I hear a lot of writers say they hate this question. Why? No one has asked me, maybe because they sense that I would be more than happy to answer them, at length.
Since I’m an impatient person, I’ll just write about it here. But if you want to ask me some time, don’t be shy. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it down the road.
So, here it goes. Where do I get my ideas?
It’s nice when your own brain helps you instead of keeping you up all night with useless worries, or continually reminds you of that embarrassing thing you did in 5th grade. Several of my books started out as ideas in my dreams. The dream that started the Bazaar gave me the opening scene and a few characters: Zech, the sugar salesman, Arsinua, the witch, and Neutria, the skull-busting spider assassin. Weird, isn’t it, that Devany wasn’t there. She came later, after more thought. I had this interesting idea: a human person meeting the sugar salesman and tasting the sugar that would allow her to move into another world, a magical world. She sees the humans writhing on the walls in chains, she picks up a necklace full of power, and she gets slipped a heart by a witch in trouble. I knew it was something good, but it took a lot of “What ifs?” to get to the book I have today.
I find a lot of inspiration in music. I play it when I’m writing and choose different songs to invoke different moods. I find stories hidden in songs. Take Me To Church sparked an idea that started my epic fantasy that I’m working on. Sometimes the music or the lyrics create new layers in already formed stories. It’s a great place to find inspiration, in the midst of a beautiful song.
TV Shows & Movies!
Sometimes I’m watching something that sparks an idea. It usually has nothing to do with the main story, it’s something that happens in an instant, a look on a character’s face, or the way the light shines on a field, or a piece of music that plays. Just recently, I was watching a show when a nameless character walked out of a bar, not a care in the world, while a vampire stalked him. In a flash, I had an idea for a story I’ll be writing for NaNoWriMo this year.
I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration and ideas from books. Often, the inspiration is in the form of, “What the hell? How could X character do that? She would never do that. Bah!” and then I would figure out how to write a story of my own where my character makes the right choice, (at least in my own mind.) There have been a lot of 80’s romances that had that affect on me. I loved them except for the parts where the woman would completely forget all her own desires and dreams the moment the hero said, “I love you.” Seriously. Oy. Sometimes I feel like I’m righting the wrongs done to all those women in those stories. (I may have delusions of grandeur.)
I have a highly active imagination. This is both a blessing and a curse. Being a parent, it can be terrible, because I’m always picturing horrible, worse-case scenarios involving my kids. Parenthood is hard and I know a lot of moms and dads do this same thing, and honestly, it’s exhausting. When my brain isn’t trying to traumatize me, though, it’s giving me the most interesting running commentary on the world around me. It could be snatches of conversation I overhear or just a look on someone’s face that sparks an idea.
You know the idea for Freddy Kruger came from a newspaper article, didn’t you? News has a lot of downsides: being depressing is one big one, but it’s also rich fodder for the story mill. Whether it’s good news or bad, there’s always something to be had from picking apart the strange things that happen every day. I watched a story about an exterminator finding one of the biggest hives ever in a family’s attic and that sparked the idea for a paranormal exterminator. I saw her very clearly, covered in dust in an attic, chasing a magical rat.
A little bit of everything!
What people don’t always understand is that it takes more than just an idea to make a story. Creative types might find inspiration in a smell or a song or the way the bartender winked at them. It doesn’t end there, though. The ideas are rarely big enough on their own to structure an entire book. One idea needs to be wed to another or needs to be attached to a story form: girl meets boy or girl meets girl, woman against nature, man against man. Some folks bemoan the lack of original ideas, but they are missing the point. The idea doesn’t have to be original, it’s how you put it into play that makes it new. Five thousand people might come up with the idea of a man getting stranded on Mars, but every one of them will write a different story. Some will be better than others, of course, and some will be more complex. A lot of what writers do is gather information for later use. So a writer might get an idea that invigorates their imagination, but great writers have a well-pool of other experiences and ideas to pull from to take that idea from spark to bonfire.
I can’t speak for every writer or creative sort, but that’s how I come up with my ideas. I keep my eyes open, I daydream, I read and watch movies and listen to music and I accept the weirdness my brain produces.