“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” | Interview with Penelope Bloom
23 Jan 2018
By Penelope Bloom
There’s one question that I get asked more than any other: “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is unsurprisingly kind of complicated, so buckle in!
The first part of my answer is the part that probably would surprise most people, because it doesn’t sound very “authorly”. My decision on what to write often starts with the current trend in romance. Just like clothes and music, books in every genre are constantly evolving and shifting to stay fresh and keep the interest of the audience. With the huge influx of indie writers like myself coming into the scene in the past few years, the speed of that shifting evolution in romance has become extremely fast. Indie authors don’t need to book promotions several months in advance and organize blog tours or book signings and events. The vast majority of new indie romance books are written in a month or less, and published within a month or two of the day the author started writing. That means every author has the ability to stay current with what’s trendy (single dads, virgins, mountain men, menage, stepbrothers, etc).
So to circle back for my point with all that, my first step is figuring out what’s trendy and deciding if I’m interested in trying to make my story fit within that trend. I think of it as the flavor of my story. Whether I’m writing about a mechanic or a billionaire or a reclusive guy who lives on a mountain, I can still write the story I want, so it usually doesn’t change my thought process too much to adapt it to the current trend.
Once I’ve decided on a trend or trope, like right now readers seem to be loving mountain men, for example, I decide what I want the story to be about within that trend. I’m kind of notorious among my friends in the business for being what’s called a “pantser”, which means I write by the seam of my pants as opposed to meticulously planning an outline and sticking to it. So I really only like to plan a few parts of the story out in my head before I start writing. The main important ingredient for me in the story is just to decide what is keeping them apart. After all, it wouldn’t be a very exciting romance if the hero and heroine were able to just get together and be happy right away. The story is in the conflict!
Deciding that single point is really the core of my story, and from there I just start writing. I do have some mental guidelines for overall story structure I stick pretty closely to as I get into it. Early in the story, for example, a lot of my writing is feeling out the chemistry between the characters and getting my own sense of what kind of people they are (because I’m usually sort of getting to know the characters myself in the first 40 or 50 pages). I also know in my head that to keep the tension high and keep the book feeling like a page-turner, there needs to be a constant pressure of some external or internal force for both characters that keeps them apart.
I also like to design the cover before I make it more than half-way into the book, because in some weird way, seeing what I come up with for the cover helps ground me in the story and make it feel real. Before I have the cover, the book just feels like words in a document. Once I see the design though, I can feel it being a book more.
One final note is that I have occasionally had a more complete idea for a story pop into my head, and that seems to happen when I’m mentally shifting gears from having finished my current book and I’m working on the last few days of things that go into getting it published. I think I’m just subconsciously thinking that I need to start figuring out what I’ll write next, which means the idea could just pop into my head at a random moment. To me, the funny thing you don’t think about until you write a book is that having good ideas for a book isn’t what separates authors from people who aspire to be authors. The separating factor is just that authors decided to sit down and turn their idea into a book. That’s an encouraging thought for me, because it means anyone who wants to be an author can do it. There’s not some exclusive magic juice that published authors have. It’s just a decision we all made on a random day to sit down and write, and we decided to stick with it until the work was finished. It doesn’t sound so miraculous or so hard when I put it that way, does it?
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