Ideas. They are everywhere. The problem that most writers face isn't a lack of ideas...it's having too many ideas and knowing which ones to develop into a project.
Here are a few ways to collect and develop ideas.
One thing that every writer should have on hand at all times is a notebook or a device to make quick notes. The thing about your subconscious is that it will throw ideas into your brain at the strangest of times. You could be on the subway going to work, stuck in traffic, or even doing the dishes and that mysterious area of your mind where ideas percolate will suddenly say, 'Hey, here's an idea...' You need to be ready for those moments and have some way to record whatever flashes into your head.
A notebook is ideal, especially if it's small enough to fit in your pocket/purse and has a small pen or pencil attached to it. (There's nothing worse than having an idea and a notebook but no pen)
I use an Android app on my phone called "Smart Note". It's easy to get my phone out of my pocket and type in a few words or a sentence. The notes are there ready to be retrieved when needed. There's an app called "Evernote" that works the same way.
Voice recorders are useful in your car but less so in public if you're self-conscious about speaking notes while surrounded by shoppers at the mall. Most smart phones come with a voice recorder app.
You really should take note of your ideas as they occur. Don't say to yourself, 'I'll remember that and write it down later.' There's a good chance you will forget it.
If you write it, it will come. If you're the type of writer who works from the subconscious, letting that magical part of your mind do its stuff while you type, you might want to just take the idea on a "test drive" and see if you like it. Just as you would road test a car before you bought it, you can road test an idea before you invest too much time in it.
How? Just write it out. Start the story/novella/novel you have in mind and see if the idea excites you. Does it make you want to write on? Would it make a reader want to read on? Your idea has now become more than just an idea...it has become something real. Something you can tweak and play with.
If you plan it out, it will grow. You know how a story works. You know the required elements to make it something readers will want to read. So write out your idea and ask youself if it has those elements.
Is it interesting? Will readers be hooked?
Does it have conflict?
Is the resolution of that conflict something that will interest readers and keep them reading?
DRAMATIC TENSION Your idea must have dramatic tension. That means it must keep a reader guessing as to what happens next. And it must be interesting so that the reader wants to know how your story will end. They must be interested enough to stay with you to the climax and see how it all turns out. The best way to grab a reader’s interest is to introduce a character they care about and give that character a problem. The reader will want to know if the character will manage to overcome the problem. By the time the first problem is overcome, you have introduced a second, bigger, problem...creating even more reader interest.
TESTING AN IDEA FOR DRAMATIC TENSION To create dramatic conflict, and these problems that readers will want to read about, the initial idea must have conflict. It is the conflict that makes your story interesting. Let’s look at a simple example:
a) An Idea With No Conflict Sally goes to visit her grandmother. She needs to borrow a thousand dollars so she can pay a deposit on a new house she is going to rent. She knows her grandmother will lend her the money no problem. Sally arrives and granny gives her the thousand dollars.
b) An Idea With Conflict Sally goes to visit her grandmother. She needs to borrow a thousand dollars so she can pay a deposit on a new house she is going to rent. However, Sally is moving into the house with her boyfriend, Jake, and her grandma doesn’t approve of him at all. Sally isn’t sure how to broach the subject or how her granny will react. When she does tell her grandma the truth, she is told that she can only borrow the money if she dumps Jake first. How can Sally move in with her boyfriend if she can’t afford the deposit on the house?
The first idea has no dramatic tension and a reader would soon get bored reading a description of how Sally borrows the money with no problem or conflict. By simply adding a tiny bit of conflict (the fact that Grandma hates Jake), we have injected our idea with the tension it needs. Notice how the second example finishes with a question: “How can Sally move in with her boyfriend if she can’t afford the deposit on the house?” this is the question the reader will be asking herself in her mind and will make her turn the pages to find out the answer. So long as you have made Sally and Jake sympathetic characters, you will grab the reader with this problem.
Here’s another simple example:
a) Idea With No Conflict Simon gets home late one night. His parents are already in bed. Creeping up the stairs quietly, he goes to bed and falls asleep without waking anyone.
b) Idea With Conflict Simon gets home late one night. His parents have vanished without any message. He finds blood splatters on the living room carpet. Where are his parents? Has someone taken them?
Again, the example with conflict puts a question into the reader’s mind. He will read on to discover the fate of Simon’s parents. Notice that in this example, the conflict didn’t come from a particular person but from an event. Outside occurrences can cause conflict for your characters. Think about a farmer who is stuck in a barn while a tornado rips through his farm. His child is in the farmhouse a mile away. Can he get to her to protect her? Conflict.
As mentioned earlier, ideas are everywhere. You shouldn't have a lack of idea. You just need to know how to inject the necessary conflict to change them into an intriguing piece of fiction.
A simple formula to remember:
CHARACTER + PROBLEM = CONFLICT
CONFLICT = READER INTEREST
Could that idea be developed into a novel? Here's a simple way to test it:
THE NOVEL IDEA TEST
Does the idea have tension? (As discussed above. Are there enough obstacles and conflict in the story)
Is it sustainable over a novel length? (Does enough happen to make the story interesting for thousands of words ?)
Is it interesting? (Would YOU read a story on this subject?)
Has it been done before? (You can have a new slant on something that has been done before, but beware of plagiarism. So, you might be writing about a girl going to school and falling in love with a vampire, but don’t write Twilight)
Once you have an idea, make sure it is one you like and will be able to spend all that time writing. There’s no point trying to write a book if the basic idea doesn’t appeal to you. Forget about what’s “hot” at the moment; your book will be around for a long time. Write the story that cries out to be written. If it interests you, if it is something that you would read, then chances are other people will want to read it too.