I’ve started hanging out with a few writers. Some are well-established, some should be well-established (because their work is really that good), some write a lot but little comes of it, while many are relatively new to this whole writing thing. And, being writers, we talk about writing and stories. I have also in the past done some workshops for writers. Nothing too big, just some words of advice. I’ve done them on writing fight scenes, basic grammar, how to structure a longer story, how to use a thesaurus… whatever the group wants, really. And of course, because things never fill in the space you want them to, I am always left with some time at the end of each session and so I use the well-worn and tired cliché of “Q&A time”.
And in both cases – talking with writers and Q&A sessions – there are two questions I can guarantee I’ll get asked. The first is: How easy is it going to be for me/us to get published? (How long is a piece of string is my general answer.) The second is: Where do you get your ideas from?
Now, this one is a tad harder. Stephen King (I think, though I could be misquoting someone else horridly) once said he gets his ideas from a small shop on the outskirts of Bangor, Maine, where they sell for five dollars a bucket. Kurt Vonnegut (again, this is going on memory and I am most likely shockingly wrong) said he didn’t get ideas, ideas got him. Another author (whose name I completely forget) said that he just steals the ideas of other authors and puts his own spin on them.
As for me, I can’t say. Where do these ideas come from? I have repeated my ideas quite a few times (three of my novels/novellas concern the second coming of the Christ; two involve aspects of ancient Egypt; three involve nasty murders by supernatural beings… the list unfortunately is a little long) but that does not really help.
So where did the ideas come from? Not only for longer works, but for everything I try to write?
There are a number of things I have done over the time.
When I started to write I would take what I had already read or seen and just put my own spin on it, so I wrote a lot of Stephen King pastiches, Rod Serling homages and Douglas Adams rip offs. Dungeons and Dragons informed my fantasy, Monty Python my comedy. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t me at the time!
Then I started to take ideas from newspapers and magazines, sometimes even just the title, or a phrase, or a quote, or the picture.
Then, for a few years, I used dreams as a basis, but that seemed to be stifling and when I could not remember my dreams I felt a little lost. This was very short-lived, and resulted in some truly bizarre writing, none of which I regard highly at all.
Then I started asking “What if…?” What if H.Rider Haggard’s famous (and wonderful) She was set in Australia? What if dragons were real, but almost extinct? What if elves were real and living amongst us? What if The Amityville Horror was set in Australia? All of these resulted in novels or novellas. (Okay, sure, none of them have been published, but they have been written.)
And, the most recent source has been: What can Australia itself bring to what I write?
Now, none of these are isolated. A few of my “What if…”s are deliberately Australo-centric; a few ideas are Rod Serling-based and just spun out in a different direction although not as blatantly ripped off; some newspaper stories have then led to a “What if…”; some newspaper stories have led to the question, “How would Poe/ Herbert/ Lovecraft/ Howard/ whoever have seen this?”. I think only dreams are something I avoid nowadays.
Then there are things that are completely out of the blue – a snatch of dialogue here, a person walking down the street there, a dilapidated building somewhere else. Just observing with all the senses to see what comes of it.
So where do the ideas come from? Everywhere. And I think that’s where a writer is different from other people. I mean, who else but a writer could look at a woman who had just had liposuction and wonder what it would be like to wear clothing made of human skin that was a few sizes too big and then put that into a novel about unidentifiable creatures which harass a TV star? As Anais Nin said, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”
Writers are different…