Ideas. Where do they come from?

It’s that question, isn’t it? If you tell someone you’re a writer, particularly if you’re a good writer, you get asked where you get your ideas from. (I’ve been to talks given by several good writers, and it happened). The usual answer, as far as I can tell, is “from where you least expect them”, or some sort of muttering that seems to mean a lot but actually means “I don’t know”. Because that’s the thing, ideas come from the strangest of places.

Some writers advise going for long walks or having a hot bath. Others say to read everything you can get your hands on.

A rabbit grooming his owner's back

My friend’s bunny, tapping him on the shoulder

Among my friends, our plot bunny hunting tactic was more ‘hide behind the sofa and hope it doesn’t see us’. They’re just there, constantly harranguing us, even if we’re so mired in writer’s block that we can’t string a sentence together.

Especially if we can’t string a sentence together. That’s when we hear them hopping in the middle of the night, twitching their little bunny noses and laughing at us, or turning big sad eyes on our blank minds. Ideas are what happens when you catch sight of a newspaper front page, despite your best efforts.

Of course, those adorable little bunnies of ideas might be completely unusable. They could be just a scrap of dialogue that will torture you for years before you realise there was no point to it and you should just let it go, or the map of a world that won’t give up a single fact about the people who live there. All ideas are not created equal.

I wrote down all the ideas I have for stories I want to write, each in the middle of its own sheet of A4 paper, and fanned them out. There were 20 sheets of paper with a couple of words on them. Sometimes it’s the main characters, sometimes it’s the concept, very occasionally it’s the plot. In the ones that have been rattling around my brain for years it’s a couple of words that summarise details about the climate and economy of the world, the character backstories, story arcs, subplots and clumsy narrative devices that make up a story. One is actually blank and waiting to go on the pile, because all I can remember is the placeholder word, which is “vampires”. Not helpful, brain.Idea Sheets

Stuff that’s on those sheets is stuff that’s been tumbled around in my brain at least a little bit. There’s characters attached to events and places and to each other. They have a bit of internal cohesion. The first few bits of space debris that will eventually become a planet have fused together.

6 thoughts on “Ideas. Where do they come from?

  1. I enjoy writing, as well. All though, no one has ever read any of my stories. I find that most of my fiction writing comes from my dreams-literally. I have some of the weirdest dreams, and if I remember them when I wake up, then they become a plot for a story. I have also learned that I can subconsciously “rewind” my dreams sometimes like a tape and replay them in my head. Yes, that is a little strange, but that is how my stories are born.

  2. Reblogged this on The Writing Catalog and commented:
    Had to reblog this, because the plot bunnies “twitiching their little bunny noses and laughing at us” is just too good not to share. Offered as an example of good long-form blogging. It’s personal, it addresses a topic I’m intersted in, and it amused me.

  3. “They could be just a scrap of dialogue that will torture you for years before you realise there was no point to it and you should just let it go …”

    If only we knew which ones they were … knowing which glimmers to pursue is the tricky bit, I think. One of the many, many tricky bits, at least. I like the idea of the prompt cards. It vents the build-up in your head, if nothing else.

    • Prompt cards are nice to flick through when you’re looking for a new idea, too. I just need to get better at organising them, which is the trouble with everything.

  4. I do similar things – jottings in a notebook or on my Iphone, doodles I made while in the car, waiting for school to let out, something insightful or downright hilarious that one of my children said. For me, the act of writing it down (even if I then lose the paper) somehow gives it substance, shape. Then my mind can roll it like a snowball downhill – still moving even when I’m not paying attention, picking up speed and content, til eventually it hits me in a cold burst. And there’s my idea, “where I least expect it.”

    • Writing it down really does help. As much as anything else, I find it’s useful to have something physical to put new ideas on. It becomes less of an amorphous blob and more a to-do list.

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