Where do ideas come from?


by Joyce Woollcott

I wonder, I really do, where ideas come from. Not just ideas for books and short stories and magazine articles, but ideas in all creative fields. Artists, painters, sculptors, potters, movie makers, song writers––anyone at all who creates original content. Of course I do wonder more about my fellow writers. Getting the idea is only the first part, what do you do with it when you get it and how do you put it together as a terrific book?

I struggle to flesh out my novels. For me at least, the initial concept, that what if? moment is the easiest. What if a detective sergeant arrives at a crime scene only to discover he knew the victim? What if a well-respected retired detective chief inspector is brutally murdered in his bed and his past comes into question? I bet this is the stage most writers enjoy most, the idea. How wonderful it is to get that first storyline, that initial spark, the potential it holds, the possibilities.

Then the work begins.

I think after that first initial thought, the book unfolds in a series of ideas. It does depend on how you write, are you a plotter or a panster? I’m a little of both. I generally know what the beginning, middle and end will be, in a vague way, it’s filling in the bits between that present a challenge, and probably not just for me. I think about my story in progress most of the time. Certainly when I have a free moment, just before I sleep and when I wake up. Sometimes I’m watching television or chatting to friends something will come up out of nowhere and I’ll think, oh–that might work.

My husband came up with a great analogy the other day as we were discussing how ideas come together to form a book. He said it sounds like you have many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and you’re slowly putting them together in your head. Each puzzle piece is an idea. Most writing advice I’m hearing these days is to get that first set of ideas down. Get that plot on paper and make it to the finish line. Then you can take a breather and reread it. Start to see which ideas work and which ones don’t.

So, maybe all the pieces don’t quite fit first time, you can’t see where that blue bit goes, or that funny squiggly piece fits, but eventually, after you try putting it here and there, the final piece drops into place and you have the whole picture.

Writing a book isn’t that easy, it’s an exercise in pulling all these ideas together, tidying them up, and arranging them into some sort of order that makes sense.

Now if I could just figure out how to do that, each time I sit down to write a book…

Funny thing is that there’s a… ‘The World of Ian Rankin’ Jigsaw puzzle out now, a day in the life of Rebus in Edinburgh, what a great idea. If only I could buy a complete jigsaw puzzle of my next novel before I wrote it, I would put it together, and voila!

Which incidentally brings me to my next book which is due out in August. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the jigsaw puzzle of it, but at least it did come together, the final piece clicked into place. Hopefully, if you get a chance, you can see if it all fits together nicely. Blood Relations – available next month on most platforms, audio book to follow.

15 replies
  1. Joyce Woollcott
    Joyce Woollcott says:

    Thank you Donnell, and you’re right, I never thought of it that way. A.I. (hopefully) doesn’t get that original spark of an idea… at least not yet! Frightening thought actually.

  2. Lois Winston
    Lois Winston says:

    Joyce, you may not be able to get a jigsaw puzzle of your next book before you write it, but there are photo companies where you can get actual jigsaw puzzles of your covers and online sites where you can create a virtual jigsaw puzzle of your covers. 😉

  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer
    Pamela Ruth Meyer says:

    My goodness, Joyce, as a not-yet-published writer, this post’s stepping back to analyze the process really ignites my writer’s optimism. My experiences feel so much like the ones you describe for yourself here. It truly feels like these pieces of a story APPEAR one by one as the story grows from idea to idea to idea. And there is that magnificent joy when ‘The End’ comes with a puzzle-piece-fitting ‘click.’ I can’t wait to see how your puzzle fits together in BLOOD RELATIONS. Best of Luck.

  4. Gay Yellen
    Gay Yellen says:

    Good post, Joyce. Your husband hit on the essence of writing a mystery: set up a puzzle, and then figure out how to solve it. Best of luck with Blood Relations.

Comments are closed.