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.

the famous pair of scissors

One of the questions I hate being asked most is: where do you get your ideas? Usually, this question is asked by well-meaning relatives and neighbours and other casual acquaintances after they hear you write science fiction.

In one case, the answer is clear: I bought a pair of scissors. Notice the brown-coppery hue of the blades? This is not due to the fact that I was wearing a magenta shirt (which I was), but because the blades are that colour. They’re made from titanium.

Wow. Cool scissors.

That’s what I thought when I bought them, too, in January this year, when shopping at one of those mega-office-supply stores with the kids for the start of the school year.

When I came home, I decided I wanted to know more about this mysterious thing called titanium, and from one thing came another. It inspired me to write a short story.

That short story has just won the second quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest.

From the stationery store to LA. Pretty special pair of scissors indeed.