Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

By Martha Reed

My nephew is home visiting from school, and after we caught up on his adventures he asked me what I was working on lately. That is the great thing about raising kids up once you’ve already decided to become a writer; they take it for granted that’s what you are. My sisters, who knew me before I became a writer still look at it slightly askance like I might suddenly drop it and take up some other time-killer like golf.

At first, Reed asked about my novel. I explained that my day job had gotten so stressful at year-end that I simply didn’t have the energy to work on anything long or involved. That’s why I started noodling around with a short story format because 5,000 words is manageable. You can pick it up and put it down. And that’s when he asked me the big question: Where do you get your ideas?

Hummm. That’s kind of a tough one because every answer is different. My first short story came from something I overheard at a restaurant: Table for One? Another story came from a question I wondered about halfway through a home renovation: What if your house didn’t like you? A third came from a photo I saw of a Sumerian lion figurine that was so obviously non-Western culture that I immediately started to imagine living a prehistoric life. This latest story is a gift from my grandfather, a man Reed never met. Pop was an intelligence officer in the Pacific during WWII. He never shared his experiences. So, of course, being a good mystery enthusiast, I researched the subject myself and learned that what happened at Bataan and Corregidor was so horrific and courageous and human the new story popped right out of it.

Which leads me to my question: what are you working on, and where did you get the idea?


Gina said...

Wow, what a question. Ideas seems to come from everywhere, coalescing out of the ether. Sometimes I get an ending, then the path to get there comes to me. The idea for a short story came to me while stopped at the light at Beechwood and Fifth. A squirrel ran across the electric line and I thought, "These squirrels are nuts" and "Squirrelly, Squirrelly Night" was born. One of the unsold novels, Hannabelle, came to me when I started working for a local electric utility that owned nuclear power plants. I worried about what happens when you create something powerful for benevolent purposes, but can't insure its safety because it will outlive you. In the novel, the dangerous item is a doll, fashioned by Lissie in the 18th Century and passed down to daughter after daughter through the generations to the present day. Hannabelle protects the little girl who owns her, so when Jenny's uncle molests her, it kills him. When her little brother teases her, it kills him. Dolls don't have a lot of discrimination. One of the screenplays, The Spiral Path, actually came in answer to a prayer. Many of my stories have dark endings, so I prayed for something that would end on a positive note and got the story of two boyhood friends who reconnect in adulthood. The log line my co-authors and I are using is: Disabled self-made millionaire pulls off the ultimate hostile takeover when he tricks his boyhood buddy into switching bodies. Trust me. It comes out right in the end. Anyway, I could go on and on, so I'll stop now.

Rebecca Bradley said...

For me this is a pretty difficult question. I'm not sure where the idea's come from, they just seem to float randomly around in my head and sometimes they morph into something I can actually write.

At the moment I've just started my second WIP - A crime novel. At first the idea for the story looked great, then after a bit of researching I thought it was way above my head for a second book, my head wouldn't let it go though, so here I am a couple of thousand words into it and seeing where we go.

Ramona said...

Love the comment about the time-killer, golf. All sisters must be alike.

I get a lot of ideas from objects I see. Yesterday, driving to a movie, I saw a particular thing propped up against a fence and I thought, "Oh." And by the time I got to the movie, I had a story.

I hope the beginning of 2012 is less stressful, Martha. I'd love to hear more about that short story.

Martha Reed said...

Hi, all. The only stress now is that I don't want to be at work - I want to finish my story.

Another thing I noticed is that I seem to keep a stock of images or emotions always in the back of my mind and when I come to a point in the story when I have to imagine what one character is doing, I remember what I felt when that sort of event happened to me, or remember something I saw, and use it.

Jenna said...

I mail-order mine from a small general store in Nebraska.

Jenna said...

On a more serious note, I have no idea where ideas come from. Everywhere, I guess. The origins of some are easier to pinpoint than others. For the 4th DIY book, the human trafficking one, it was just seeing stories about human trafficking on the news. That YA mystery I wrote a couple of years ago - it hasn't gone anywhere yet, but I have hopes - started because a friend on another blog complained that there weren't enough mysteries for teens out there. I thought, "I can write one of those!" The concept come from the title, and the title came from a trip through Virginia in the car, and that's all I'm going to say about it. As for the SFRs, it's Will's fault. Him and his flash fiction smackdown. I don't know where Quinn came from, though. He was just sitting there in prison on the moon when I met him. Something in my subconscious, I assume. :)

Martha Reed said...

Good thing that subconscious is always cooking!

Annette said...

What a great question. I have no answer. Frankly, I like Jenna's original response and want the address to that mail order store.

Okay, I'll take a shot at answering this. I've had ideas come out of dreams and others have come out of newspaper stories. Some have come out of horrible, senseless things that have happened to people I know. Only when I turn those into a story, I have to make sense of it. Those ones are cheap therapy.

Mary Sutton said...

Interesting question.

The idea for the novel originally came from my husband, and then you (Martha) expanded on it during this year's retreat at Confluence.

The short story came from that same retreat.

I'm now thinking about hashing out a story around Annette's comment about finding a wedding ring on the side of the road. It would most likely be a short story using the same character as the first one.

So I guess my ideas come from things I hear from other people.