Where Do Ideas Come From?

“Where do you get your ideas?”

By far, the most popular question asked of authors, and, by far, the least favorite question for authors to answer. It’s not because we don’t enjoy sharing our experiences and tips to you; it’s because we barely know the answer ourselves! There’s a mysterious click in our heads that says, “Hey, this might be kind of cool.”

But, as I’ve listened to other authors explain how they get ideas and as I’ve considered how I get my own, I’ve come to a different conclusion (but possibly just as frustrating): they come from everywhere!

Honestly. It’s a matter of training your brain to pick up on oddities. “Why did that guy just dart out of the ATM line?” “What would have happened if that person didn’t stop despite a green light as the other car blew past?” “Why is this girl standing literally two inches from me and sticking her chest out?” (That last one actually happened to me over the weekend.) When you’ve picked up on something, don’t shrug it off, and don’t settle for a one-word answer. Really explore it.

For example, the one that happened to me over the weekend: Why is this girl standing literally two inches from me and sticking her chest out? Think of a few possibilities. Maybe she’s feeling insecure. Maybe she wants to assert her superiority (she was a full foot taller than me). Maybe someone paid her to stand next to me and draw my attention away from what was happening at the front of the store.

Ah. And this is where stories begin.

Next step: continue with the questions (usually “why”s are the most productive). Why would someone pay her to do that? Who would gain something from that? What was going on at the front of the store?

Now you’re cooking. As you continue to explore the scenarios, come up with more than two answers. A smart man (aka my hubby) once told me “The first idea you have is what you saw on TV yesterday. The second idea is what you saw on TV last week. The following ones are where you start creating something from all your experiences.”

Another helpful tactic to start questioning your surroundings is a game my husband and I play. While you are out and about doing whatever it is you do, ask yourself, “How would I start a story here?” Pay attention to the setting. Is there a building nearby that could suddenly collapse? Could red drops start falling from the sky? Try to come up with something wild to really get your brain churning.

All that to say, ideas are everywhere. You just have to start looking.

For a shortened version of this, see my FAQ page.

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