Ideas are Everywhere

This week's blog topic is kind of philosophical- where do ideas come from anyway?  Sometimes, they appear out of nowhere, like dreams or thoughts that just pop into my head.  Other times, I see, hear or remember something that is so specific, I know exactly how the idea developed.  Every book, like every person, has its own unique history, it's own evolution, it's own journey. Even so, I've noticed that my best ideas come from some of the same places.

Personal experience:  while my life is probably not worthy of a memoir, there have been moments that were so funny or romantic or painful that I remember every detail, every emotion. I've lifted a number of scenes directly from my personal life.  The time I set up my best friend with the boy I liked (and who liked me) because she liked him first- check.  The time my friend tagged along on my first ever date- check.  Some experiences have sparked entire concepts, like the the summer I spent working for my father's private investigation firm.  Some times life really does inspire art.

Other people's experiences:  everyone has a unique story,and some of them are so unique or interesting that you think to yourself, that would make a great book or scene or character or plot twist, etc. As fiction writers, we observe and report on the human condition.  It's okay to steal anecdotes, snippets of conversation, hair styles or personality traits from real people.  Just be sure to fictionalize them enough so they take on a life of their own.

Places:  some places are so beautiful, haunting or just plain unusual that you can't help but be inspired. I recently returned from a trip to New York that inspired a book idea out of nowhere. Sometimes when I struggle with description, it helps to go to a similar setting and discover sensory details that I wouldn't come up with on my own.

Characters:  Characters can take on a life of their own.  Once I really start to get into a character's head, the character will have their own ideas about how a scene should go or what role they will play in the story.  Some my favorite moments in my writing have come from seemingly out of nowhere, when characters take over the scene and truly surprise me.

Headlines:  news stories are great places to develop ideas and concepts. Truth is truly stranger than fiction.  Not only do these stories provide potential jumping off points for your own story, but they also can help you evaluate what topics seem particularly popular or intriguing.  If it's not a topic that's been widely written about, there may be an opportunity capitalize on a concept before it's overdone.

Movies/Television/Books:  there are lots of high concept ideas out there just ripe for the picking. Have a favorite Hitchcock movie or classic novel?  The romance in Spies and Prejudice was inspired by Jane Austen.  My desire for a different ending to the Time Traveler's Wife led to a major plot point in Gold.  Josh Whedon's narrative philosophy of giving viewers what they want and then yanking it away inspired-everything. The key to borrowing ideas is to put them together in a unique way, so they truly become your own. 

Brainstorming:  make lists of possible scenes, settings, plot points, histories.  Push yourself to write down as many ideas as you can think of.  Then write three more.  Sometimes ideas don't come to us immediately.  We have to seek them out.  There's nothing wrong with mulling things over or brainstorming.  Oftentimes, the first idea that comes to us is the least interesting or most cliche.

Ideas are everywhere. Sometimes you find them.  Sometimes they find you.  Embrace them.  Tweak them.  And treasure them.  Ideas are the building blocks of our art.

Where do your ideas come from?


I tend to get fresh ideas just as I'm nodding off, or in the middle of the night via dreams. I now make myself wake up (yes, I can do this) and scrawl the idea down. I know from experience the thought is gone forever if I don't. Embracing all ideas is great advice. You never know...And perhaps they come for a very good reason...(cue twilight zone music)

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