Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.
— Lucas, Empire Records
One battle every writer who doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder faces is to find viable story ideas. I tackle this adversary by looking anywhere and everywhere for hints of inspiration. I carry around a Moleskine notebook for when I overhear a bit of dialog or see a snippet of a scene I can use in the future. I’ll jot down quotes, random thoughts, pretty much anything that falls out of my brain. I expect some day, probably after my death, these mostly dross-filled notebooks will sell for thousands of dollars on ebay to fans who hope to find a gem or two amongst the scribbles. Wishful thinking, I know. But it never hurts to be prepared.
On a semi-regular basis, I transfer ideas into a Google Spreadsheet I call my “Idea Box.” From there, I can expand ideas when I’m bored at work. Some of those ideas will eventually become stories. It’s always fun to look back through my Moleskine or my Idea Box to see how certain seeds have progressed to full-blown ideas. For example…
- 4 September 2007 (Moleskine): “NOVEL IDEA: Character doesn’t speak.” This idea became the subject for my 2007 NaNoWriMo effort two months later. Eventually, that story will be adapted for the screen. The idea came to me whilst listening to speech at a business conference. I was probably sick of having to engage in small talk at said conference.
- 27 October 2007 (Moleskine): “Story idea: Based on M. Valentine by Spoon. M. Valentine is a woman! Which is why she both swordfights and makes love to the duke.” This led to my favorite work yet, The Affair of Monsieur Valentine. The B-story of that story actually came from a dream I had later. And speaking of dreams…
- 11 November 2007 (Moleskine): “Story idea: Woman on a journey encountering various fairytale obstacles, i.e., being chased by a monster, she finds a very handsome young man passed out (a sleeping beauty) and has to kiss him to save him.” This is a direct description of a dream I had, and it’s the stimulus for my upcoming 2008 NaNoNovel.
- 17 April 2008 (Idea Box): “Misfit orchestra from a non-affluent high school plays John Cage’s ‘4’33’ at contest.” This particular concept, inspired by a friend sending me the wikipedia page on the piece, got put straight into the Idea Box and quickly spawned my current project, though it’s been tweaked a bit since then.
As you can see, my ideas tend to come from all sorts of different places, and I do that by design. One of the first things I wrote down in my Moleskine was the following list from The Ririan Project blog (actually a guest post by Leo from Zen Habits, one of my favorite blogs). The original post expands on each item, so it’s worth checking out.
- Carry a notebook.
- Read a lot.
- Talk to people.
- Use your drive time.
- Find inspiration.
- Keep a running list.
- Come up with a twist.
- Draw from your everyday life.
- Use your interests.
- Bounce ideas.
- Google it.
- Draw it.
- Go for a walk.
- Make a list.
- Step back; look for patterns.
- Get crazy.
- Come back to it.
- Always be open.
I’m a firm believer in looking for inspiration instead of waiting for it to come to you. Same goes for motivation, but that’s another post. I once read a quote (this must have been my pre-Moleskine days, as I cannot find it) that, summed up, said that everyone has story ideas within them; it’s the writers who learn how to recognize them. The key is training yourself to take every opportunity to do so.