Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ideas: Lightning Bolts and Banana Peels

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. What is their secret? Well, I tell ya. Lean in real close. A little closer. Ready? There is no secret. No, magical unicorn horn hiding in a desk drawer. No, mathematical equation.

The idea comes from anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Sometimes, it’s a simple event that leads the brain down a path. Other times, it’s just being still long enough for the right and left hemispheres to talk to each other.

Most of my ideas come from a question. It all starts with “What If.” And my best ideas often come from “Wouldn’t it be funny?” (The answer is normally no, not really funny, but a good story.) It’s what you do with these questions, these thoughts, that make the difference.

Right now on my hard drive is a folder titled “Other Projects.” Inside that folder are several word documents. Each one has a single question at the top. As the answer or the story that stems from the question materializes, then I start that story and watch it grow. See, ideas are seeds; you have to nurture them to create stories. Sometimes they are gems and sometimes they are duds. And, I find, the questions you can answer instantly have no life, no depth.

Stephen King’s book, On Writing, discusses this better than anything else that I’ve read. And in my non-expert opinion, I agree with him. (If you are a new writer, I highly suggest that you read his book. Heck, if you are not writing – it’s still a great read. Even if not a fan of his other books.) 

The novel that I recently finished stemmed from one of those questions of “Wouldn’t it be funny?” The story actually has nothing to do with the exact question. It was merely the banana peel that I slipped on to fall into the story. But had I dismissed it when the thought occurred, Iron Thirst would not exist.

The newest addition to the “Other Project” folder came from a question that attacked my brain while I was driving. It came out of the sky, and hit me like a lightning bolt. I actually swerved the car. It started with a tiny little question, and by the time I was driving home, I was ironing out backstories for two characters who have begged to see this question answered. Will it produce a story worth reading?  Won’t know unless I write it.

When an idea hits you, what do you do with it? Do you save all of them or do you wait for the one that truly inspires? What are your methods when starting a new story?


  1. Sadly, I put more energy into my day job than ideas that hit me out of the blue. Sometimes I write it down in a notebook or spare scrape of paper. (I always lose the paper.)

    But lately I have opened a file called "new stories" on my computer, and type in a few ideas. Nothing very long. Maybe I should title this folder "the someday file".

    But if the idea hits me in the middle of the night, or when I can't get to a pen and paper, I find a few minutes to just go with it, let it ramble around in my head for a while. A day dream, I guess. And hope I can remember it later and write a little on it.

    Not very creative. I'm glad you've got so many neat ideas sitting around to be developed later.

    And I think On Writing is the only Stephen King book I have not read to date. I have a B & N gift card in my purse. I think its time to go purchase it.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


  2. Donna-
    Lots of ideas, not lots of good ideas. Haha. I have been fortunate to have enough to keep me writing, but some are just really bad. Again, lots of concepts but so far my completed folder is one novel and one short story. But I have stumbled into something that I love and I hope to do it for a long time. Even if the only people that read it are me and a handful of friends.

    We have to remember that we do it because we love it - because if we are doing it for gratification - we are in the wrong boat. These are lonely tedious waters, this writing stuff, but luckily we have each other to keep us sane and afloat.