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So where DO writers get their ideas?

We are storytelling creatures, we human beings. You see the tale-telling talent evident in the smallest child. We love stories: love to hear them, love to tell them. So I’m often surprised when I hear people ask writers where they get their ideas (read stories) for they’ve probably been weaving their own for years and have plucked snatches of story parts from here and there as they’ve gone along.


As much as it’s an old saw, it’s true: ideas are a dime a dozen. Perhaps what people are really asking is where do you get your good ideas. That has more merit, I think. For ideas are present in the daily fabric of our lives. They fuel our days. Like breath, we take them in and out. Pick up any newspaper and germs of stories nest inside the headlines. Take a trip down memory lane and pull a thread from your own life to weave anew. Examine your regrets, your almosts, your wish-I’d-done-that column and pluck one and say ‘what if?’ Look into the eyes of a beloved and clothe them in a new landscape of your own choosing or use that anger and hate you have against another to fuel a new story of vengeance or redemption. Your choice; you are the creator.

But good ideas require a more thoughtful consideration. They have weight and merit; they have the ability to stand alone. They must be able to fuel your desire to tell the tale for days, months, perhaps even years. They must curl your toes and pique your interest. Good stories are not so common.

There are plenty of interesting nuggets that get the storytelling juices bubbling but many fall short after a strong beginning. They lack the required oxygen necessary for the story to catch fire and burn. You may meet up with a cool character who begs for a chance to take part in one of your stories but once you begin to undress and unpack this suitor you realize he or she really is an empty suit. He lacks substance; she is void of motivation.

The trouble with all this is that there really isn’t any one good story test that will meet the needs of all the writers who seek to take measure of their ideas. At some point a writer begins to tap into their internal barometer and their ideas assume weight and shape—enough to provide the writer with some indication that there might actually be something worth working and they begin to invest time and labor, both precious commodities. The truth is no one can truly tell you if an idea you develop will be worth your consideration.

Take Mary Shelley. Who would have thought that this 19-year old woman in the summer of 1816 would accept a story challenge, a mere parlor game, and, over the next ten months, create a story, Frankenstein, that would live in the imagination of millions for generation upon generation. Did she know, you might ask? You tell me, for when she woke up with the idea she wrote that she knew she had a story “that would make the reader dread to look around, to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.”

Perhaps it’s time to take your pulse: Does the idea, the very thought, of your story quicken your beating heart?


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  • http://cassie-b.buzzstuff.net cassie-b

    I don’t consider myself a writer, however; I do like to share my thoughts. The reason I became a blogger was that 6 people in my family were bloggers before me. And what an easy way to keep in touch!
    I really appreciate all the excellent writings and the excellent photographs of some of my blog friends. And some, I just enjoy their sharing of their lives with me. To be perfectly honest, I share only tiny bits of my life, but I enjoy the interactions of the blog community.
    I assume that you’re a “real writer” and I certainly do appreciate that.
    Thanks for stopping by.
    Cas

  • http://cassie-b.buzzstuff.net cassie-b

    I don’t consider myself a writer, however; I do like to share my thoughts. The reason I became a blogger was that 6 people in my family were bloggers before me. And what an easy way to keep in touch!
    I really appreciate all the excellent writings and the excellent photographs of some of my blog friends. And some, I just enjoy their sharing of their lives with me. To be perfectly honest, I share only tiny bits of my life, but I enjoy the interactions of the blog community.
    I assume that you’re a “real writer” and I certainly do appreciate that.
    Thanks for stopping by.
    Cas

  • http://clear-lake-reflections.com Mark

    My Diana post didn’t affect you….

  • http://clear-lake-reflections.com Mark

    My Diana post didn’t affect you….

  • http://clear-lake-reflections.com Mark

    This was a very nicely written essay. Your point is elegantly and firmly set forth. Character matters more than plot. Follow internal barometers.
    I’m tired of fighting for style. That will just happen of its own accord, as it does with you.
    Thanks for the reference to Mary Shelley. But Jane Austen could out-dance her.

  • http://clear-lake-reflections.com Mark

    This was a very nicely written essay. Your point is elegantly and firmly set forth. Character matters more than plot. Follow internal barometers.
    I’m tired of fighting for style. That will just happen of its own accord, as it does with you.
    Thanks for the reference to Mary Shelley. But Jane Austen could out-dance her.

  • http://awanderingconfluence.com/blog Sharon Ferguson

    Lovely post! And a good reminder for when I get stuck on what to write. Tolkien’s little scribble on a student’s blank sheet of paper always comes to mind…did he know just how far-reaching that first sentence would ever be?

  • http://awanderingconfluence.com/blog Sharon Ferguson

    Lovely post! And a good reminder for when I get stuck on what to write. Tolkien’s little scribble on a student’s blank sheet of paper always comes to mind…did he know just how far-reaching that first sentence would ever be?