Some ideas are better than others.
For a writer those are more than just words to live by. They’re an unspoken curse that haunts us every day of our literary lives. I’m not sure why, but an idea that just screams ‘Use me, use me!’ in your head rarely plays out as well on the screen. For every, ‘Eureka! Moment’, you end up with a ‘What in the hell was I thinking?’ revelation when you slap that sucker down.
I’m not saying that’s always the case, but you can bet that with that MacBook you’ve had your eyes on, it happens more than Eureka is worth uttering. Now, that doesn’t mean those ideas don’t serve a purpose. Because, they do. They lengthen neural pathways to the glimmer of better ideas lurking behind that brick wall you’ve just hit as an author.
Sometimes writing is like a game of Pac Man. You’ve been thrown into a giant maze. As you run this way and that vainly hoping to avoid the ghost of writer’s block looming constantly over your head, you spot a flash of red and you race toward it. Sometimes, it’s a cherry. Sometimes it’s one of those ghosts tricking you into a wall. It’s up to you if you get trapped and eaten, or turn around to see a path toward a blinking banana. I’m partial to that getting eaten thing. At which point, I walk over to the Galaga machine and start a new game. But, that’s just me.
But, where do these ideas come from? That’s been one of the most asked questions I as an author have come up against. Where do you come up with this stuff? Are you on medication? Okay, that one has cropped up a bit too, but only after a person has read my books. To answer this question — the first one, not the second one — I think the simplest way is to start at the beginning.
Ideas are products of your environment. Sure, everyone blames environment for everything, but in this case it’s true. How you’re raised has a big influence on the way ideas come to you. Your family engrains certain morals, for lack of a better word, onto you. Growing up, you have two choices. Accept those ideals, or rebel against them. That’s it. Sure, most of us rebel only to discover around age 30 that crap, I’ve become my parents. Usually this involves telling our kids something in our parent’s voice. Yep, a true Linda Blair moment if there ever was one. Whatever path you pick, who you are is the result of those formative years. As are your thought processes, so ideas are rooted in where you came from.
Your friends are endless font of story ideas. Every person has that story, or a crap load of that stories. Whether its ‘Uncle Bob walking fifty miles in the snow to get to school’, or ‘Do you remember that time back in high school when we tipped that cow?’. Not that I would ever tip a cow, but you get the point. Our lives are made up of a lot of that stories. Some of us are just able to translate them from standing around talking about them, to twisting them into the written word. Some of them we may not even remember. They’re just stuff in our subconscious waiting for the right chance to jump out and become the basis for a book, or scene. Scary, isn’t it? Who knows what writer has used your stupidity for their livelihood.
So, I’ve covered family and friends. What’s left? Pop culture. How could I have forgotten that? We as humans, or whatever you consider yourself to be, are constantly inundated by different forms of media. Movies. Television. Books. You name it, someone will throw it at us. It’s also why some people write one thing, and others write another. Humans pick at an early age what they love and pretty much stick with it. We’re monogamous that way.
I grew up watching science fiction and fantasy, not to mention a ton of SitComs. I also read the same, plus anything I could get my hands on. That included such strange fare as Westerns and Classical Literature. You rarely see those influences in my work, but they’re there. I was raised Catholic, so that seeps into my storytelling, as does my unshakeable faith in God. Granted my subject matter doesn’t lend itself to you knowing that. I know growing up I didn’t see many Vampires and Werewolves walking down the aisle during mass, but hey, they could have. I’m not one to say they didn’t, but I highly doubt fictional characters have time to go to church on Sunday, unless it’s because they’re deeply rooted in my head, which they are.
Every day, things happen. Some you may not even be aware of, but they give birth to ideas, dreams, or whatever else that strikes your fancy. Most people just shrug them off, but it takes a writer to embrace them, shape them and ultimately use them as fodder for your entertainment.
It is also why writers are inherently insane. It’s true. Normal people are content with the world around us. Writers come out of the gate saying normal isn’t good enough. I can do it better. Science Fiction writers show us the world that will be. Fantasy writers show us worlds that could have been. Historical authors show us the world that might have been. Non-fiction writers show us grains of truth among the might have beens. Romance writers? We show you all that only it’s wrapped in love.
It all starts with an idea. The better ideas result in finished books that you one day hold in your hands with an addicted glee. So, next time you’re off being normal consider this. That weird coworker in the next cubical over there, just might be stealing you for the greatest story ever told. Maybe, not, but you never know.