Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
Children ask a lot of questions. So do aspiring writers. One of the primary questions I want to ask creative people is “Where do you get your ideas?” In a graduate school class this semester, I had an entrepreneurship professor who pointed out that those creative types are just like you and me. They just work harder, longer, and with more people on their team than us novices. So that led me to ask myself the question. And how did I answer myself, you ask…
Make a list of all the things I think are awesome and enjoy reading about in books. For me the list would include magic, animals, girls that are self-sufficient, guys that are a little broken, fairytales, romance, riveting action scenes, mysteries to solve, treasure, villains you might like under other circumstances, tragic sacrifices, heroic last stands, humor, and interesting secondary storylines. So make your list, then play mix-and-match. It should get the cogs turning. For example:
Guy that is a little broken + animal + humor + mystery to solve + tragic sacrifice = beginnings of a plot!
I also want to point out that everyone who reads that list will come up with a different story. Sure, it will probably have a dude and a critter, they will say or do funny things, there will be a problem with a solution in need of finding, and something terrible will happen, but that’s where the similarity ends. That is the beauty of writing. Each story is unique, just like us, snowflake. Why do we keep reading romance novels? They usually have a guy and a gal, and they hook up by the end of the book. It should be ho-hum after the first dozen titles, but it is always fresh and exciting. It’s the details that make each story different and keep us reading.
Another fun game I play in my head, especially when I am driving (isn’t that a scary thought?!) is to associate two unrelated ideas. Look, it isn’t rocket science, but the exercise does yield results. I managed to win NaNoWriMo one year based on this idea. Special thanks to Jim Hines for showing me how cool goblins could be. A good example of this is sitting on my shelf. It is a guidebook, but it isn’t for a place on Earth. No, it is a guidebook for the galaxy. How cool would that be to hitchhike around and have this guide to the galaxy?
The last way I find ideas is by not looking for them. Albert Einstein once asked why all his good ideas came to him while he was shaving in the morning. For me it is brushing my teeth, or cooking, or folding laundry. Something where the hands are busy, but the mind is relatively free. Whatever you do, turn off the TV. Go outside, go for a walk, rake some leaves, wash the car. Listening to music, unlike TV, can be inspirational to me. Take a line from a song or the title, and run with it. “Smile Like You Mean It” by The Killers always begs me to write about it. Haven’t done it yet. Maybe you will beat me to it. If that fails, I can always try folding laundry and see if an idea comes to me. I’ll think about it.