“Where do you get your ideas?”
How often readers ask this of writers! Harlan Ellison always answered “Poughkeepsie,” but frankly, I’ve been there and I think they’ve all been taken.
Now, some writers have a lot of trouble finding ideas, but once they have one they are tenacious. They know they’ve found gold, and they will work diligently to extract it, writing until it’s finished and polished and perfect.
Others are like me: I have no trouble finding ideas. It’s finishing them that’s the trouble. I keep thinking of all the ideas I haven’t even started, and sometimes it gets in the way of the one I’m working on.
So how can you have that problem, that overabundance of ideas?
I take ideas from the world around me. In particular, I steal. Austin Kleon’s book “Steal Like An Artist,” shows you the basics of why this concept is valid, but not the specifics. Over the next few months, during every World-Builder Friday, I want to take you through the stepping stones of finding an idea and turning it into a story, using my novel, Into the Sky as an example.
Into the Sky began in the seeds of another world. The most basic concept – a world with a knights who rode flying horses – was one I’d explored before, in ideas that never came to fruition. They’re still there, but the plots became knotted and snarled, and I decided to start fresh with the concept for my senior year Creative Writing Independent Study in college. The next step was coming up with characters.
This is where the exciting magic of thievery happens.
I can’t think of a single writer that I know who hasn’t spoken of their inspirations – favorite books, movies, music, even works of art. But some authors take that more literally. Robin McKinley got her start retelling her favorite fairy tales. When I created Into the Sky, I used some of my favorite characters in order to get a template for not only my characters, but my story.
Without spoiling who’s who, I based one pair of characters based on Sir Percy and Lady Marguerite from The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my favorite novels. The gentleman is cheeky and charming, but with a sensitive soft side he keeps hidden. His lady love is more hardened off, treated harshly by life yet still hoping that something better lies around the corner.
Another couple is based on one of my absolute favorite movies, Lili. The heroine is a naive young orphan girl who falls in love with a charming group of lifelike puppets, while their cynical puppeteer secretly falls desperately in love with her.
These elements of the plot didn’t actually end up coming into play in Into the Sky itself because the story grew larger than I anticipated (I’m a series kind of girl), but they influenced my characters, and their romantic arcs. Those in turn influenced the direction my heroine, Alcie, goes in on her quest.
I’d love to tell you more, but I’m realizing that this has become a rather epic blog post, so we’ll pause here. If this has been helpful to you, please feel free to leave a comment. This blog is really new and I’d love to make friends! Tell me where your ideas come from!