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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Steven James ~ The Three Princes of Serendip

by Yvonne Lehman

Steven James is the bestselling author of nine novels that have received wide critical acclaim from Publishers Weekly, New York Journal of Books, RT Book Reviews, Booklist, Library Journal and many others. He has won three Christy Awards for best suspense and was a finalist for an International Thriller Award for best original paperback. His psychological thriller The Bishop was named Suspense Magazine's book of the year. Publishers Weekly calls James "[A] master storyteller at the peak of his game." He is an active member of International Thriller Writers, the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and International Association of Crime Writers. He is also a contributing editor for Writer's Digest. He has a master's degree in storytelling and has taught writing and creative communication around the world. When he's not writing or speaking, you'll find him trail running, rock climbing, or drinking a dark roast coffee near his home in eastern Tennessee.
The Three Princes of Serendip

Over the last seventeen years as a professional writer I’ve thought a lot about creativity. Here are two things I try to keep in mind that help me generate new ideas. 

1. Change Your Perspective

A few years ago while visiting a hotel in Denver, I noticed “EXIT” signs not only above the exit doors, but also at their base. “How odd!” I thought. “Only someone crawling on the floor would need a sign down there!”


Whoever placed those signs down low had looked at the doors through the eyes of someone crawling for safety during a fire. 

Creativity isn’t “seeing what no one else sees;” it’s “seeing what anyone else would see—if only they were looking.” New ideas are born when we view life from a fresh perspective or peer at the world through another set of eyes.

Keep ideas alive by working backwards and sideways, by peering over your shoulder rather than always staring straight ahead. Remember, you don’t dance in a straight line.

Step into the shoes of your main character and write a journal entry, a complaint letter, or a love note. Switch your point of view. Write a few paragraphs in first person or third person. Think of how you would respond if you were in the story. Walk through the action, stand on your desk, crawl on the floor. And keep your eyes open for the doors no one else has noticed.

2. Let Serendipity Happen

In Horace Walpole’s 18th century Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, the heroes discover new things again and again while looking for something else. From this we get the word “serendipity” which Walpole defined as “the facility of making happy chance discoveries.”

Fiction pivots upon the hinge of serendipitous discoveries—the detective recalls the victim’s clogged drain while combing her hair, the lawyer realizes the significance of the cell phone when he knocks his off his desk, the spy remembers the secret gadget hidden in his wristwatch. At the time, they weren’t searching for a solution, but they found one. After they’ve tried everything they can think of, the answer comes riding in on the wings of serendipity.

If you’re stalled out, sapped of fresh ideas, you just might be trying too hard. You can’t make happy chance discoveries until you step away, take a break, experience life, and stop worrying about your writing. Relax. Worrying about problems is like looking at bacteria through a microscope—it doesn’t help them go away, it only makes them look bigger. And the longer you stare, the more imposing they appear. 

So work smarter, not harder. Break your routine. Go to a movie. Sip a cup of sweet tea on the porch. Abstain from octopus. Try working in a different place or at a different time. Change the furniture around in your office. Lift weights. Vary your schedule. Get up in the middle of the night. Place yourself in situations where you’re not at ease—risking and responding to new challenges forces you to think creatively and opens the door for serendipity.

Do something completely different and let those parts of your brain you’re not even aware of chew on the problem for awhile. 

Let serendipity work for you.


When his friend is murdered, illusionist Jevin Banks is determined to find out what really happened. Drawn into a web of conspiracy and top-secret research on human consciousness, Jevin won't stop digging until the truth is revealed. Soon he uncovers a dark secret--one that could change the very fabric of human life on the planet.

Bristling with mystery, suspense, and intrigue, Singularity is the second riveting book in The Jevin Banks Experience. Readers will devour this scientific thriller, flipping pages late into the night until the final shocking page.


  1. Great post. My wife complains that I'm to stringent in my schedule. Perhaps she's right. I need to let things happen when they happen, though I have a feeling I'll lose a lot of sleep. Or maybe getting up and writing those ideas down will allow me to get to sleep. Thanks. This inspires me to try different things.

  2. "Worrying about problems is like looking at bacteria through a microscope—it doesn’t help them go away, it only makes them look bigger. And the longer you stare, the more imposing they appear."

    Wow. Too awesome, Steven. Great post as usual.

  3. Good post. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  4. I love to hear Steven James in person. His messages sizzle.


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