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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

January 9, 2013

moleskine notebookThe #1 question most authors get asked during interviews is “where do you get your ideas?” What a silly question. I’d like just once for a best-selling author to answer something like, “I get them from frequent dumpster diving, and I root around in back alleys. Plus I’m a cyber stalker and I steal ideas from other authors.”

While it is a silly question, it is one of those queries that rattles about in everyone’s mind. So where do story ideas come from? That question is good for both overall story ideas and themes, and more specific ideas for plot development and scenes.

Every author has his or her own method of collecting ideas. Here are a few that I use:

1. Observation

This is probably the most-used idea catcher in use by all authors. While we like to write and believe we are creating something out of nothing, a lot of what we put into our writing comes from past observations. Even JRR Tolkien wrote an entire new world based on pre-written Norse mythology.

Observation happens every day. We have plenty of observation about our families and friends. These memories help fashion who we are and who we become, and also add flavor to our story characters.

One form of observation some writers like to do is people-watching. Sit down in a bar, or a mall, or even a busy downtown street on a sunny day. The people who walk by can provide some great character traits and dialogue. One reason that Quentin Tarantino’s movies are so good is because of the dialogue. Tarantino admits a lot of his snappy cinema dialog resulted from being a casual observer of actual dialogue. Take the time to be an observer and don’t be afraid to incorporate what you hear/see.

2. Jot it Down

It is frequently stated that inspiration rarely comes when you sit down to type out your story. It is wise to carry a small notebook or audio recorder to jot down ideas when they strike which is usually a least-expected moment. This also works for jotting down character or idea observations from #1 above.

I use a soft cover plain lined Moleskine notebook. It fits perfectly in backpack or shoulder carrier. I am on my second Moleskine notebook. I seem to like to write down a lot of ideas but fail on the motivation to follow through with them. Despite my laziness, I’m glad I have these documented resources to browse through when I need to, or have a new idea I want to expand upon.

3. Dreams

Rarely do I remember my dreams when I groggily wake up each morning, but sometimes I have such a vivid dream before I awake that I have to write down some details. I recommend having a notebook or pad of paper by your bedside so if it happens to you, there will be no excuse to get the vivid memory down before it fades.

These are but just a few main methods of capturing ideas. I say capturing because as mentioned, ideas are elusive and rarely come forth on demand. When your ideas strike you, be prepared to save them.

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