That's the question writers get asked in interviews on such a regular basis. While I suspect I'd have to start getting published as a fiction writer (as opposed to the small time articles I've written) for anyone to ask me that question, I decided I'd find out for myself. As I've mentioned, I'm a writing process maniac who keeps his ideas in a custom idea database. Adding a "source of idea" field, filling it in, and making myself a little query yielded these results:
Speculation (just thinking about possibilities and ideas) 44.6% Non-fiction reading 11.3% Real life place 5.6% Activity in my life 4.6% Talking with someone else 4.1% Random snippet thought of 4.1% Fiction/Another person's story 4.1% Writers' group 4.1% Research 3.6% Observation of life or people 3.1% Song 2.6% Chance phrase overheard 1.5% Another of my own stories 1.5% Idea or real-life situation that someone else described 1.5% Personal history 1.0% Dream (someone else's) 1.0% Dream (mine) 1.0% Don't know/don't remember 0.5%
So, where do you get your ideas?
[This message has been edited by PaganQuaker (edited November 07, 2001).]
Sometimes they just spring from my muse, no prompting needed.
Othertimes, I will see, hear, or read something that sparks a thematic idea that will become a framework for a story. For example, having watched and read some things regarding the Holocaust-- more specifically, the atrocities committed in the concentration camps-- I've become fascinated at the how's this could happen, and why... and at what point do you reflexively gag and say, "This is enough! No further!" So, these questions (and their debate) will become the thematic backbone of a story.
Occassionally, I will read someone elses work and think (by the end), "Damn, I could've done this better" or realize that I would have gone a completely different way with the basic premise... and I'll toy around with that for awhile.
Even more rarely, a snippet of dialogue or song lyric will instantly spawn an idea in my head for a story...
Idea-forming questions can be triggered by anything you happen to be doing. I've found some of my best ideas while doing such mundane things as driving, gardening, showering... anything where you can let your mind think about whatever you want it to.
Questions include things like, "If I were to see a mythical beast, how would I react?" or "If I were to find glasses that could see into the future, what would I do with them?"
Not all the questions would be about myself. Sometimes I ask them about an invented character. Mostly it's about a character's reaction to a certain change in his or her environment.
I fall into one of Sili's categories. I read or see the fiction, particularly science fiction, produced by other people and I say to myself "what a load of garbage!" Usually it is because they have asked me to suspend my disbelief to a greater extent than I am willing, as in most fantasy writing. Even some thrillers, detective novels, and classic literature fall into this.
Often even the hardest of the hard science fiction annoys me because it is not credible enough. Give me one antigravity unit or one force field and you have already dug yourself into a hole requiring tremendous scientific slight of hand. Mental telepathy or other psychic powers are not even worthy of discussion.
I love science fiction, but almost all science fiction is junk. Thus, I must write my own.
Doc, that's very interesting stuff. It seems as though the bulk of SF readers are willing to believe in a lot of unlikely things if they're presented intelligently. Do you have a sense of why that doesn't work for you? That is, based on the stories that so many readers like, most SF readers seem to be content to suspend disbelief on any number of fronts, but it sounds as though most of those stories don't work for you.
Have you read _Ender's Game_ or _Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columnbus_ or _Speaker for the Dead_? Did any of those work for you?
I'm asking this mainly out of an interest in better understanding how to satisfy readers who have an outlook similar to yours in my own stories, if it can be done.
Pagan, I think part of your answer-- for me anyway, I'm not speaking for Doc-- is that I will suspend a lot if the plot is forceful enough, and the characters interesting enough to slosh through a story's flaws. A good and bad example is Star Trek. If you're a trekkie, and I am, you don't watch for the science fiction of it-- ALL of us will tell you that there are way too many Trek-avoidisms. You know the scenes where they jumble a whole lot of scientific words together to explain why they can't do the obvious thing... So why watch it if the sci-fi is so bad? Characters. Engaging characters and engaging story lines. You care enough to overlook the bad stuff.
With that said, I think it's ALWAYS better to have an intelligent background for your novel that doesn't require you to suspend a lot of disbelief, along with the engaging characters/storylines.
A rule of thumb comes from Stephen King, who advises that you have ONE falsehood and surround everything else around that with truths (characters act like real people do, speak like real people, etc.). Example: Pet Cemetary. Your one untruth- a graveyard where the buried don't stay buried. Surround that with the believability of a father desperate to make his daughter happy again; desperate enough to bury her cat there... and the rest that unfolds is believable of a truly grief-stricken parent and husband.
Fantasy is about letting your imagination run wild. So why not believe in everything? Who says that this or that could not happen, sometime, somewhere?... Perhaps in the writer's universe (utopia?) technology works the way s/he says it works. Why would it not work that way?
The only "truth" in fantasy is Cause and Effect; i.e., some explanation about why things happen the way they do. It doesn't need to be true in our world; it only needs to have some kind of logic behind it.
As for where I get my ideas from, the best ones come when I'm bored. My mind will float around and make some random connection in my head. That's why I'm a big supporter of the muse. For me at least, the muse gives you the core ideas. After that, it's just hard work. As for hard SF/fun SF, I'm pretty much in agreement with Chad. If the science is core to the story, the research and fact had better be there. If it's characters at the core, make them good, and you can disregard real science. JK
Posts: 503 | Registered: Sep 2000
I think SKing answered this one best for me in his "On Writing" book.
I agree with his answers(if you haven't read that book do so, you won't be sorry)and state for myself--I don't know where my ideas come from--they are just there. Everyone always asks--where do you get your ideas? Yes, some of them come when listening to a certain piece of music, or on a rainy day--ect, but----the ideas didn't come from the music, they were already there and the music just seemed to bring the idea and the characters to life--the key to let them out and let me hear their voices.
I don't think I've ever sat down and said, "Hey, I've got a great idea--why don't I write a story about and then----" It's more like all at once the story is there---I am privy to another realm where I am overseer and the all knowing--"author as god"--and I am being honored with the right to tell the story of this set of character’s lives. Weird? Most likely.
I think that one cannot be an author without a huge imagination. I used to get in trouble in grade school for my huge imagination. Well, now I get paid for it--go figure. So when my daughter tells me fantastical stories--well I don't chastise her and she is on her way to being an author at 8 yrs of age--with a placement prize in the young author's convention held in her last school district.
So where od ideas come from---imagination sounds good to me.
Since I am a writing student and the profs want to keep up the process I have a lot of assignments. Like given a man who just lost his dog and a woman that just lost her husband they meet in a park....I took that a made it into a murder/rape thing, unintentionally but it worked.
For my do whatever writing, I tend to zone out and when I come back see what works but I normally start with a question about how I would handle something.
I was doing a performance of Romeo and Juliet for a class and I asked myself how would I handle a loss like that and three four hours later I had a World War II story in which the hero loses his wife the day he gets back from being injured (he lost his leg and hand). He becomes a recluse and fifty years later faces what he has become and blows his head off.
My ideas stem from my experiences and reactions. I happen to come from a very dangerous enviroment so I know violence and its affects well. I don't believe you can write outside your experiences. Take for instances a man who makes millions a year and he wants to write about being poor. He doesn't know what its like so their is a decided lack of crediblity. Also when I read something it is tempered by my relation to the protagonist. I have trouble reading books like Jane Eyre and Handmaid's tale because I am a young Middle class Jewish male. What do I have to relate to Jane?
Damn, I forgot where I was going. Oh yeah, my ideas come from my philosophies. I believe that every author has an overlaying morality code and theorums that are weave in and out of stories. I believe, for instance, that it is a crime to link children to innocence, where I'm from that is just patently wrong. So I'll take that nugget of wisdom and write a crime story about a kid.
I find that most of my ideas just pop into my head, completely unannounced. They do this especially right as I'm getting to sleep, and I have to choose either to wake up or lose the idea. I have dozens and dozens of scraps of paper all over the place, representing many years of these strange little flashes. About 2 years ago, I started carrying around a portable tape recorder, and it makes my life so much better -- I never have to get pissed off at myself for losing an idea. There are few things that make me angrier than spontaneously having a brilliant idea and then losing it utterly.
I happen to believe that because of the sheer number of people that have been and currently are alive and thinking human beings, every possible idea has already passed through some neural synapse somewhere. I personally think my ideas come from a "mental shuffling" of the playing cards of everything I have been exposed to in the past. Maybe I'll put something together that is common enough to generate a wide base of interest, yet unique enough to challenge the random reader to previously unattained levels of contemplation. That would be an example of one of my good ideas. Conversely, I just might be inspired to write on a topic of experience that very few people share (or won't admit to) and is grossly unappealing to think about.
Ideas come from everywhere, but if you further identify where the best Ideas come from you will have more success.
In relation to my previous paragraphs, I apologize to everyone who took the time to read my pompus, arrogant drivel.
As always, Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease Sidewayzzzzz
Just to harp back to the aside about sci-fi, and Doc's comments regarding anti-grav units and forcefields... The imaginations of the people who explore these ideas in fiction, be it books or tv series like Star Trek, are actually sparking ideas for the physicists out there, and some of these ideas are actually taking shape in reality. Take the antigravity idea for example. I've seen results of this in the form of a floating mouse, completely suspended in a field that reversed the polarity of gravity. I believe it had to do with superconductor technology, (details, forgotten now...). Even StarTrek has spurred advances in Technology. Take the medical tricorder. Some scientists have actually made basic bioscanning functions in the form of portable measuring devices. All these Ideas are important not only as entertainment, but for the technological advances of human kind. If not for Asimov, Honda would not have made their robot.
As for me, personally, I get my ideas from many places, sometimes I can nut out things in my mind, and sometimes I'm spurred by books, or discussion forums like this one. Current affairs too... I was watching the TV when the September 11 attacks happened, and I couldn't get to sleep, because I had this tune harassing my mind. I got up grabbed my guitar and played it out till I had penned most of the lyrics.
I get my ideas from a variety of places, usually from a phrase or name that pops into my head, a gift from the muse. Sometimes from newspaper articles. It seems the subconcious is always at work. I was driving my daughter to school today and passed a street named Windchime. I thought that would be a funny name for a female character, though she would call herself Windy. Cursed by her hippie parents, she hates the name. My daughter thought it was a stupid idea, and maybe it was. The point though, is that even stupid ideas are important. They are a sign that the juices are flowing, though it may not be brain liquid, it is flowing nonetheless. We have to keep ourselves open to such messages. I know other writers who keep a small notebook for such occasions, but I would just lose the notebook. I do jot a lot of ideas down using the note feature in my Microsoft Outlook.
Posts: 1 | Registered: Jan 2002
My ideas almost always come to mind from something I hear. For instance, the story I'm writing, I was laying in my room one night and could hear the trains and they were making this lovely noise. It sounded like the wailing of an animal. (Maybe it was?) I thought it was beautiful. Then all of a sudden this story came to mind, so I got up and began to write. I'm still working on it. Inspiration also comes from my life. I don't use alot of it in the things I write, but something that happened to me could trigger something else. It also happens that I'm not the most sane or normal person you'll meet. ~Tashina~
Posts: 7 | Registered: Jan 2002