After spending several days hoping for an idea for this week’s blog entry to occur to me (without success) I decided to write a little bit about how that happens, or how I think it happens, anyway. I don’t believe anyone has ever asked me where my ideas come from, but it is perhaps the typical question to ask of a writer (or, I suppose, many different kinds of artist) so perhaps it’s worth writing about today. Where do my ideas come from?
The answer, of course, is that I steal them.
Well, to be a little fairer to myself, they come from the world around me. A lot of the stuff that goes into the things I write comes from things that I see or hear, both in the media and in my little meanderings around my daily business. Some I know what to do with immediately. Some get put into a little text file of fragments of ideas so I don’t lose them, waiting to get plugged into the right point of a story. (Yes, I have to remember to look at the text file. I know!)
I guess obviously there’s a bit of an ethical consideration here – it’s important to be careful about putting real people and bits of their lives into a fictional story. I take bits and pieces, not big recognizable chunks. There are parts of real people I have known in some of the characters I write, but put together in such a way that the result is its own (reasonably) unique thing. I know that I reveal a fair amount about myself in what I write, which is something I’m ok with (I guess one has to be) but revealing things about other people would not be good. I think the bits of the real world need to inspire what gets written, not just be what gets written, if that distinction makes any sense at all.
More interestingly, though, the other obvious consideration is that I need to have my writer’s radar on basically all the time, looking for those useful fragments. Some days it works better than others. It also helps, of course, to get out and give the Idea Detector a lot to work with; the next amazing story idea will probably not come from watching my cat sleep at the end of the couch.
The idea that formed the basis for The King in Darkness came, originally, from a Guardian Science Weekly podcast discussing planets that drift around in the space between stars. That was such a striking image to me that it seemed like it had to become a story, somehow. I guess it did. My current project was one of those strange thoughts that come to you just as you’re falling asleep, that I managed to hang onto, but also really comes from a lecture I had given on storytelling earlier that week.
Last week’s blog came from a conversation with a friend. We are all awash, every day, in images and snippets of dialogue and little mundane happenings that can get used (with care!) to make a story breathe. We just have to be looking.
This past week or so just my cursory attention to the media has come up with an out-of-control Russian spacecraft crashing to earth, “genetic astrology”, a man with one eye filled with a virulent disease, mysterious bright lights on a distant moon, and a “pollen tsunami”.
Now, most of those things are much more mundane than they may sound at first, but the great thing is for a writer, they don’t have to be. You can take things like that and make them just as wonderfully strange and amazing as they seem they should be. You can make use (carefully) of moments in the real world around you to make your pretend one.
That’s where my ideas come from. Honestly, I’m not sure from where else they could possibly arrive!
At the moment, I’m trying to take inspiration from some of the very productive artists that I know or follow around on the digital world. For a variety of reasons this hasn’t been the best month or so on my end of things, and the ideas have not been flowing as I would like them to. It’s been useful to both try to hitch hike on the excitement of people Getting Things Done as well as to see that I am not the only person fighting their craft, from time to time.
The ideas, and the inspiration, is out there. It will come in its time.
That’s what I have for you this week; I do hope that next week I’ll be able to tell you all about the immense amounts of progress I have made with the new project.
Some ideas you just know would never have been yours. An example – my friends at Renaissance Press have just launched a Kickstarter for what will be the first offering in their line of games: A Jane Austen strategy game. (How’s that for a segue, eh? That’s a professional writer at work, that is)
This is one of those ideas that you just know you would never have thought of on your own, in a lifetime of thinking, but as soon as you hear it, you immediately know to be a great idea. This is a wonderfully fun idea for a game that I think has an obvious audience who may not have known they wanted such a thing, but will now.
I’m happy to be able to support the project; if the idea intrigues you, follow the link below and consider throwing your support behind it as well.