Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question writers are often asked, especially by general members of the public and by newbie writers.

It’s not always possible to identify where an idea came from. I’ve spoken about reading non-fiction as a basis for ideas, but if you have facts, you still need something to happen.

I have a file somewhere that contains lines like:

Story about a rogue planet
Story about two space ships catching up, despite one having been sent 100 years earlier than the other.

They’re just story notes for possible settings. I need a character, but more important even, I need something to happen in that setting, and ‘character X discovers a rogue planet’ isn’t going to cut the mustard.

I’ve found that lately I’ve turned to extreme sport as seed for my storylines.

The weird things people will do for entertainment fascinate me endlessly. BASE jumping? Extreme surfing? Extreme ironing? They’re all wonderful seeds for story plots. Because now I have a character who is going to do something other than discover the setting. And the character has an aim: to win or set a record.

But it doesn’t always work. Sometimes my activities simply violate too many laws of physics to keep me happy.

I could not make a person surf on magnetic fields, but I could make a kite do it with a bit of fudging.

But even so, it doesn’t always work.

I had an idea about skywriting on Saturn. I figured out that this was possible. I wanted to turn this into extreme advertising. where a company would pay to have its logo written on Saturn. Yup. But meh, there’s not much tension in that and I needed an extra plot element.

Sometimes I have to ditch the extreme sport altogether to make the story work, but even if that happens, the extreme sport provided the story seed.

Stay tuned for stories about ice diving, magnetic kite-flying, and coming up: extreme flute-playing.

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8 comments on “Where do you get your ideas?

  1. That question always makes me think of Diana Wynne Jones, who said a twelve-year-old once asked her the question in this form: “Where do you get your ideas, or do you think of them for yourself?”

    I think of mine for myself. 🙂 But (like many of us, I expect) I’m a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. Chance remarks, snippets of history, interesting turns of phrase. They all go into the lumber room of my memory, to be taken out and examined from time to time, while I wait for that *spark* of an idea.

    I do like your idea of extreme sports as inspiration. Extreme ironing? Really? 🙂

    • I sometimes feel like saying: those writers who ask ‘where do you get your ideas’ don’t deserve to be writers, but that would be politically incorrect 😉 And after all, what do I care what other people do in their spare time?

      That said, it’s funny talking with other writers about what they find inspiring. For some odd reason, if I read somewhere that Verona Rupes on the Uranian moon Miranda is the tallest cliff in the solar system, at 20km height, and that, with the crap gravity that moon has, you could probably still jump down providing you had enough cushions, and that it’d take you twelve minutes to get to the bottom (I am NOT joking. Up until here all this is true fact), my first thought is ‘wow, what can you do in those twelve minutes? Perform illegal business deals? Smoke a joint? Have sex? This is just screaming for a story.

      About extreme ironing: there was a segment on the funny news about it this morning, where some dude was ironing on a closed-off lane of some freeway in the UK. I had heard of it before, but it was a good reminder, because now I have a cool story idea.

  2. Photographs inspire me the most. Pictures and art of planets or landscapes or naked men…oh, did I type that last one out loud. LOL. To get a catalyst, to bring the pictures to life I like to read. Reading inspires me a lot, too.

  3. Running is where I get my ideas – well that is where they form in my mind. As for input it is just daily life and reading the quirky news stories and science breakthroughs and the like.

    Then while running my brain just kind of zens out and starts throwing up ideas that I consider and work through – I will get a recurring idea for several runs in a row until I sort it through to what I am trying to tell myself and then it won’t come back – I start making new associations.

  4. Um, before you write that story about skywriting on Saturn, better check out Asimov’s story, “Buy Jupiter”. Okay, it’s Jupiter, but the premise is the same. The aliens turn up on Earth and offer a fabulous price to rent Jupiter. Just rent. Seems they want to use it for an advertising billboard. So the leaders of Earth say yes, then get on to another alien advertising firm and offer THEM space on the planets of the solar system.

    I quite like the “where do you get your ideas?” story that ends with the answer, “I send five dollars to a PO box in Schenectady and this little old lady creates ideas for writers…” 🙂

    • I’ve already written the story, and sold it. It is part of the plot that makes up the novellette His Name In Lights. The trick is to not just make the story about the nifty idea, but rather to use the nifty idea in the resolution of some other plot.

      That said, I need to get moving on the story about extreme flute playing…

      • Well, there’s always going to be more than one story about any given idea. I wrote a story about the Holy Grail in an op shop and sold it and THEN found out Neil Gaiman had written a story about the Holy Grail in an op shop. Very different from mine, though. I guess yours is different from Asimov’s. Good luck with it.

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