Friday, October 5, 2012

Where Do Characters/Ideas Come From?

Where do you get your story ideas? Do you wake up with them in the middle of the night, trying to pull them out of your dream before it dissolves? Does a character walk up to you and slap you in the face (perhaps literally)? What about situations? Does something poignant in a local news story or celebrity scandal resonate with you, or even a global event, a historical watershed?

I get way more ideas than I ought to admit from trashy television. It’ll be late at night and I’ll be sifting through the channels, quite possibly with an adult beverage in hand, Hoovering up all the crazy I can stomach. Alien abductions, serial killer documentaries, hunts for Templar treasure, reality TV catfights, you name it.

But something always leaps out from the madness—a fundamental truth about life, or human beings, or how people relate to one another. (Even if that fundamental truth is: we are all flippin’ nuts.) And I keep turning that idea over and over in my mind.

What if my dad really did run a moonshine still out of our backyard? How would that feel? What would my life be like? If I actually survived an alien abduction, would anyone believe me? Would I believe myself? What happens after the bodies are recovered and the case files are sealed? How do the detectives move on? Or even, how would that familiar story go if I wrote it? How would I make it stand out?

The story I’m outlining right now is a Cuisinart mixing of about three such tales: an ancient retelling, a medieval mystery, a near-modern wartime saga. Characters and places and props may change, but the humanness of our stories remain. Whatever dressings of genre, setting, and technology you put on your characters, I suspect you’d know them anywhere.

So what have you learned about the way they choose to meet you?



  1. I get my inspiration from reading books - even just two words put together can spark an idea, like that time I wrote a poem from two words I caught in an Emily Dickinson poem ("thy infinity"). It is usually the beauty of a phrase that catches my attention, and it causes that spin-off of ideas. Also, random documentaries will inspire as well. Like that documentary on the history of playing cards. And the one of the exploding whale carcass. And the various Egypt documentaries.

    In fact, this blog post inspires me a little bit. I like your fundamental idea: that we're all flippin' nuts. I could use that in a story. Maybe I could incorporate it into my Nanowrimo story. Oh goodness, the possibilities! Thank you so much for this post.

    Have a blessed weekend! :)

  2. Hmm...I get ideas from books, art, images/pictures, or places I've been to. :)