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Thread: Where do you get your ideas?

  1. #1
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    Where do you get your ideas?

    Is there a store where you can get them?

    Nah, just kidding.

    But while waiting to hear from a publisher who is supposed to reply re. my manuscript this month, I'm ready to start a new book.

    I have a few vague ideas, but mostly settings I'd like to use more than anything else.

    I'm just not sure who to populate the setting with though and what trials I want to put them through.

    I'm seriously thinking of a roman clef set in either the place I grew up or an isolated small town I lived in for 9 years, but anything's possible.

    I'm just not great on plot, plot twists, sub plots or catchy ideas.

  2. #2
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    One way: I start with a rough idea of what I want to say - ie. what's the main point of the novel. Like, say, I want to talk about how it feels for an individual when they are forced to make a moral choice where both options seem bad and affect a multitude of others. Or I want to frame a political crisis and point out what it's doing to us. Or I just want people to know about something I know about. Then I flesh out a setting and then a synopsis and the plot weaves itself from what I have to say. If my idea is a bit vague, it will develop into a hook while I write the synopsis. I've tried starting with a plot gimmick (ie. a "twist") but once I've finished a synopsis around that the whole works feels empty and I don't want to write it. Might just be me, because I don't like twists for the sake of twists.

    Another way (scifi way): I have a feature that is super cool. Like some technical gadget that has profound sociological effects, or a race that lacks some human characteristic and are very different from us because of that. And then I write a synopsis and while writing it, the pieces click together. Same with the first way, the idea usually develops a lot during the synopsis writing.

    So in one word: Procedure. Procedures gives me ideas. Although I've never been in a situation in my life where I wouldn't have any idea what I wanted to write about. So much cool stuff in the world. And bad too.

    I also have about twenty ideas and synopsis in the drawer that just await writing...

  3. #3
    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    My recent novels were autobiographies.. so there's that.

    Oddly enough - I'm a VERY vivid dreamer, and get a lot of inspiration there. Also, reading... sometimes frustration with too often played plots drives me to write something of my own.

  5. #5
    fighting evil by monitorlight lilyWhite's Avatar
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    It's hard to explain. I just have ideas occur to me, and a bit of pondering on them tells me if there's any potential behind the story. I might need to expand upon the idea, but usually I can figure out if there's something to the prospective story idea. These things can occur to me when I'm perusing art, from things I enjoy in other media, from things I don't enjoy in other media, from things I think other media is about to do but actually doesn't, so on and so forth. I tweak concepts, ideas, tropes, to see if I can come up with someone that gets me excited to tell that story.

    My NaNo WIP came about as me wanting to write a magical-girl story, and while I was pondering whether I'd do the usual formula for that kind of fiction or try to put a spin on it, I figured...why not take the "I just want to be normal" trope that often comes up in magical girl fiction, and do the opposite? The various races in the story were inspired by art I saw and mythology that gave me ideas of traits I could build into fantastical beings. And one particular race ended up coming into existence because someone here on AW posted something that included a word that I figured would be perfect for one of the races in my story.

  6. #6
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    I get ideas from everywhere. It's frequently just a question of recognizing when my brain goes "What if...?" when I see a picture, read an article/story or listen to a song or interview.

    The more I've practiced that instinct, the easier it's become to generate ideas. Also, as WeaselFire pointed out, prompts can be a great way to get the gears turning - usually by providing you with a set of "What if..." questions or scenarios that are general enough that every writer will produce something different. (Quite frankly, because we are an aggregation of our experiences, even very specific prompts yield drastically different results between writers.)

    The important thing to remember is that when you're brainstorming you don't have to keep the starting point. So you could say "I want to write something that's a slice of life about a 14 y/o girl living in the middle of nowhere who wants to be a ballet dancer when she grows up," and by the time you've worked through some of the details and setting you realize you want the story to be about a boy or about someone older or whatever. The idea doesn't have to come to you fully formed or be perfect from the get-go to be worth exploring.
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  7. #7
    Custom User Title S. Eli's Avatar
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    I'm generally inquisitive so everything becomes a "what if" question--this leads to problems though, because sometimes I'll see a book cover and get some inspiration but, like, that's plagiarism. I'll get halfway through plotting and then realize I'm writing the same book.
    MS5 | 93K Southern Fantasy revising
    MS6 | 50K Teleportation Fantasy abandoned

  8. #8
    Not a real eskimo Quinn_Inuit's Avatar
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    Douglas Adams had a unique response to that question:
    People always ask writers the boring, stupid, and impossible to answer question, "Where do you get your ideas?" and I answer, "From a small mail-order company in Indianapolis."

    Me, I just try to consume as many stories as I can and daydream. The plots, places, and characters tend to come separately, and eventually slot into place with one another. For instance, the project I'm currently working on was loosely inspired by Frozen, the Disturbed song "The Light," and The Puppet Masters.
    --
    Looking for fun SFF short stories and reviews of other fun short stories? Come to my website! I also have a Twitter feed, on which there are occasionally shenanigans.

  9. #9
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    Different places. I almost always start with a character and build the world and events around that character. So really, the direction of the story is going to go based off what kind of character I have. For example, I get a character and I ask myself, "What kind of story might he have?" and it grows from there. And some of that direction may be guided by outside inspirations like music and movies, etc. but I try to fit the story to the character rather than the other way around.
    Last edited by Odile_Blud; 01-02-2018 at 09:50 AM.
    I forgot my old signature. Guess I'll make a new one or something. Let's see...something wise...uh..."he who does not write...? Is not a writer?"

    ...Does anyone even read this thing?



  10. #10
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Everywhere. Emotions, stray comments, things I read, things I see.

    One short story was inspired by a friend's throwaway remark. Another by a kid's cartoon my son was watching. Another by a NYT article on lonely Japanese people. Another by an old episode of Gargoyles (from my youth), where Merlin eats a book to get into Avalon.

    For longer stuff, ideas still come out of emotions or situations. Things I want to explore or dissect.
    Happiness, is just a word to me
    And it might have meant a thing or two
    If I'd known the difference.

    T: @Blind_Nycteris

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Raindrop's Avatar
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    Where do I get my ideas? In the shower.
    Or while walking in the woods, or commuting on a double-decker (top floor only; ground floor doesn't work as well), or while washing the dishes. Or when I'm asleep, often.

    What often happens is, I get an idea for a scene. I see it, in a way. When I get attached to the characters and keep seeing the scene (or other key moments linked to those characters), I know it's a story I want to write. Then I develop it, usually by questioning the elements of the scene. Mainly: who? why? what next? One of my current plot bunnies could be summed up as: "Why did she buy a goldfish instead of the blue dress she wanted?". And, yes, she's got a good reason to buy an ornamental fish.
    If I could put all my typos together, I'd have enough material for a trilogy.

  12. #12
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hublocker View Post
    I'm seriously thinking of a roman clef set in either the place I grew up or an isolated small town I lived in for 9 years, but anything's possible.

    I'm just not great on plot, plot twists, sub plots or catchy ideas.
    Since "roman a clef" is about looking at the lives and stories in the real world around you, that would be the first place to look. You could also read local newspapers, agony aunt columns, or just talk to people and let them share stories. Have you read any "roman a clef" books or any books about small towns? That might give you some idea what sort of stories to look for.

  13. #13
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Hate to be that guy* but - where don't I get my ideas? But - ideas are easy! The hard part for me is getting a story out of them...

    (I'm a lady, akshully)
    すべての武器を楽器に
    Of all instruments of war, make instruments of music

  14. #14
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    My most recent idea came from a "what if". I went out drinking and escorted home a female friend who had too much to drink. My what if was, "What if I were the Lyft driver?" How would I know someone wasn't taking advantage of a drunk woman? And what would I do about it?

  15. #15
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    My most recent idea came from a prompt in the Horror subforum, where a scary story about pizza was needed. At that time, I could only think of the cliche "the pizza is made of people" type of story and that seemed quite boring. The solution came a few days later, after I read about something that happened in the real world, and just thought, what if we replace the Main Item in this real world story with pizza! And that's how the idea about a scary pizza story came together. I won't mention the actual story, but an example would be something like this: Real World story="Little Red Riding Hood met a Big Bad Wolf" --> Scary Pizza Story= "Little Red Riding Hood met a Big Bad Pizza".

  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Clovitide's Avatar
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    Let's see... to be honest, my WIP is based on a dream I had. I've actually had a couple of dreams I'd consider novel worthy and all i really do is day dream about the little things.

    To be honest, I don't put a lot of thought on setting, or extras. I always think: What would make this different?

    And then I usually take snippets of novels, tv shows, and re-use them because I thought they were cool.

  17. #17
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Eviora's Avatar
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    Ideas come to me naturally as long as I keep my mind active. I like I read, watch, and play media as much as I can. When the time comes for me to start outlining a novel, my problem is usually that I have too many ideas, and it can be difficult to choose which ones ought to be paired.

    I also like to take inspiration from my favorite stories and imagine similar ones with key twists that keep them original.

    Another bonus of keeping your mind active is that you dream more often, and if you have weird dreams like I do, they can serve as inspiration, too.

  18. #18
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    OP here.

    I have extensive notes and diary entries from the small coastal fishing village I lived in and the small logging town I grew up in too.

    Some similarites exist though I viewed one as a child and the other as a teenager and adult.

    There were some great real events that happened but too embarrassing, revealing, intimate or depressing to reveal the actual people they happened to. Many of those people are still alive too, or still friends (so far) so it's hard to even "fictionalize" them. I'm tempted though, with a shooting, numerous suicides, philandering, casual sex, unrecognized children from affairs, drugs, booze and a host of other stories that could be woven together.


    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    Since "roman a clef" is about looking at the lives and stories in the real world around you, that would be the first place to look. You could also read local newspapers, agony aunt columns, or just talk to people and let them share stories. Have you read any "roman a clef" books or any books about small towns? That might give you some idea what sort of stories to look for.
    Last edited by Hublocker; 01-02-2018 at 10:41 PM.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by morngnstar View Post
    My most recent idea came from a "what if". I went out drinking and escorted home a female friend who had too much to drink. My what if was, "What if I were the Lyft driver?" How would I know someone wasn't taking advantage of a drunk woman? And what would I do about it?
    To generalize: empathy. Empathy is a species of "what if": what if I were that person. Since evoking empathy is my primary goal as a writer, it also makes sense that it should be a method of generating ideas.

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by morngnstar View Post
    To generalize: empathy. Empathy is a species of "what if": what if I were that person. Since evoking empathy is my primary goal as a writer, it also makes sense that it should be a method of generating ideas.
    ^^^^ This.

  21. #21
    Back on Track Carrie in PA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    I get ideas from everywhere. It's frequently just a question of recognizing when my brain goes "What if...?" when I see a picture, read an article/story or listen to a song or interview.

    The more I've practiced that instinct, the easier it's become to generate ideas. <snip>
    This. For me, it's just a matter of being tuned in to the world and noticing things. It could be a comment I overhear in a store, or something I see. One of my favorites was when I saw a lone pink child's flip flop laying in the parking lot of my office. My head spun an immediate tale of an abused mother frantically carrying her child away in the night to escape.

    It's something that definitely develops with use.
    Officially published! Strange Magic anthology, featuring my creepy story "Little Whirlpools" is now available!


  22. #22
    figuring it all out
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    My WIP came about when I saw something on tv a while back about using DNA to disprove paternity. I got to thinking about how things worked back in pre-DNA days. Now I'm over 70k
    words into a story that starts in 1972 when a child is in an accident and the father finds out he cannot be a good organ donor because he and his wife are both type-O and the child is type-A. He also
    finds out that two type-O's cannot produce a type-A child. bummer.
    This evolves into a tale involving romance, revenge, romance.
    My last work before this came from a 30 minute nap and waking up with all main events lined up and I just had to write in the fluff around them. interesting.

  23. #23
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I had this discussion recently with a critique partner, op.

    Use what you like from your life. :-)
    Happiness, is just a word to me
    And it might have meant a thing or two
    If I'd known the difference.

    T: @Blind_Nycteris

  24. #24
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    Quote Originally Posted by morngnstar View Post
    My most recent idea came from a "what if". I went out drinking and escorted home a female friend who had too much to drink. My what if was, "What if I were the Lyft driver?" How would I know someone wasn't taking advantage of a drunk woman? And what would I do about it?
    I had one of those Saturday night when a drunk woman came onto me at a party. She was really attractive too, short, blond and cute, but had a big boyfriend who I found out later is an ex prison guard.

    What if?

  25. #25
    figuring it all out
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    I get my ideas from dreams, but I am always forgetting them by the morning. I took advice from someone and put a pen and pad of paper near my bed. So, through a fuzzy half-sleep, and the glow of the digital alarm clock, I wrote down some great (subjective) ideas, only to find them completely illegible the next morning!

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