How to Find Great Ideas with Brenda Novak
by Brenda Novak, author of Finding Our Forever
When I first started writing, I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble or not depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to deliver, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place. So I decided that my book would be a historical romance set in Victorian times.
The idea for my first novel lived with me for five years while I added two more children to my family, researched the time period, taught myself the craft of storytelling and created characters that would be interesting enough to help convey my theme (the hero is born to a rich duke who rejects him because he’s imperfect—he has only part of one arm). I was lucky enough to sell that novel to HarperCollins, and it was released in November 1999.
As exciting as it was to sell my first book, I soon realized it was not the only idea I would ever need if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I needed to write another story and another and another. In other words, I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.
I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over—until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned the week before, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.
I’ll admit it hasn’t always been easy. There have been times when I’ve feared that I might run out of ideas. I remember that while I was writing Inside, which came out in July 2011, I had no clue what my follow-up novel would be about. My editor kept gently nudging me to give her some information about the story so the art department could get started on the cover, but I had no clue what to tell her. I thought my sifter had failed me after thirty-odd books. But just about the time I finished Inside, a character from that story began to excite my imagination. He seemed to say, “Tell my story. Considering my background, I’d be a very interesting character to work with,” and he turned out to be right. I wrote In Seconds and In Close after that, as well as thirty more books.
It’s always more comfortable for a writer to have plenty of story ideas in her head—what I call inventory. I remember being in that position when I started my long-running small-town contemporary Whiskey Creek series. I had an inkling of what I wanted nearly all of those stories to be. When I decided to create my brand-new Silver Springs series, however (four of which will be out this year), I wasn’t so lucky. I had only a couple of ideas, but I created an institution—a boys’ ranch, which is essentially a boarding school for troubled boys—as one of the continuity elements, and I knew that would provide plenty of interesting characters and conflicts—exactly what I believe makes a compelling story. And that has served me well. I’m just now finishing book four and am eager to write book five.
Don’t miss the first of the Silver Springs series, Finding Our Forever, which will be released on March 21.
New York Times & USA TODAY bestselling author Brenda Novak is the author of more than sixty books. A five-time RITA® Award nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Readers’ Choice, the Booksellers’ Best, the Book Buyers Best, the Daphne, and the Silver Bullet. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.
About Finding Our Forever: