Writing Advice: Birth of an Idea

So…Where do ideas come from? I get asked this a lot and I don’t have to read too many interviews with other authors to know that it is the one single most often asked question. Everyone always wants to know, and I can understand why. Not only does it give you insight into the mind of another author, and they would like the insight. Many others ask just because they want the simple answer of where such tales come from as they can’t grasp it themselves.

First off, I should get past one very large misconception about writers, ideas, and their characters. Just because a writer puts words on paper about a twisted psychopath who goes around carving up victims, it does not mean he himself would ever do such a thing. Plots, ideas for plots, and characters are not a manifestation of an authors hidden deep desires. If so, Stephen King has some serious issues and would have long since put in prison if he was to ever act on many of his stories. There are some seriously sick and twisted people out there and while they may reference a certain authors work for things that they do, the people were sick and twisted all their own.

Now that I got that off my chest, back to the topic…

 So, where do they come from?

An idea can come from many places and from anywhere. Stories are all around us, you just need to look, see, react, and then put words down. Oh, and if your story sounds like that movie you just saw, or some book someone tells you about after you already started, don’t worry. The first thing to get over with when coming up with any idea is, and here comes the blasphemy, there are no original ideas anymore. Think of Hollywood with all the remakes. There are reasons why the same old stories are always retold. Because when you break it down to basics, they have all been done.Remember, the basic stories when they are broken down, are; man vs. society, man vs nature, man vs. man, and man vs himself. There you go, the four story types (I have to fight the sci/fi fan in me that want’s to add man vs. machine but that really does fall under man vs. nature). Everything you can write will fall into the big four categories.

So if everything has been written, why write? Well,…that shouldn’t be the question you are asking yourself. If the desire to write is there, then the questions “why write?” should never come up. Get past that, you want to write, it is in your blood. You just need to get past the stumbling blocks that you put in your own way. Don’t ask why write, but instead focus on, okay, then what should I write? Get back to that question and here’s why.

Just because it is nearly impossible to have a truly original idea, don’t stress and instead create an interesting story that pulls you in. Create characters that you like and want to hang out with every day. Build a story line that is unique to you. By doing that, you will have just taken that story that has been done a thousand times and not only made it your own, but you have put your own spin on it enough that it is in its own way, original.

 So now how do we find our non-original, original idea…?

This is where life comes in. I find that the best way to write is to look at the world around you, find a situation you want to write about, think about how you can create a character that will suit the situation, and go. Now, I also feel that because I write horror, this is a little easier, but we will look at the way I am about to describe in two ways, one to come up with a horror idea for it, but then also look to see how we can develop it into a romance. Please, be gentle…and let the sexual innuendo begin.

So look at life. That is step one. Step two, ask questions. This doesn’t mean to go around and attack everyone with questions. Ask questions to yourself about the life that is around you.


Step one, look around at life. Just the other day while I was at the coffee shop writing my next novel, an artist was there hanging up some of her work. A piece she hung was a wood carving of a Ouija board that had a woman’s face engraved into it. My first reaction was how beautiful the piece was, but my second was, I started to ask myself some questions.

My first question, who is this a picture of? Then the filmmaker in me asked, well did she pose for it, was the face done from memory, and did she get the release signed for it, did a model pose for the picture? Then my questions grew dark, what if she didn’t pose. What if this is a picture of someone who had upset the artist and she drew her out of spite. It’s a Ouija board, what if when she carved the board, it pulled the woman’s soul into the board and now she was trapped in there. How would the woman ever get out, what had the woman done to upset the artist so? What if the artist did it to other people, and what if she did it to me? If I used the board as a Ouija board would I communicate with the person whose would was trapped…

See where the story developed. I started with just seeing an excellent piece of art being placed on the wall, and within minutes a story had developed. Now, let’s try to do a romantic comedy about this piece.

We start again with the piece of art. It is a woman’s face. So who was the artist and was the artist in love with the subject and was it done out of an interest? Did the artist start with just hiring posing subjects and the. As this woman was posing he started talking to her. He’s nervous around woman maybe so he has a hard time talking to her. Maybe he’s autistic so he is awkward. She finds it of putting and is initially thrown off. She leaves but then later she sees the peace and the beauty. Maybe she goes back to him and …

Okay, I don’t write romance, but see how we started off with just a situation, asked a few questions and the story just quickly developed.

Let’s look at another situation that can related to recently and was the inspiration for my short story, “Black Friday.” This seems like it is such ripe pickings for a story and I am surprised there are not more of them out there. Let me start by painting the scene.

I had been working in retail and of course, I had to be at the story early in the morning for black friday to be there before the store opened. I arrived an hour early largely because I had been coming back from out of town and just went straight to the store rather than going home, sleeping for a half hour and then going. I was tired. I myself felt like a zombie, but when I arrived to the store, that was nothing compared to the people I saw lined up outside of the store.

And since I was there early and no one could see my work uniform under the many layers of coats, I got out and mingled with the shoppers. I found out some had only just arrived, but many of them had been there all night. Interesting…

Later, once I got into the store and we prepared for the people to come in, I saw it from the other perspective. Here we were on the inside of a well fortified building and we were preparing for a war. It was almost like we were getting ready for a riot with how we planned for the crowd control. The whole situation was very…horror movie like with how we were preparing for an attack. And what was going to attack us, they were only shoppers. The people we helped every day, so what was there to be afraid of?

But what if the people were zombies. They had been so tired, I was tired. What if it was zombies out there and when we opened those doors, pulled down the large black plastic we had put up so people couldn’t see inside, we would be attacked by zombies rushing the store. How would we know? How could we tell if they were zombies before we opened? The people I had mingled with had been near zombie like before, how would anyone tell the difference from then and now?

Life is the greatest inspiration for art. Look around and you will find many different things to write about. It should never be a question of where ideas come from. The question is alway show to tell them and finding the right character to carry the tale.

A friend recently reminded me of one of my first short stories. It was a simple story about a boy who commits suicide and the story is told within the form of a suicide note. I learned not to write in this fashion while you are still a student in high school as you stop asking questions and you will suddenly find yourself being asked a bunch of questions. It was not a fun experience, but I do remember some of the elements of how that story came about.

The story was developed another way. It came from a concept. Part of the concept was I wanted to write this sad story about a kid in the form of a suicide note, but I also wanted to play on other elements such as teenage drunk driving. I wanted to really paint this dire situation, really get a person to get to know the character and write it in a first person. The main focus in this story was I had a character I wanted the people to meet and then put him in a situation.

We will talk about more of that style in a later blog as we go into further details on building characters. The reason why I mention it is sometimes, the story comes with the character first. Sometimes the story is the character, and you find situations to build around him.

Remember, stories are everywhere.

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