Whenever I meet new people, and they find out that I am a writer, one of the first things they ask me is: "Where do you get your ideas from?"
I often don't know what to tell them. I mean, ideas are cheap, it's the execution of them that's the hard work, so I never really think about it.
Sometimes I get my ideas from weird dreams I have. I'll be honest with you, though, these never really amount to much because there isn't any substance to them.
I suppose most of my ideas, usually unconsciously, comes from spending many happy hours researching topics that pique my interest. I have been known to get lost in an infinite Wikipedia loop of fascinating information.
I am actually on the lookout for a new story idea as we speak. I have just completed writing book 3 of a series, and I am moving on to new stories for the first time in a long time. The Rachaya Series is about dragons, and I have probably spent around 10 years on and off researching these mythological creatures. The thought of moving on to a topic that I have not got as much in-depth knowledge of scares the bajeebuz out of me. So I have begun research on a whole new area.
But how do you do that without getting mired down in the unimportant?
Here are the basic 5 steps I follow whenever I am researching a new topic of interest:
1) Pick a topic that is of interest to you. What have you always wished you knew more about? What sorts of ideas are always click-bait for you?
2) Narrow down your field of interest into a simple, answerable question. The question I started with most recently was: "How did religion shape ancient civilizations and vice versa?"
3) Gather a whole heap of resources around you that can help you answer this question. I prefer to start with reference books such as encyclopedias before I head to the internet, but that's just personal preference.
4) Take detailed notes in an organised log-book (whether this is pen and paper or online).
5) Allow yourself to be taken along divergent threads of interest. I give myself boundaries with this; for me I only allow myself to diverge down paths that are relevant to the original topic of interest.
Following these steps should give you a whole heap of ideas to work from. In one week of research I have far too many ideas to pursue. One word of caution - never use this research as an info-dump in your story. It is for you and you alone to know.
How do you come up with your story ideas? Do you prefer more or less research before you begin planning and writing?