Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Blow-Out Sale! All Ideas 30% Off!

Who amongst us wouldn't rush to that sale and max out the credit card?

An idea. That's what stories are all about. Some infinitessimal spark of thought that starts a chain reaction, which eventually leads to a premise and characters and hopefully ends with a story.

But where do ideas come from? Look at any interview with any author and inevitably that question will be there. "Where do you get your ideas?" Heck, I've asked it myself.

I read one author remark that she got her ideas from Nordstrom and was particularly fond of them because of their liberal return policy. Wouldn't that be great? To just drive to the mall, go into Nordstrom or Dillards or J.C. Penney, walk to the idea section and rifle through the racks until you found one you liked and that fit you as a writer?

Sadly it isn't that simple. On the other hand, in a way it IS that simple. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open to everything that's going on around you. Ideas can come from television or movies, newspapers or magazines, and yes, even the mall.

I've become a shameless eavesdropper. I will listen intently when I'm at the doctor's office, having a solitary cup of tea at the coffee shop, or browsing the racks at my favorite discount clothing store. It's amazing what people will say when they think no one is listening.

I'm writing this ahead of time, but by the time I post it, I'll have flown to the Georgia coast to visit my sister. I'll have been at several airports. My sister and I will be going to the beach. We plan to take a tour of one of the barrier islands. We're going shopping in the village. We'll most likely sit on the pier and people watch -- and listen. I'm hoping to come back home next week with a few new ideas for stories. *

I just sold my fourth short story to a magazine -- True Romance this time. Where did the ideas for all those stories come from? One was from a news article I saw online about a man who committed suicide over income tax troubles. One was from something I read on an email loop added to something that happened to a family member. The third started as a 1000 word writing challenge about a blinded firefighter, and when the magazine editor said she was looking for stories about soldier, I decided that firefighter could become a soldier. It was going pretty slowly until I stumbled upon a piece in Reader's Digest about an explosives expert serving in Iraq and then the piece just took off. The story that just sold was inspired by how my son met his wife and then proposed three years later.

Then of course there's our infamous road trip from earlier this year and the drug bust in the adjoining room. That one's still filed away until I can work it into a story.

Of course sometime you get an idea but you also have a dilemma. Do you take that juicy bit of family gossip, change the names and enough of the circumstances to protect the innocent and build a story around it? I'm still struggling with that one and if any of you have any thoughts on the matter, I'm open to discussion.

So... where do you get your ideas (other than the Idea Department at Best Buy)? And once you have that little spark, how to you build it into a roaring fire?

* Darn Delta Airlines. My flight was late leaving Huntsville, but no worries. I was supposed to have a two hour layover between flights. That got cut to one hour and then promoted to four hours and fifty minutes when my connecting flight was cancelled. Thankfully I had a book, but you can only read for so long. I didn't hear any good gossip (darnit) but I did have a nice dinner at Atlanta Bread Company courtesy of Delta.


Problem Child said...

There's been a lot of research on creativity--psychologists trying to figure out where it comes from.

Me, I think it's voodoo. :-)

Ideas are everywhere--it's plotting them into a full book that's a problem for me. I can create characters and an interesting "situation," but turning that into a fully developed plot is tough.


Smarty Pants said...

I hope the Delta gods are nicer to me today, although I had to route myself to Abu Dhabi to get a decent airfare. My middle flight is oversold, so I'm hoping they'll reaccomodate me on a direct flight to Portland instead. Fingers crossed!

Ideas...I get them from the most random places. Its funny how the slightest snippit of something can become a full fledged book when it in the right hands.


Kelley said...

I wondered where my idea would come from before I started writing. Now that I write, they just come to me. Then I usually just start writing and more ideas come on how to further the story. I write them down the process begins!

Kathy said...

It also seems the more you write the easier the ideas come. I think the reason for that is you open your mind, attune it to things that are sparked by the imagination. I notice that when I've turned that little devise off, the ideas stop but once I'm in the groove, perceptive, careful to ponder people and situations, they flow.

As a kid who loved to daydream, and got caught at it frequently incuring the wrath of teachers and parents alike, (and a stint at summer school), I often yearn for the days when I had the time to let my imagination roam. I think that's what attracts us to music from our youth, certain types of ice cream or candy, colors, and such. These things rejuvenate the soul.

Have safe trips, SP and PM!