of these are worth expressing in words, my camera. Arirang: The Bamboo Connection is a grand world tour, spiced with a little romance but an epic novel of exotic, foreign locations and populated with people of different cultural experiences. The inspiration: the impact of Asian culture and the mixing of cultures in foreign countries; the challenges experience by the Viet Nam generation and a world in hyper drive for monetary success.

Ghost Orchid found its inspiration in a simple, rare and endangered flower that bloomed from seemingly nowhere on my birthday in a nearby bird sanctuary and captured my soul with its mystique and elegance. My short stories are generally stories of love conquering adversity and people who rise above life's challenges to find new hope for meaning. They are inspired by real people and places. author of Ghost Orchid, a mystery of love, lies and redemption wrapped around a rare and endangered ghost orchid.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

J.D., I have the same reaction you do when I see children ignored or left on their own. Nice reversal to have the mom kidnapped instead of the child! Very clever.

D. K., I love the cover of Ghost Orchid. Your mysteries are exotic and romantic, a great combination.

Terry Odell said...

I've been inspired by a line from a song (What's in a Name?), a trip to another part of the country (When Danger Calls) or just a "what if" question. Sometimes it's a single scene that grows into a book. Right now, since we moved across country, I'm being inspired by all the new experiences and sights.

Anonymous said...

Terry, I know what you mean! One scene from TV stuck with me for a couple of years. It was an interview with a concentration camp survivor, a fascinating woman who demonstrated such gentle strength. She became the grandmother in A CORNER OF UNIVERSE. As far as inspiration, I've found that the real challenge is keeping open to the incredible people and places around me!

Lorrie said...

For my novella "Gypsy Crystal" my inspiration came from an impromptu lunch with a friend. A gypsy fortune teller was at the restaurant and of course we indulged. The woman stuck in my mind. She eventually became Anna, the mother of my Roma homicide detective.
Yes, some people or scenes spur the muse.
Nice post and I enjoyed reading it.

Shannon said...

I got the idea for my current WIP when I moved to Flagstaff and discovered the local ski resort, located on a mountain sacred to several tribes, wanted to spray relcaim wastewater on the slopes to make snow. Build in conflict! My new release, Ashes of the Red Heifer, was inspired by a New Yorker article about forcing Biblical prophecy.

Susan Whitfield said...

What a gorgeous blog! I am now following. Jacquie, that's a great question. While I am inspired by a multitude of things, the kickstart I needed for my first mystery, Genesis Beach, came from a good-looking tanned and buff man getting into a hot tub at the beach. I was up on a balcony trying to force inspiration and it, of course, wasn't working. When I watched the foam spill over the top of the hot tub and noticed his pierced nipple, I wiped away the perspiration, retrieved my pad and pen, and wrote a scene that ended up in a revised form in the book. LOL True story!

Katie Hines said...

I liked what you said about being 1% inspiration and 99% hard work. I think we all hear stories about folks who are inspired and sit and write their book in a couple of sessions. But, I don't think that is the norm for most of us. Thanks for a great article.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Moving across the country is a challenging experience, but it really shakes things up and gives you a whole new perspective on life; great for a writer.


Talking to a concentration camp survivor had to be a powerful experience. I can well understand making her a central character in your novel. Fact and fiction merge together to make memorable books.


The heroine of my next novel TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS is part gypsy and uses a crystal to connect with the dead. So I guess we're on a similar wave length.


I too get a lot of ideas from reading articles in newspapers and magazines, mostly for my short stories. Real life makes great fodder for fiction.


If you didn't already write such fine mysteries like HELL SWAMP, after reading that hot stud description, I'd tell you to write a romance novel. Come to think of it, you should do some romantic suspense regardless.


Thank you for the kind words! I appreciate your comments.

Anonymous said...

Great topic, Jacqueline!
Inspiration for my romantic thriller, The Cost of Love, definitely came from the news (bioterrorism), but it also came from our national folklore (or not) and imagination--Area 51, aliens, life beyond our own. I loved merging the two. As far as finding that inspiration EVERY DAY, music keeps me writing. The ipod is a writer's best friend, in my humble opinion.

Joyce Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joyce Moore said...

Jacqueline: Enjoyed your blog. Like you, I never know when something's going to pop up, and I think--that would be fun to research, and find out more about. I have a list of women, all historical figures, who led fascinating lives, and need to be written about. Then today in my Book Club, one member told about leaving the American Embassy in Kuwait in 1976 on the last plane out. She was scared, and had to leave her husband behind. I thought Wow, what a story. Novels are all around us, waiting to be written.

Anonymous said...

I think my head just combines different things I've thought about or seen and suddenly I have an idea. Spending some time with that idea, I gradually expand on it until it looks like something resembling an idea I can use.
Thanks for sharing your sources of inspiration.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Glad you enjoyed the blog post. I know your novel takes place in Roswell, New Mexico. I can't imagine a more interesting locale!


I believe a series of novels that combines fact and fiction about historical women would be really interesting. And you're right, great stories surround us. Everyone has something worth writing about. All lives are unique.


Thanks for commenting today. Wishing you much success with your writing.

Denise said...

Great post!
I am in the same boat with you. I like the stories that come from real-life and then you weave that suspense or mystery in them and next thing you know you can't put down pen or stop typing on keyboard.
For me, I find my an interesting tidbit about new technology and that's what I leverage for stories as well as places I've visited or lived.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Denise,

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. There is so much going on in the world that makes for great suspense fiction, mystery and even horror. Like you, I write a great deal of faction, combining what is actually happening in the world with what could happen. Reality sparks imagination. Good luck with your writing! I guess we all need a bit of that.

Anonymous said...

You know, i am currently working on a novel. and do you know how the novel came to be? it was a nightmare that i tried to forget when i woke up but my subconcious mind yelled at me; "You idiot, this is the best novel idea ever and you are ditching it?" so i had to agree with it.