Friday, 1 March 2013

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Edge author Katie Dale tries to find out...

This is possibly the most frequently asked question authors get, and often one of the most difficult to answer. You can be the most skilled writer in the world, but if you've got writer's block, and can't think of any ideas, you're stuck. If only there was some magical place you could go to get a fantastic idea for the next best-seller...actually, for some lucky writers, there is...

"I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately."

Lucky Stephanie Meyer - the idea for one of the most successful book series in recent years came to her in a dream. Likewise, JK Rowling claims that the idea for Harry Potter just came to her one day while she was sitting on a train at King's Cross station. Accounts like this can be extremely frustrating - why won't inspiration strike me? (My dreams, while often very vivid at the time, make absolutely NO sense in the morning, and I've sat on a lot of trains and am yet to write the next Harry Potter!). 
Luckily, most authors don't have to rely on a muse, and have discovered that inspiration is actually all around us, if only we keep our eyes and ears open. Here are some examples of where authors got their ideas...
The news is a great resource, because it's about real people and real events, and authors such as Emma Donaghue (ROOM); Jodi Picoult (NINETEEN MINUTES) and Keren David (WHEN I WAS JOE) have used topical, current issues as a basis for fiction. My first YA novel, SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE was originally inspired by an item on the news about two babies who had been swapped at birth, and the idea for my second, LITTLE WHITE LIES, came from the case of the notorious Maxine Carr, who was vilified in the press for giving her boyfriend, Ian Huntley an alibi when he was charged with the murder of two schoolgirls.

Dickens, CS Lewis, George Orwell and many others used fiction as a means of commentary on issues that were important to them, and authors still do so today. Here's Suzanne Collins talking about her inspiration for the mega-hit THE HUNGER GAMES.

Christopher Robin is A.A. Milne's son, and the 100 Acre Wood was based on their nearby Ashdown Forest; Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical professor from college had some very eccentric habits and mannerisms, which he used for the basis for Sherlock Holmes, and JM Barrie's PETER PAN was inspired by the Llewellyn-davies boys.
Have you ever known somewhere that'd make a great setting, or someone with a standout personality, who'd make a great character? A painting you wished you could live in, or an object with a past...?
What about people you pass on the street? Everyone has a story - be a detective and see if you can find clues about them - What are they wearing? Why? Where are they going to/coming from? Who do they live with? How are they feeling today? What might be in their bag? BE NOSY - Eavesdrop (subtly!) on strangers' conversations (changing rooms, trains, and people on mobile phones are great for this) Who knows what you'll hear...?
Greek myths (PERCY JACKSON), Arthurian legends (MERLIN), Fairy Tales (SISTERS RED), and even the Classics (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) are finding new incarnations all over the place - can you revamp familiar tales/characters with a new spin?

What if you woke up with  a tail? What if the Nazi’s won World War 2? What if the Polar Ice caps flooded the world? What if you found out your parents weren’t really your parents? What if our toys come alive when we can’t see them?

Whenever you spot a newspaper article, a phrase, or any other item that sparks a possible book subject, put the idea in a box. When you need an idea, have a rummage through and see what you find - who knows which ideas might go together to make something new and exciting?
And most importantly, once you find an idea, nurture it, develop it, let it grow. An idea is the seed, but imagination is the fertiliser.
Good luck!
Where do you get your ideas from?

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman


  1. Often it's not catching the ideas that's hard, but holding them. Holding an idea takes courage, like grabbing the tail of a tiger. It's so easy just to think, 'No, this idea's no good, it'll never make a story,' and let go. Anyone can grab a tiger by the tail, but only the bravest keep holding on.

  2. I always tell people that writers are like magpies - collecting all the glittery tiny bits people leave around. I think there are millions of ideas in the news every day.

  3. Great post, Katie, and you're so right. The ideas and inspirations are everywhere and, as Nick says, it's holding onto them and then spinning them into a story that's the hard part. I keep a notebook, several actually, and if I haven't got a notebook handy, I use bits of paper, which I lose and find in odd places!