Story Inspiration - Where Do We Get Our Ideas

This month I’ve been answering a lot of questions about A Portrait of Emily Price – as it just released on November 2nd – and many of the questions involve story inspiration and writing – two topics that fit perfectly into a Writerly Wednesday.

Where do we get our ideas?

Where do we get our ideas?

For each writer, it is different. There are as many ways to get to that point of inspiration as there are stories to tell. But if you’re stuck or looking for something new… Here is how I approach each story.

I start with a question.

The idea for my new novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, came to me while reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. There is a powerful scene near the end of the story when the main character, Orual, brings her case to the gods to justify all she has done. Yet, within the very act of articulating her case, she realizes she hasn’t got one. It falls at her feet as she sees everything differently.

C.S. Lewis

And that’s where the questions began… I wondered, in our world and in our time, what might it look like for a young woman to be challenged by another way of thinking, believing, and living? What could be so enticing, and joy-filled, as to make her yearn for something new and perhaps something better? What might compel her to drop her guard, surrender control, and let in love? … And there began A Portrait of Emily Price.

If you’re starting a new story, questions are a good way to begin…

  1. What’s on your mind? Your heart? Your prayer list?
  2. What has really bugged you lately? What has delighted you?  
  3. What questions do you hear people asking? What’s most concerning?
  4. What are you reading? Do you like it? Why? Why not? How would answer the questions posed?
  5. What’s your favorite color? What’s the emotion that goes with it? And how might one character start a journey right there?

If you’re deep into a story and stuck or simply want to take it deeper, questions are also a good way to continue…

  1. What’s my character’s core need?
  2. What is she asking? Why is she asking it?
  3. Can answers to her questions be found? Who should answer them?
  4. What are some alternative ways to allude to her needs? Smells? Weather? Clothing? Scene? Texture?
  5. What is she doing at a particular moment? And why? Does she want to be doing it? Why or why not?

The questions for A Portrait of Emily Price led me to create a whirlwind that would knock Emily off her feet and entice her to experience something new before reason or fear scared her away from the adventure. It was those original questions that formed the tone and texture of the story – leading it to Italy. The setting was a very specific choice in answer to those original questions. I wanted a sensory country that would hold for Emily the promise of beauty, unknown, and a rich artistic history that would appeal to her and entice her – and entice all of us too.

So I recommend trying out a few questions. The answers may surprise you.

And, before I go, I’d like to add one more thing here on Writerly Wednesday. I’ve been asked this question repeatedly this month too…

What one piece of advice would you give to writers on the unpublished side of the fence?

I’ve found it’s the same answer every time – and I’d give it to writers on the published side of the fence as well.

Keep writing.

It sounds so simple, but it’s true and worth saying again… Keep writing. Craft, voice, every aspect of writing is honed through the process of writing… and writing… and more writing. So keep at it, each and every day.

And I’d also say to please remember that the world didn’t give your passion/desire to write – so don’t let it take it away with discouragement. There will be discouragement. That is an immutable fact. And it’s a very long journey – either to publication or within a writing career. But that’s the important part, the journey. Enjoy it!

Thank you so much, Dani, for having me here today. I’m so happy to answer to questions and will stop by here to do so, but please also reach out to me on my website. I always reply.

Have a fantastic day – and Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the United States.

Enter to win a signed copy of A Portrait of Emily Price

Thanks so much for joining us, Katherine. Loved having you on Writerly Wednesday.

Lucky readers, Katherine has graciously offered to give away a signed copy of A Portrait of Emily Price to one lucky US resident. To enter, just answer the question below.

Are you an aspiring writer? How do you get "un-stuck" when writing? 

Katherine ReayKatherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy & Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!Katherine is also a rehabbing runner, former marketer and avid chocolate consumer – who happily resides outside Chicago, IL.