The eternal question asked by and of writers. Where do you get your ideas from? In response to this frequently asked question, the divine Neil Gaiman has said:
‘I make them up,’ I tell them. ‘Out of my head.’
Well, obviously. Whatever we do and say, odds are, it probably originated from out of our heads. Including that little voice. The inner narrator, the one that watches two people at a bar or on the tube and invents an entire story around them.
Stephen King, driving through the town of Ruth in Nevada, was struck by how quiet it was. Almost like a ghost town. He wondered idly where everyone was and that inner narrator said: “they’re all dead and the sheriff killed them all.” That was the seed of an idea that became the book Desperation.
Ideas come from the what-ifs and whys.
I find my ideas while learning new things. I’m a big Youtube watcher and love channels like Game Theory, V-Sauce, Hello Future Me, Nerdwriter and Wisecrack which all produce massively intelligent content. They introduce me to subjects I would never usually be interested in.
My favourite short story I’ve ever written was born from an article I read about people who steal lead off church roofs and wondering what sort of people they are.
That idea actually ended up winning third prize in the Henshaw Short Story competition and is due to be published in the Henshaw Three Anthology.
But recreational learning isn’t the only way. A photograph can inspire us. A building. An overheard conversation in a restaurant. Our own personal experiences and the tales we’ve heard from others – mine them shamelessly for stories!
Let’s honest, the problem isn’t that writers have a lack of ideas.
What we tend to suffer from is a lack of good ideas. Developed ideas. Ideas that will reach other people. Learning to separate the wheat from the chaff is the true challenge.
For an idea to be worth pursuing, it needs to tick a couple of boxes:
- Is there an audience for this idea?
- Does it address a point, answer a question or tackle a particular topic?
A well-executed idea is worthless if only you and your cat/dog/well-read parrot are going to appreciate your genius.
If it’s not quite there yet, don’t worry! I keep a ridiculous number of notebooks, each for its own project and one for scribbles. This is where I keep all my ideas like a pathological hoarder. Notebooks have been lovingly called a writers attic. This is where you can keep those ideas that aren’t quite ready.
But one day you’ll flick through the pages of an old notebook. You’ll rediscover an idea you had years ago which suddenly can develop beyond what you could have when you first thought of it. Maybe you have the emotional maturity, or experience now. Or maybe it’s become a popular theme and you’re ready to jump on the bandwagon with your own take.
Melanie Roussel lives in North London and works in the television industry. She is a 10-minute novelist. She mostly writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories. This post is from her blog.