One of the classic questions that authors are often asked is where they get their ideas.
There is no automatic teller machine waiting to dish out ideas once you’ve put in your secret code and most people know this. Still, the origin of stories, ideas, twists and turns, character traits, indeed whole worlds, is mystifying. How do these people think up this stuff?
Following are five of places that I’ve found the odd idea, plot twist, and scene.
1. The reserve between my house and the local corner store. Strolling through the reserve one morning on the way to purchase a much needed bottle of milk and somewhere between an Ironbark and a Scribbly Gum, a great death scene popped out from the bushes and hit me square in the head. I had to repeat it to myself all the way to the shop and back so I wouldn’t forget before I could write it down. Thank goodness for smart phones! I carry mine everywhere so now I can jot these quickie ideas down without having to rely on on brain cells still waiting for their morning kickstart.
2. Someone else’s book. I read a lot of non fiction and find many ideas and storylines waiting to be discovered between the facts. I once wrote a prize winning short story on the death of Captain James Cook inspired by a few lines from Into the Blue by Tony Horwitz (an excellent book). Into the Blue told me what happened but I wanted to know how the crew of Cook’s ship felt at the time so I delved further, researched the main crew members, and what happened after Cook was killed. It usually starts with wanting to more of the story behind what history, and it’s writers, tell me.
3. The shower. Hot water pelting down, no one around to hear me sing, and a head covered in shampoo bubbles. This is the opportune time to let your brain relax from daily humdrum and make space for a few ideas – quite often ideas associated with water but not always. I find this a good time to imagine what characters look like and how they might react, physically and verbally, to a situation. Yes, I do tend to take long showers… another good place for quiet contemplation is sitting on the loo and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
4. Dreams. Sometimes I have some doozies and occasionally I’ve used them in stories. If you’ve read The Ouroboros Key, you’ll know that the main character, Dan, has visions and bad dreams. None of those started off as dreams from my subconscious. However, I did use the haphazard timelines, random occurrences, and the surreal feeling you can get from dreams (not to forget the fear from nightmares) to show how Dan felt and coped with what he was experiencing.
5. Newspapers and current affairs. The stories I’m currently researching come directly from newspaper articles I read. I’d love to tell you more but it’s early days and I don’t want to be gazumped. Let’s just say that my response was, “I didn’t know that!” followed by, “Ooh, that’s a mystery. I want to know more.” When the manuscripts are written and contracted, I’ll tell you all about them!
Train rides, especially long trips when you’ve got nothing better to do than listen, watch, and imagine. This is a great place to pick up phrases, descriptions for clothes and hair, and mannerisms. Remember to look out the window too! There are some great streets, street names, parks, and buildings out there just waiting to be in your next story.
If you do happen to know where an ATM for story ideas resides, keep it secret (after you’ve told me, that is!).
Related links: Here’s another article on where ideas come from that you might like. It’s also where I picked up the arrows coming out of the head image I’ve used in my “ideas card” above.
Starting from the beginning where do your story ideas come from. An interview with Ernest Dickerson by Tambay A. Obenson
Final tip – Always remember, ideas are precious…