Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ideas

I have gotten the question, "where do you get your ideas?" It's not the most common writerly question I get but it's certainly happened more than once. My first word in response is: "Everywhere."  And that's true. But some particularly fertile places for ideas for me are:

1. Dreams
2. Overheard conversations, particularly "misheard" ones
3. Reading science
4. Reading history 
5. Nature (both seeing it and listening to it)

That's not particularly the topic of my post today, though. I want to talk about the fact that, for me, I get two types of ideas. The first kind are those that leap into my mind fully formed. Imagine kicking through some debris and turning over a perfectly cut and polished little jewel. Maybe there's a little dirt on it to brush off, but once that's done the jewel is ready to keep or to sell. For me, this happens most prominently with flash fiction, and sometimes with longer short stories. But not with novels. 

 As an analogy for the second kind of idea I get, imagine digging through a cave somewhere and uncovering a fossil. Only, it's not the whole fossil. It's just a single big bone. You dig around a little more and find another bone, and then pieces of others. The finding is pretty easy but now the hard work begins. As any paleontologist will tell you, getting a fossil out of the ground is back breaking work, and after that you have to put it all together, which requires even more hours of time. This is most often how my novels get put together. And sometimes it happens this way for stories, usually longer pieces. I get a big idea and realize there are a lot of smaller ideas all nestled around it. Then I have to dig it out, start putting it together, find on occasion that I’ve put something together wrong and have to back track. But finally you have a finished piece.

So, for those of you who are writers, is this something similar to what happens for you?  Or is the process very different?

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25 comments:

Tom Doolan said...

That's pretty much how it happens for me. Although the "bits & pieces" method happens more often than the other. I get ideas from places like book titles and covers as well. I will browse a book store, and a title or cover illustration will grab me, and I will think "How would I write a story with that title/cover?" usually, I don't even read the back copy.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My first three books were jewels. The one I'm working on now is a fossil. And I still haven't found all the bones...

Erik Donald France said...

Hey Charles, far out and right on ~!
Both ways of finding.

Cloudia said...

Wonderful light touch with serious answers to a very basic question. At school, have you been asked where hypothesis come from? ;-)

Cloudia said...

Sort of the same question in diff garb

Ty Johnston said...

Kind of , sort of, that's how it works for me.

Flash fiction usually hits me all at once, but I kind of have to be in the right frame of mind. It usually helps if I've been working on shorter pieces already.

For short stories, it's kind of hit and miss. Some I latch onto in the spur of the moment, others kind of have a slow boil.

With novels, for what I consider my better ones, they need to stir in their juices for a while, sometimes years. The novels I rush through after having a quick idea tend to not be so good, in my opinion.

Charles Gramlich said...

Tom, I hear lines from books or titles and get some riff off them quite a bit myself.

Alex, Swords of Talera was the closest I've had to a jewel at the novel length.

Erik, thankee.

Cloudia, no, I haven't been asked that. hum, interesting.

Ty, yeah, novels always have plenty of fits and starts for me. At least since Swords of Talera, which came pretty fast and furious.

Riot Kitty said...

The fossil analogy is perfect! My trouble is...I have to uncover the entire skeleton in my mind before I can start typing.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I'm working my way into short stories/flash fiction and they're all jewels though not "perfectly cut and polished" and, as you say, the ideas come from everywhere including little news reports tucked in a corner of the paper. It'll be awhile before I go looking for the fossil.

G. B. Miller said...

I get a little of both. Small random snippets for blog posts and more fully formed ideas for stories.

The vast majority of those crop up when I'm usually running my morning errands (weather is nice so now I'm on foot patrol) and my head is severely empty from lack of intelligence (not from me, but from everyone else).

Father Nature's Corner

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Like you, 'everywhere' is a good description of my sources for novel ideas. Once the concept hits though, I tend to launch. The story threads through my head, and everything else follows, including characters.

Charles Gramlich said...

Riot kitty, I usually start when I have only a few bones and just count on my unconscious to uncover the rest.

Prashant, both are fun, but the jewels are the best, and the easiest.

G. B., I get a lot of ideas while out walking.

Bernard, yeah, I find that I can start and things will fill in. Not sure from where but I'm grateful its there.

Oscar said...

Fossil hunting is a good way to put it, searching around for those bones to put together some type of body.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, it certainly seemed appropriate. Thanks.

Angie said...

I'm pretty much like you. Sometimes I'll get a fully story-worthy idea, and I'll sit down and start working on it. Sometimes I'll finish a story in one day. And I don't do flash.

Sometimes I'll get a story seed, or just one bone, or a handful of bones, of a story skeleton. Those need more work, and might have to be combined with other seeds or more bones to make a starting point for a whole story.

Angie

Brian Miller said...

usually my ideas come from life...regardless the texture or setting, my stories are human based, and no matter where we are those are similar...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Overheard conversations is number one for me. Also my husbands childhood, which was very lively. And stories people tell me about their lives.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, just like anthropologists sometimes put bones together that didn't originally go together. :)

Brian, if I could sell it, I'd certainly try to write a story that had no human basis at all. I don't know if I could do it, being human myself, but I think it would be worth a try. No one would read it though.

Patti, a lot of things that have happened to me provide a seed for stories, but usually don't complete one. Except for my Days of Beer type anecdotes

Angie said...

Charles -- LOL! Yes, true. Except when it's a fiction writer doing a mix-and-match on the bones, that can turn out to be a very good thing. Not so much for the anthropologists. :)

Angie

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Yes. That's it exactly. Like you said - some things you find whole, just need a little polishing up, and those are usually for shorter fiction. The but the ideas for longer works - yes I think a dig is the perfect description.

the walking man said...

I really never thought much about where the nugget comes from, sometimes it hits me in the head and other times it is a nuisance in my shoe.

Aimless Writer said...

So true! I think all the fun is in the dig to see what's going to be uncovered. Sometimes I know, other times it's a surprise.

ivan said...

Yep.
That's about the way it comes together, though frequently I come across a writer who did what I tried to do. But Better.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, absolutely! :)

Rachel, I was trying to think of a metaphor and the jewel about it being like a fossil hunt just hit me. :)

Mark, as long as it's not poop in your shorts.

Aimless, I do like to be surprised. That's so much of the fun.

Ivan, I generally try to shoot those people. :)

eric1313 said...

Great post.

Everything in life is experience for writing, and anything can be inspiration.

Sitting down and writing something of an ending first and then working toward that ending (and changing it into something better along the way, in the way creative process branches off) has brought me back to finishing things. Just a thought on handling ideas.