Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s one of the questions people most often ask writers – and one of the hardest to answer – Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s tough to answer because there’s no one place, and sometimes we don’t know ourselves where we get them – it‘s like some kind of deeply felt sympathetic magic. Norman Mailer called writing ‘the spooky art’ and this is why. By the time something I’ve written is finished it’s difficult to say where it originated – if I didn’t know the process it took to get there I’d say it just arrived on its own.

For me the fairest, simplest answer to the question where do you get your ideas from? Would be – they evolve.

That’s the truth, it’s a statement more honest than if I’d said I got them from listening to friends, or watching people on the bus, or reading books. Bits and pieces can come from all these places of course, and many more: newspapers, magazines, rock songs, dreams. But the point is that a finished story or book is highly unlikely to have something in it which is a straight lift from art or life – it will have evolved, with time and thought and rewriting, into its final form.

Perhaps that’s why some authors get grumpy about the ‘based on’ question which seems to be the line of inquiry so often these days from people looking to find a way into a piece of fiction. Was this character based on such and such a person? It’s as though writing has to have a direct route back into the artist’s biography – whereas often the reality is that a character in a story or novel is at least partly the way they are because they have to serve the plot – the whole thing is an artistic construction after all, not a personal diary.

In some ways I suppose it’s not where I get my ideas from, but where they lead to which is important to me. But hey – where do you get your ideas from?

8 thoughts on “Where do you get your ideas from?”

  1. Yeah v good point – about where it leads to being important. Most of my writing is non fiction. I tend to write about my life. Decisions, situations, feelings, epiphanies. But it is hard to point at something and say “THERE!!! That’s where my ideas come from!” Cos it really does vary!

    1. Yes, it can become a tangle trying to work it out – like one of those student editions of Shakespeare where they try to show where each line came from – and you end up with the page being eighty per cent footnotes.

  2. I think you have to be in that mind-set too! I watch scifi and fantasy and I read a lot of books with that too, so my mind is always looking for that escape world! Once you come up with an idea, the hard part now is to shut it off, for me any way!

    1. There’s that phrase ‘plot bunny’ which people use to describe a story idea hopping around in your brain until you have to write it – you sound like you have a whole warren going on in yours!

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