Sunday, July 31, 2016


Many aspiring authors, especially young ones, operate under the misconception that book ideas have to be big ones; that they must span the whole plot and sub-plots if fiction, and the whole subject if nonfiction.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Often big books and articles grow from miniscule ideas that pique the interest and imagination of a writer who is attuned to the unusual.

Here are some examples that have recently become the foundation for novels-in-progress:
  • Young teens spent several years at sea in sailing ships with their fathers, the captains, in the 1800s
  • Crows can fly upside down and learn to talk
  • Time is a river.

And for non-fiction books or articles:
  • The Olympic flame (it's not what you'd expect)
  • Clouds rain liquid methane on Saturn
  • Knitting was in the elementary curriculum for boys in the Shetland Isles.

These flashes of inspiration can strike without warning, so I record them on my smartphone. Opening it as I write today, I find the idea for this article; a name that means nothing to me now(!); places to enjoy in Paris that are free and unknown to tourists (L: Napoleon's tunnel on the Canal st-Martin); a list of amusing differences between Italian and Canadian women; and.... I must stop or I'll give the rest away! Not all ideas produce enough material for a book but might suit an article. Many ideas bubble up while reading—I gave up TV several years ago so I could read more widely.

How do you flesh out these fleeting notions into a book or articles? Reflection and research is key. When and where could this situation occur? What individuals could be involved? How might the fact(s) change them? Writers need to brood on these snippets, sometimes for a long time, before they metamorphose into a full-bodied story.

It's the art of the "What if?"

  • Sailing ship, Wasdale, was my great-grandfather's command
    © Unknown, undated
  • Tunnel of the Canal St-Martin in the heart of Paris built by Napoleon
    © Photos by Pharos 2006

© Julie H. Ferguson 2016