Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inspiration - The Initial Idea

I find it funny how when I decided to write my first novel, my family wasn't surprised. They just looked at me and went "Oh? That's nice. Good luck!" No questions. They could easily guess it was fantasy, and I did not leave time for more before I explained what NaNoWriMo was.

Now that I am working on my 4th and 5th story, however, I think they are beginning to understand I did not only have this one idea, shimmering under the surface, waiting to be told. I had many, and they kept coming.

This led to one question, which I am sure you've all heard: Where do you get all your ideas?

In my case, what happens most of the time is that I will notice a detail and linger on it, wondering what would happen if it became central to a story, or if I changed it. Sometimes I combine two of these. A few examples:

1.  I wondered what would happen with a fantasy world in which magic did not appear with puberty. I chose to have it come with age (or infertility). From there I built a world, and from this world my current plot emerged. I struggled with it on quite a few occasions, and today the 'old magic' is a background element, but that's where it all started.

2. I read two novels recently in which there are a fair amount of vineyards in the world. It's never an important element, but a little voice in my mind says it would be cool if it was. It's on my list of Things to Write Someday.

3. I was watching something about hot air balloons on TV while listening to A Criminal Mind. My mind jumped from one to the other, and thought it would be cool if a balloon driver unknowingly took a criminal on board. This was the very beginning of White Echoes.

Anything can spark my initial ideas. It's more frequent when I read, but it has happened with music and TV and dreams. I grab passing thoughts and force them to stay, until I see their potential for an unique story element.

How about you? Where do you get ideas?


  1. "Where do you get your ideas from?" is a question most writers hate to get, but I think it's important that we try to find out, so that when we're running dry on inspiration, we know where to look for more.

    I'm usually inspired by pictures, and I'll spend hours looking through internet art sites, seeing if anything jumps out at me. I don't write a story for the picture itself, though, but rather use it as a springboard into my own ideas.

  2. Great post, Claudie. This 'where do ideas come from' is so prevalent among writer wannabes that it should be discussed more. Too often the question is dismissed by "coming up with ideas is easy...just observe." Truth is, it IS that simple but many things are 'simple' once you have the skill.

    Having listened to people talk about ideas, I sometimes wonder if the problem for many isn't an inability to divide "ideas" into small enough chunks that they are both obvious and observable. So many see great novels as "an idea" when, in fact, they are really a bundle of ideas woven together.

    Cheers --- Larry

  3. @Sevvy: I've tried pictures before, and I can't get more than flash fiction out of them. I can see how it's a possible source, though! I'm probably not just skilled at jumping from the original idea to a novel idea when it comes to them.

    @Larry: Ah yes, I agree that one novel isn't one single idea. There's one (sometimes two or three, for me) at the start, but you can't write a story from that single thought. That's also why my next post is about how I find inspiration for the rest of the novel. ;)

  4. I've come up with stories from dreams, from wanting to quit my job (these seem most prevalent ;P) and from just random inspiration. Fie Eoin came from me doing research on a tribal culture and deciding that I would rather be whipped then be in a work meeting. This year's NaNo story came from a fear of death. I look to all venues for my stories :)

  5. Regarding Number 2, was one of those books Laura Anne Gilman's FLESH AND FIRE from her Vineart War books? I read the first chapter online and keep meaning to pick it up.

  6. @mdal: Nope. Now I'll have to pick that one up, too. :P

    @stickynotes: I can't help but wonder what novel came out of you wanting to quit your day job. XD Also, research on tribal cultures must have been so interesting!