Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where Do Ideas Come From?

So today's post is going up kind of late. And no, I didn't forget. I was all set to write about the recent author-reviewer craziness until somebody stole my idea. (hi, Meg.)

Only kidding. I mean, it's not like I mentioned this idea to anyone. It was more a matter of great minds thinking alike. But it still left me with a problem: Nothing to write about. And after the really annoying meeting I was forced to attend last night put me in an even worse mood, I couldn't even find my motivation. So at two a.m. I said "I'll worry about it tomorrow" and went to bed.

Sometimes, that's all it takes. I woke up this morning (and yes, I live on the West Coast where it's still morning, thank you very much) and decided to answer the question all writers hate. Where do ideas come from.

We hate this question for two main reasons. One, we're asked it constantly. Two, there is no one single answer. But, being as it's Thursday once again, I'm going to list thirteen examples. So, here goes.

1. Things we see. I remember sightseeing in Florida with one of my best friends and fellow authors. I can't recall now what we saw, but I do remember seeing something that made me think excitedly, "Story!" I turned to her only to find her turning to me with the same gleeful expression on her face and that same excitement in her eyes. You could practically see those plot bunnies filling the car.

2. Things we hear. One of my favorite author hangouts has to be the Kiss of Death forum where romantic suspense authors get together to share all manner of fascinating, bizarre and deadly factoids. My favorite is still this one: "Unless it encounters a solid object, a bullet will travel for several miles before falling to the ground." Most people who hear that probably think: Physics. (Hi Kinsey). Unless you're an attorney, I guess, in which case you're probably thinking, Lawsuit! But an author will hear that and think, Ooh, story! I swear, one day I will write that one!

3. Things we overhear. Most writers I know are unapologetic eavesdroppers. It used to drive my family crazy when we were out at a restaurant and I'd become totally absorbed in the conversations taking the surrounding tables. Fascinating stuff you hear that way. And, yes, I still do it, but the fam has gotten used to it.

4. Books we love. Writers wouldn't become writers if we weren't readers first. We love books and sometimes, we'll read something that resonates and we think, "Yes. That." It's not stealing and it's not an homage either. It's a matter of ideas begetting other ideas. And, no, you'd never be able to tell from the finished product that there's anything to connect the two stories.

5. Books we hate. Some ideas are like the tiny bit of sand that works its way inside an oyster shell. That book you couldn't finish reading, the one you threw against the wall? Someone else can turn that idea into a pearl. Or, at least, so we tell ourselves.

6. Other media. TV shows, movies, it doesn't take much to spark a story. Want proof? Just look at all the fanfic out there. Sometimes, it's the way the actors look, sometimes it's the way the characters behave, sometimes it's because we freaking can't stand the way the writers of a TV series effed up the whole damn show. No matter. We have our own ideas of how things should have gone.

7. Things readers say. Just a few weeks ago I had this happen. A reader mentioned she'd love to read one of my stories from the point of view of the non-narrative character. Story! (Hi, Kim) A few years ago, during an online chat, a reader asked the authors present what was the most unlikely pairing of characters they could imagine. I immediately thought of a blacksmith and a fairy: Someone whose livelihood depends on his ability to work with iron and someone whose life depends on avoiding all contact with iron. I'll give you three guesses which of my books was spawned from that idea!

8. People we know. My sister lives in fear of this one. She's always certain I'm going to write about her. The truth is, I'm more motivated to write stories based on people I don't like. Think of it as an exorcism. I can get all my frustrations out by writing bad people into badder situations. lol!

9. Childhood. Are all writers nostalgic? Probably not, but it can sure seem that way. Whether it's re-writing history (so that that embarrassing event from Junior High becomes a victory for one of your characters) or re-living a time or place you remember fondly, the past has probably given birth to more story ideas than anything else. Even if you're writing sci-fi.

10. Song lyrics. Let's  face it, most song lyrics don't make a whole lot of sense. My family keeps telling me: stop listening to the words! But I just can't do it. They're words. I believe they should make sense. And, damn it all, I'm going to take those words and make them make sense if it kills me.

11.   Editors. Any author who's not mining their editors' minds for fabulous story ideas is missing out. Just saying.

12. Dreams. I love dreaming and this might be my favorite story source ever. There's absolutely no work involved and no one can claim you're stealing. Hell, you weren't even awake when the story fairies broke into your mind and deposited their gold in your subconscious. I have at least three story ideas in the works that came from dreams.

13. Out of the clear blue. Sometimes they just pop into your head. Call it a gift from the writing gods, if you want, but sometimes an idea, a title, a first line will just appear. You can write a whole book, hell, you can write a whole series just from one good sentence.

Okay, that's it. There are at least half a dozen other story-generating ideas I had to cut out of this post to make it fit the Thursday Thirteen theme. How many more can you think of:?


Cara Bristol said...

Great post, you covered quite a few items. I would also add: news events, the old "ripped from the headlines" and fantasies and secret desires.

Meg Benjamin said...

Oh yeah, all this! One of my favorite lines in Wedding Bell Blues was something I actually overheard in the dressing room at the gym. I had to keep muttering it to myself all the way home until I got a chance to write it down!

daydrmzzz said...

I have heard about your dreams and they are very interesting- lol music I know is a huge draw as well I know, but thanks for the heads up next time I'm out I'll be more quite lol. It's always nice to see what inspires everyone, great post. Xoxox

Maria said...

Great post, it's always interesting to me to see what sparks a story.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Yes, yes, yes! All of those! Except you always remember your dreams. I wake up thinking "Damn that would be a good story" and five minutes later can't remember a bit of it. I also get ideas from the newspaper and magazine articles.

Katie O'Connor said...

I am partial to the sitting and sipping coffee revelation. I will be sitting there, avoiding work of all types, enjoying my coffee and bammo. An idea will pop into my head. I will immediately have to add it to my idea file, or start writing it. While the idea is great, the coffee does get cold. And we won't even begin to discuss how many story 'starts' I have piled up. LOL