It's a very personal thing, actually. For me, ideas are never-ending. They are always floating around in my head until I can think of great way to not only turn that idea into an enjoyable and readable story, but also discover characters who can represent that idea in the best way.
The characters I create stay with me for a very long time, before, during and long after the completion of a story. I guess in a weird way, you could say they are like that imaginary friend or little voice you always hear whispering to you in the back of your head. Then when you sit down to write, you are giving that character a voice...a reality. I've often said that I don't mull myself to death at my computer waiting for the story to come. It's like I'm sitting here taking dictation as the character tells me about themselves and their experiences and I am merely 'showing' their story. It's very humbling when you look at it that way.
I do, in most cases, combine three things in my books. I tackle an issue I feel needs more of a spotlight, but I do it in a subtle, lecture-free way that may inspire a reader to want to learn more about that issue on their own. The main character may be going through very tough times, but they have that one person in their lives to keep them grounded (even if they try pushing that person away). And I always have a dog in there somewhere. I love dogs. In many ways, they are more intuitive and forgiving than their human friends. I mix all of those things with personal experience to breathe true life into the characters.
Although I have written memoirs, adult fiction and resource-types of books and articles on the subject of special needs families, I primarily focus on young people (Middle Grade, Young Adult and New Adult). Some of my fellow authors may not agree with me on this point, but I feel this is the toughest audience to write for. In this world of fantasy, super natural, paranormal (yes...I've done a few of those too) that pre-teens, teens and young adults escape to, I mostly work in contemporary, coming-of-age, right-in-your-face (in a gentle way) type of writing. My characters may not get into sword fights or physically go back in time to fight evil or have a dragon or two around their living spaces, but they are true-to-life individuals going through every day situations and dealing with them to the best of their ability. Sure, I throw in a mystery or two...little 'white rabbits' to keep the story more interesting. But, for the most part, I try to contribute a snippet of reality that, hopefully, inspires on some level.
So, where do ideas for writing come from? You. There are ideas all around us just waiting their turn.
- Listen to conversations going on around you, and how people interact with one another. We all reserve a part of ourselves for who we are with at a given time. How a person talks to friends would be different than how they'd speak to family members, lovers, work friends or children.
- Observe situations or people in the mall, restaurants, at the park or even when out on a walk.
- Take a snippet from the news or from personal experiences.
- Have an open, honest, heart-to-heart with a young person. They have more to learn from than you'd think. And younger children are simply hilarious.
- Dig inside and think of what truly inspires you to be who you are and go the way that you do.
The list is pretty much endless. As an editor, I am often pleasantly surprised with some of the work I've read. If an already established writer and author reads another writer-in-waiting's work and think, "Wow. What an amazing twist on that idea. I wish I'd thought of that", you're definitely on the right track.
A final word is simply this. Pay more attention to what's going on around you and how you are affected by what you observe. Your story is in there waiting to come out. Give the idea the chance to be heard.