Let me chat about my serial novel The Midnight Files, because it perfectly demonstrates one method of getting ideas. (And how you can get them, too.)
But let me go back and explain.
Last November (2020), I decided to do National Novel Writing Month. Only, instead of a novel, I would get myself out of my writing slump by writing short stories to prompts. My prompts went like this: each day, I would go to the alphabetically next part of my bookcase and look at the first three authors. The first book I owned by each author was my prompt; the author’s name of the third book was the name of my character:
Day 1: A. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, The Art of Veiling by Tantz Aerine. So I wrote a short story about a hitchhiking goblin. The goblin’s name (if we’d ever learned it, which we didn’t) would’ve been either Tantz or Aerine.
When I got to “L,” my prompts were: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 6: The Vampire Affair by David McDaniel (his name wasn’t on the cover. Fatefully misfiled on my shelves!) and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence.
That meant my prompts were: a skeleton detective with supernatural powers and a partner who saves the world; a top-secret international agency with its polar-opposite partners going up against a supernatural foe outside its parent show’s genre, and Lawrence of Arabia’s memoir.
Throw in how many episodes of The X-Files I’ve seen, the first two seasons of Supernatural, innumerable Agatha Christie detectives, my history with The Protectors of the Plot Continuum, and . . . well, the story practically wrote itself:
*Action-packed suspenseful dark fantasy drama with an odd-couple team*
Romance coerces strangers into “love”; Mystery pops out armchair detectives; Humor prat falls on banana peels. And then there’s Horror. Agent Lawrence has survived in Horror for 12 years, partly by letting her partners die. Now, she’s been assigned ex-Romance agent Daisy Allen, who pretends to be sweet while she manipulates people’s thoughts. Who refuses to die.
This is going to be one epic partnership. . . .
This story was actually my third try at writing a partnership. You’ll find the two others in my book of short stories, The Day the Exclamation Marks Came: And Other Stories and Poems. They’re called “Burning Bright” and “Unsympathetic Magic.” But although I tried to write other stories in the same universes as those, they never turned out. I fully expected The Midnight Files (that first story was then called "Surviving in Horror") to be the same—a standalone. Not for it to become merely “Assignment 1” in a much longer series.
So what happened?
M: The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
P: Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce.
Or, in other words, Assignment 13. Which is coming out in December.
And after that popped out--
After that, I just sort of kept going. I found myself interested. I wanted to know more. And all by itself, the story developed a shape. Each arc of it will be novel length, both episodic and continuous. And if ever I get stuck . . .
Why, I’ll just pick a letter, go to the library, and let myself be prompted.
As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.