If you’ve been writing for any reasonable length of time, and the people around you know that you write, you’ve probably heard the question: where do you get your ideas from? This question most often comes from non-writers, who can’t wrap their mind around how you can just make something up and then put that made-up thing on paper, in coherent form, in a way that conveys emotion, message, and a plot. Some writers may ask you the question too, fishing for ways to find their own ideas.
The thing is, there’s no one clear answer to such a question. And for that reason, it’s complicated–sometimes even impossible–to come up with an adequate reply.
Ideas for stories come from everywhere. Not all the ideas in a story come at once, and they don’t all come from the same place. Stories are more like a puzzle where you take an idea from here, a vision from there, a bit of clever dialog or the elements for a scene from over there…it’s a lot of borrowing from various sources. Also, some of it doesn’t come from anywhere but our own minds.
Here are some places I ‘get my ideas from:’
- Other stories. Not just books, but movies and TV, songs, and other forms of entertainment. I don’t mean I steal ideas, I mean that creative works can inspire us to create our own things. Sometimes I use characters I like in other works as rough templates for my own characters. Not meaning that they’re the same, but I take things I like about the original character and twist it around into something of my own. Music is very inspiring for me too. A song can tell an entire story.
- My own life experiences. Sometimes it’s beneficial to draw things from your own life. Not only do you know those things well, it can help you understand and work through things.
- People I know. The experiences of others can be inspiring as well. Sometimes you meet someone so interesting, or deep, or fascinating, you just have to borrow a little something from their world for your next work.
- An inspiring event. Occasionally something happens that’s so peculiar you just have to document it. It might just be an anecdote tucked into a story somewhere, or it can become an entire story unto itself.
- Nowhere. Sometimes, ideas just come. It’s hard to pinpoint what sparked them. You just know that you think like a writer and sometimes it happens.
It’s not easy to explain where ideas come from, at least not in the broad sense. If you ask me where I got the idea for a book, that’s hard to answer because the book taken as a whole is a series of ideas from all sorts of places. However, ask me something more specific, like how I got the idea for a character trait, or a scene, or a setting, and I might be able to explain it. Maybe. Maybe it just sprung up and I have no idea!
Where do most of your ideas come from? Do people ask you about them?