This is probably the most frequent question that writers, innovators, and creative people get asked. One of the most popular answers is ‘From Life’. Some other answers are: dreams, television, conversations, walks, day dreaming, music, reading, and a whole lot more. The answer varies from writer to writer and basically comes down to: From Life.
Mine come in dreams some of the time. These ones are always interesting because I’ll find myself having a marathon of dreams for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Serial dreams, where the dream I had last night will pick up tonight as soon as I hit the dream realm. One dream after another until the entire story-movie has been played out and I’ve jotted it down in my journal.
I don’t always recognize a dream as a story idea right away. Sometimes it takes a couple of nights and a little pondering over my dream journal to figure it out. Once it hits me, though, I’m off on a marathon and the clarity of the dream becomes technicolor with surround sound. Pretty awesome.
Story ideas come to me in all the ways I listed above too but most of the time something just pops into my head…and sticks. It might be a scene, a bit of a conversation or other interaction between two figures, or any number of other things. Once it’s ‘in there’ it doesn’t shut up. It’ll replay in various ways until something about it will make me grin or light up with an “Aha! That’s a cool story scene/idea/plot/whatever!”
I’ll write it down. I am a notorious writer-downer even if that means I have to write on my hand or, better yet, someone else’s. But it will get written down as soon as I recognize it for what it is. Then it will get stuck into a folder that’s cleverly labeled: Ideas.
I rummage through that file a lot. Writing down an idea means that it’s just a piece of a story. It could go anywhere…in any story or wind up becoming an entire story itself. Generally though, it’s just a piece of a story and I have to play with where it will end up. Some of the ideas in that folder are older than Methuselah. One of them hit me today. Most of them look like a couple of unrelated words, or a full sentence, or the occasional paragraph or two. Very few of them take up more than one piece of paper.
And yes, I actually write them down with pen and paper by hand. (OMG!)
The trick to these lovelies is finding where they fit. You can have a ton of ideas without ever having a whole story to go with them. I’m patient and suffer from an odd form of photographic memory where I forget where the bathroom is but remember every single idea I ever wrote down. Writing down is key there. If I don’t write it down, forget it…and I do, every single time. And when I forget one because I didn’t write it down, I get grumpy because I remember the energy of the idea. I remember how it felt. And I’ve lost some beauts that still make me kick myself in the ass for not having written it down.
Without the idea to toy with there isn’t any way of teasing a story out of it. You have a piece of something but aren’t sure what. You have to do some digging and excavation work to coax out the rest of it – if there’s going to be more. Some ideas, after all, are just passing through and that’s that.
What about you? Where do you get your ideas? How do you treat them? Do you keep records or just let them float around in your head until they shift into something that you can sink your teeth into?