Finding Ideas.

Where do you find these amazing ideas? It is a timeless question every person author will suffer from. It is also one of the hardest to respond to. In this post I will try to provide an answer. Maybe it will satisfy you and maybe you will think differently. Either way it is will be exciting to see.

John Cleese used to respond he get his idea from a Mister Ken Levinshaw who lives in Swindon. The point is, we don’t know where our ideas come from. Looking back you might

English: John Cleese in May 2008.

English: John Cleese in May 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

discover you stole an idea from a movie you watched or a book you read. We get ideas from our unconscious. John Cleese explains this in his speech to the World Creativity Forum (well worth a watch). He noticed that an idea doesn’t stop being improved by your subconscious when you stop writing. You might find that letting something rest or sleeping will make creativity a lot easier.

Neil Gaiman has an essay on the subject.  I might have let slip one to many times that I am a big fan of Gaiman.This essay, is absolutely a great read. He brings up a good point. A point many writers sometimes have to remember: an idea is only a small part of a creative process. Some would even say that ideas are simple. I agree. A good idea does not make a good book. A bad idea can make a good book. Jim Butcher once took on the challenge when someone claimed he couldn’t write a good story with a lame idea. Butcher countered he could do it with two. The ideas were “the lost roman legion” and “pokémon” both given to him by the challenger. He ended up writing the first book in a best-selling series called Codex Alera.

Ideas are also quite simply hard to judge. What is obvious to me might not be to others. Derek Sivers video on this subject is an important watch.

The point I think everyone is trying to make is, that while an idea can help launch your story it is not the most important thing. As an answer to the first question I want to give you Gaiman’s.

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?

(What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse? What if you all found out that your teacher was planning to eat one of you at the end of term – but you didn’t know who?)

Another important question is, If only…

(If only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals. If only I could shrink myself small as a button. If only a ghost would do my homework.)

And then there are the others: I wonder… (‘I wonder what she does when she’s alone…’) and If This Goes On… (‘If this goes on telephones are going to start talking to each other, and cut out the middleman…’) and Wouldn’t it be interesting if… (‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if the world used to be ruled by cats?’)…

Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose (‘Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don’t they any more? And how do they feel about that?’) are one of the places ideas come from.

An idea doesn’t have to be a plot notion, just a place to begin creating. Plots often generate themselves when one begins to ask oneself questions about whatever the starting point is.

Sometimes an idea is a person (‘There’s a boy who wants to know about magic’). Sometimes it’s a place (‘There’s a castle at the end of time, which is the only place there is…’). Sometimes it’s an image (‘A woman, sifting in a dark room filled with empty faces.’)

Often ideas come from two things coming together that haven’t come together before. (‘If a person bitten by a werewolf turns into a wolf what would happen if a goldfish was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen if a chair was bitten by a werewolf?’)

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.

And when you’ve an idea – which is, after all, merely something to hold on to as you begin – what then?

Well, then you write. You put one word after another until it’s finished – whatever it is.

Sometimes it won’t work, or not in the way you first imagined. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Sometimes you throw it out and start again.

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~ by Sander on August 27, 2012.

One Response to “Finding Ideas.”

  1. Very true. My favorite answer about this question (Where do you get the ideas?) is Harlan Ellison’s ( –

    “My answer is always the same — since there is no answer to this query. At least neither Plato nor Socrates nor Shakespeare could make the codification. When some jamook asks me this one (thereby revealing him/herself to be a person who has about as much imaginative muscle as a head of lettuce), I always smile prettily and answer, “Schenectady.”

    And when the jamook looks at me quizzically, and scratches head with hairy hand, I add: “Oh, sure. There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ’em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.”

    And wouldja believe it…there is always some demento who asks me for the address.”


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