One of the things that a lot of people ask me, and apparently every other writer ever, is “Where do you get your ideas?” And the simple answer really, really is “They’re all around us everywhere.” I sometimes get ideas from newspaper articles about crimes, but those are just jumping off points: if I wanted to do true crime, those newspaper articles would become much more important, and I’d have a lot more research to do. Mostly I’m interested in why people hurt one another in the first place.
Of course, no two writers ever write the same thing, even given the same starting point. There’s so much that goes into a story, so much of the writer her- or himself that even if you give to writers the same idea for a story, they’re going to take it in lots of different directions.
Stephen King talks about how if he and Louis L’Amour were sitting by the edge of the lake at night, L’Amour would write something about cowboys singing around the fire and King would write about something slithering out of the water.
You can play this game in your everyday life too.
Yesterday, I drove up to San Francisco to meet with some other authors that I’ve met on the KBoards. I met one of them before – Alan Petersen, who’s fantastic both as a person and a writer – but the other three were new to me. We met at the Crossroads Café, near the Embarcadero, which was a great little place. We sat on the outside deck, talking about writing, traveling, our experiences with publishing, story problems… You get the idea.
One of the writers brought a friend of his, who is not a writer. The non-writer looked so familiar to me and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, I had to say, “Do I know you?” And I mentioned the people who we would most likely know one another through.
From the look the guy gave me, he clearly thought that I had lost my mind and there was something very wrong with me. He had no idea who I was talking about, and I apparently didn’t look very familiar to him.
Now, we could discuss Diane’s embarrassment at having asked this complete stranger if she and he knew one another. But this is no longer that sort of blog. Instead, let’s imagine that that’s the set up for the story. Five strangers meet at a café in San Francisco, and one of them insists she knows one of the other ones.
What kind of stories do we have here?
If this is a romance, obviously this is the “meet cute.” Maybe there’s something wrong with our heroine, who insists that she knows this guy from somewhere. Wacky hijinks ensue.
If this is chicklit or maybe New Adult fiction, maybe this is our introduction to the heroine and how wacky and ridiculous she can be.
If this is a murder mystery, maybe she saw him commit a crime a while ago, and he’s going to need to get rid of her, because she’s a witness.
If this is a paranormal mystery, maybe she’s having a clairvoyant flash on something that this guy is going to do.
If this is a CIA thriller (the kind Alan writes), clearly these two met in Budapest or something where they did some crimes or maybe picked up a hostage or whatever and they were supposed to pretend they didn’t know one another.
If this is literary fiction, maybe this is a comment on the loneliness of modern society. Where you just think you have some kind of connection with someone and you really don’t.
Ideas really are everywhere, all the time. The more emotions connected with the idea, the better (because that’s what fiction is: emotions). My emotion about this entire thing is “embarrassment.”
The way I deal with that is channeling that into story ideas.
By the way, if you’re an indie author in the Bay Area, we’re planning on having semi-regular meet ups, probably in San Francisco. Drop me a line if you’re interested.