I apologize, for you have been deceived with my title, for this piece is not about babies, but about ideas. But don’t fret! Conceiving ideas is just as fun as that other process, minus the sweat, embarrassing noises, and the nine months of weight gain. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite the similarities. The passion that goes in to the creative process, how sparks of random energy swimming around a tight space can pour into a single explosive moment, eventually springing something totally awesome. And we can’t forget the funny faces, the yells in delight, and the risky mess when things aren’t planned out just right.
And, of course, you can get your heart broken if the idea doesn’t quite work out. But the main difference? We know where babies come from.
Ideas are like a box of chocolate: you never know what you’re going to get. But like boxes of chocolate, there are certain places you can look to find them. Would you look for a box of chocolate in a weight-loss store? How about in the amazon?
Damn right you’re not. Give your search for ideas the same level of credence.
1) What Dreams May Come. I had a dream a few nights ago that I was being robbed at gunpoint and wrestled the gun away. I went from the victim to the…well, to the guy with the gun. What happened after makes no sense (how many dreams do?), but the next day I started on a short story about a man who manages to get the gun and kidnaps the robber. Stephanie Meyer said that the whole Twilight series stemmed from a dream she had about people who sparkle in the sunlight. Dreams are a very interesting part of human life. They are worlds created entirely from our subconscious, places where we make decisions we wouldn’t normally, places where the rules don’t matter. They are a breeding ground for creativity, without even breaking a mental sweat.
In my experience, to get the most out of dreams you have to take out the flesh/core. If the story I’m writing followed to a T what had happened in that dream, the story would suck major suckage. Just like good editors can pull out a worthy novel from a string of mess, you need to learn to take advantage of your dreams.
2) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I haven’t read this book (yet) but its concept is intriguing: a biography of Abraham Lincoln….and zombies? Seth Grahame-Smith took a well-known story (well, kind of) and put a serious twist to it: what would Lincoln’s life be like in a world plagued by the undead? It’s a daunting endeavour, and I would suggest going for something a little bit more subtle at first. For example, I am working on a story with my mom about a local criminal mystery dating back to her childhood. Also, I have an idea about fictionalizing the black plague. No one alive has experienced the world when the plague was the one thing everyone could agree to fear. I have the chance to write history the way I see it, and entertain along the way.
The history of the world has so many stories just waiting to be retold, altered, and taken advantage of!
3) The Simpsons Did It. If you are a South Park fan, then you must remember the episode where Butters attempts to come up with a plethora of ideas to destroy the town, just to find out that each and every one had already been done on a Simpsons episode. This may feel like a dilemma for us writers. Have you ever told one of your friends about a story idea just to hear them say, “Oh yea, like that book/movie/television show…”
Discouraging? It shouldn’t be. In fact, I would encourage people to take their favorite stories and put their own little twists to them. Both Dean Koontz and Stephen King, the biggest names in Horror, have taken this route: Koonz with Frankenstein and King with Dracula (‘Salem’s Lot). You’ll surprise yourself with how original your version can turn out to be. It will also exemplify that the most important element of a story isn’t exactly the story itself, but the characters, the writing, and the emotion underneath it all.
4) The Real World. This is where a majority of ideas come from. Even the most bizarre of fantasies were most likely conceived from some random event the author observed. I’m currently reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman and I can just imagine him in front of a television (or maybe he was just having a conversation about TV) and seeing how much America idolizes materialistic things. When you notice a stem of an idea like that, you must water it, pull at it, give it some sunshine, and let it grow. Only then can you harvest.
But of course, ideas come in a variety of ways. Some of you may have a personal muse who comes and whispers in your ear, which as fine as long as you remember to listen. These are just some of my big sources. Time for you to share yours.