I think everyone has had this happen to them. You’re a kid, you’re in the store, and you see something you want. You tug on your mom or dad’s arm and say, “Can I have that?”
“No, sweetie,” your parent responds. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
It’s a rather odd image. Why don’t they say, “We don’t have much money”? Or “Money doesn’t fall out of the sky.” Why on earth would it grow on trees? (Actually, I believe our dollar bills contain cotton, so technically, money grows on bushes.)
Anyway, I’m here to inform you that ideas don’t grow on trees either. But never fear – they appear everywhere else. For most writers, ideas are not the problem. The problem is writing all of them in full. Here’s a list of just some of the places I get my ideas:
1. Dreams. A delightful romp through the subconscious mind can create all sorts of fun scenarios. Unfortunately, dream situations often make sense to us while we’re in them, but be completely ridiculous. To avoid working myself into a story that’s just plain crazy, I will jot the dream into a notebook and let it settle for a week before checking to see if it’s plausible.
2. Life. This is quite a broad category. People, places, events… all of these can spark ideas. I usually don’t write something that closely parallels my real life, but I’ll borrow bits and pieces. Next year’s NaNo (I’ve gone through five ideas so far, but this one’s a keeper) was inspired by a friend’s predicament. I used to say that every character I write is some split personality version of me. After all, I dreamed them up.
3. Media. Everything I read, watch, or hear influences me, whether I want it to or not. I’m almost a style/voice chameleon – after reading a book, I’ll find my thoughts mimicking the author’s style for a couple of hours. Books especially can give me ideas – I might read a historical novel and decide it would be neat to set a story in the past, or see a story done badly and think of how it could be done better.
4. Phrases. Just a few words can spark an idea. Strange Bedfellows actually started with the sentence ‘My roommate is going to kill me.’ I then tried to figure out why this would be the case, asking myself questions and answering them to build an entire world from one idea.
For me, at least, ideas are the easiest part of the story. It’s finding time to write all of them that’s the problem.