Author Kerry Reed On Taking A Germ of An Idea & Building It Into A Story

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today’s guest for the WHAT is Kerry Reed, author of DREAMSCAPE. Kerry graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English and then from George Mason University with a Masters in Literature because apparently she couldn’t get enough of the books. She loves transatlantic accents, blackberry frappes, and old-school British detective novels. She writes YA Fantasy but enjoys a good story wherever she finds one.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I absolutely agree that ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. For me, the germ of an idea usually begins with one very clear scene or concept. I might not know how the story starts of where it ends but I can picture that one tiny piece in my mind and it all grows from there. For Dreamscape (I literally just opened an early draft to check) I wrote the first scene first, which for me is actually pretty rare. The story opens in Chloe’s dream, a sunlit field she remembers from childhood and a strange boy she’s never seen before. I really liked the idea of a serial dreamer so powerful she dreams an entire world into existence. The story isn’t quite like that, but that was the initial concept.   

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

Once I had this concept of Chloe’s dream-world, certain things fell into place. I wanted the magic in the story to feel like the way a dream works. This idea, that the “magic” of the dream-world mimics the fluid possibility of dreams in general, and is powerful but often unconsciously employed by the dreamer, ended up sparking the central conflict of the story. 

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Constantly. I usually do make a basic outline after I’ve written my first few scenes but if you look back at my outlines they rarely resemble the final project. Often it’s not until I’m in the middle of something that I figure out what actually makes sense (or what doesn’t) – or I think of something (hopefully) more clever than my original plan. 

I also tend to write in circles, adding in the parts I have most clear in my mind first and then working in the rest. When I reach the end, I begin again (and so forth and so on). Since I’ve started working with a critique partner I’ve modulated this somewhat – like everything else my writing process is a work-in-progress – but if I have a scene in my mind I always find it worthwhile to put it to paper, even if I change it later.  

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

So many ideas, so little time. Right now since I only write part time, I feel like I have more ideas than I could ever actually use. Of course some of them are probably terrible… I have several abandoned drafts that didn’t quite “work” for one reason or another. And I’ve had those days where I literally cannot manage to write a single sentence and cut my losses and head to Netflix. But the idea part isn’t usually the problem.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

For me if there’s one idea or story that I can’t not write, even if I should be working on something else, I usually end up starting with that one. At minimum I try to get down whatever part is in my head even if I do set it aside after that. If I don’t have that itch I try to focus on whichever story is closest to completion. When in doubt it’s always better to have a full draft of something than to have a million openings (or, in my case, random scenes) of promising but unfinished projects. 

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

This question is making me miss my dog, who was a champion snuggler, and tempted me to write more than a few chapters on my couch. These days I do most of my writing in coffee shops and my local Panera where I have lots of stranger-writing-buddies. They don’t know me and they don’t realize it, but their imaginary judgment forces me to focus.