Where Ideas Come From

One of the questions writers hear most is, “where do your ideas come from?”
Well. The truth is- ideas are everywhere. In everyone.  Sometimes we don’t even have to look for them. Sometimes ideas for books or scenes or even characters are presented to writers like delicious snacks on the best, polished silver. And sometimes they're, well, not.
Dreams. They can be great for story ideas. I, for one, wish I had dreams like Stephanie Meyer, who according to legend got the idea for Twilight from a dream. Of course, last night I dreamt that a fish mated with a lobster and morphed into a monster in my cell phone case. And then escaped into my walls. Um. I'm thinking not so much a story I need to write. But perhaps a visit to my therapist is in order.

Media. There are so many stories in the newspapers and on the radio. In the news. All around us.  The media, social networking it’s all rich with “What if” scenario’s.
Eavesdropping. Most writers really are horrible eavesdroppers.  Or maybe it’s that we’re good eavesdroppers. Whatever. We do it. We listen. Usually my eavesdropping gives me inspiration for quirky or cool dialogue or things to add to characters or scenes, but I've heard of writers who have gotten entire novels from one overheard conversation or clip on the radio.
Real life. Um yeah. It does sneak in there. So many things that characters do or feel are based on things that have happened in writer’s lives, or the lives of people we know or have heard about.  Okay. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all authors. But it’s true for me. That does not mean that my mom is the basis for the mom character in my book. But some things about my mom *might* show up in other characters in the book. (don’t worry Mom it’s only the good stuff ;) )   
Authors always have the writer brain turned on. And not just for ideas. For experiences, sensations and settings. We’re taking notes, even if we’re not carrying a note book. There’s a little file in our brains where we store things we might need to pull out for a story later on.  People tell us things and we listen. We file. We imagine.
I was lying in the doctor’s office a while back, getting an uncomfortable ultrasound done (nothing to be alarmed about just a routine check) and in my head I was taking notes. What were the sounds I was hearing? What was the waiting room like? What color were the walls? Was it cold? What did the robe feel like? Did it do up at the front or back? How did the technician talk to me? I was tucking all of this and more away for future reference. Times when I’ve been really happy or really sad, I’ve tucked away notes on what I was experiencing for my books.  It`s like a sickness or a disease.  Or maybe just an idea gene.
So yes, ideas are everywhere. But it's what we do with them that makes things interesting. Some may take a lot of work to develop, like the world building involved in dystopian or paranormal novels, but the most basic idea for a book has to start somewhere.  Lots of what if’s. Lots of eavesdropping and observing and research and sometimes just making stuff up.
I think the true beauty of an idea is that every author will take it and make it their own. Tell their own a story in their own unique way.  In their own voice.  
As writers, we may sometimes share the same ideas, but in the end, we all have a different story to tell.


  1. Great post, Janet! I love your take on Dreams especially. My dreams are amazing...and I can't imagine how to begin to get most of them down on paper in any kind of believable fashion. (And sorry that my post came out the same day yours did -- I posted very late on Jan. 3, but the system must operate on EST instead of CST.)

  2. No worries! I love my dreams, but they never give me story ideas. They just worry me. :)

  3. I think of my dreams as entertainment while I'm sleeping, like watching a movie during the flight to morning.


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