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.
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.
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.