Well, the truth is, they come from all over, all the time. Some examples:
THE BARD’S GIFT:
I belong to a couple of online writers’ forums. On one of them, Hatrack River Writers Workshop, members will occasionally post challenges. You don’t win anything when you win a challenge, other than bragging rights. The real point is the feedback, because one of the rules is always that all the entrants have to comment on each others’ work or be disqualified. Sometimes, these challenges center around a prompt. It’s fascinating to see how many different stories can be created from the same prompt. The problem for me is usually the relatively small word count allowed.
Well, one of these prompts was “Slave to the flame” and a story came to me about a little dragon that was the first to figure out how to breathe fire. I wrote it as a fable. It also ended badly, partly because of the prompt, but also partly because I didn’t have enough room to develop it further. When the challenge was over, I had no idea what to do with that story. Eventually, I wrote another story around it (also called “The Bard’s Gift”), about the girl who was telling this fable and why.
And then I started wondering other things about this girl. How did she come to be in that position? Why did she have this gift for telling stories? Where were they? This led to a lot of research and eventually an 80,000-word alternate history that includes dragons (but not the same ones in the original story), Norse gods, and thunderbirds. The short story “The Bard’s Gift” is now Chapter 35 of the novel, THE BARD’S GIFT.
There’s a similar story to MAGE STORM. It also started as a response to a challenge on Hatrack, this time the prompt was the title of a Writer’s of the Future winning story “Cinders of the Great War”. That gave me an idea about the aftermath of a war in which all the mages had destroyed each other. That short story, “Infected With Magic” (I had to change the title because Writers of the Future has to be anonymous) got an Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future.
I still have never found what I consider a satisfying ending to that story, though. It always felt like the beginning of something bigger. And so it was, a middle grade adventure fantasy MAGE STORM. I mean to get back to my latest revision to this story again soon and get it back out there.
But not all ideas come from writing prompts. Some come from news stories or photographs that send my imagination flying. One particular idea that isn’t quite ripe yet, came from me just wondering.
At the time, I’d recently read one too many stories in which the female protagonist did very little but wait around for some guy to take the lead and help her. I have an allergically strong reaction to those stories–as in pitch the book across the room strong. I’m okay with a female main character needing some help once, maybe twice. After that, she’d better either figure out how to keep herself out of trouble or how to deal with it herself.
So, as I was driving around running perfectly normal errands, I started wondering to myself: under what conditions would it be all right for a female protagonist to need some help? What if that character was dropped into a strange world (like Dorothy landing in Oz) and really has no way to know what’s dangerous and what’s not? What if, in this world, things that we tend to think of as sort of fuzzy, cute, and nice (unicorns, pixies, etc.) are really the most dangerous. And some things we think of as evil, the ones you’d want to avoid, are really the only ones that might help you? Okay, in that situation, Dorothy might need a little help to gether started. Look for this story maybe this time next year.
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