“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” Silly Question, or Not?

“Where do your stories come from?” A couple of people had a problem with this question in a discussion on Facebook today. One woman thought it was the worst discussion question ever. She said that our ideas come from our heads, and that it was the kind of question asked by an interviewer who hasn’t read the book. Another person agreed, saying that he expected the question from someone who knew nothing about fiction; that it had no single answer.

Whenever a guest on this blog talks about how he or she got his ideas, I get a huge response from readers, so I know it is a good topic — and one I never get tired of discussing — so I was surprised by the responses on the Facebook forum. I truly never understood why writers hate to be asked where they get their ideas, where their stories came from, or how their stories got started. I always thought it was a perfectly sensible question, and now that I am a writer (and published) I know that it’s a perfectly sensible question. Sure, ideas come from our heads, but how? And why does one particular idea take hold when others don’t?

Of course there is no one answer to the question — that’s the beauty of it. Your answer tells who you are as a writer. If you can’t answer it, there is a chance you are one of those writers who can sit down and write without thinking — just let the story flow. If you can answer it, you are probably a writer who needs to know the story before you can write. Either way, it does not negate the validity of the question.

For me, a story usually begins with a series of ideas or a combination of events. For example, after reading Albert Zuckerman’s book about how to create the blockbusting novel, I decided I wanted to write such a book. But stories of major ideas and ideals, personal upheavals and changes generally take place during times of great strife, and so I needed an extraordinary setting for my story of women with “a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up, and beams and blares in the dark hour of adversity.” Not wanting to write a war story, I searched about in my mind and finally settled upon an epidemic so severe that the entire state of Colorado had to be quarantined.

There is no way anyone can have learned that simply by reading my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire. The evolution of a story is completely separate from the story itself,  and the evolution begins with an idea. And where did my idea come from? I created it from the wild stretches of my imagination, reasearch, and lots of hard work.

So, where do your stories come from?

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6 Responses to ““Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” Silly Question, or Not?”

  1. sandrasookoo Says:

    My ideas come from alot of places. Some of my scenarios have actually come from my own life. Sad, but true. My reality is hugely funny for other people lol

    I’m inspired by people and places, passages in books, snippets of songs, you name it, I can probably create a scene from it. After that, I only need to shore it up with research, facts, and as you said, hard work.

    Life inspires art. Art inspires life.

    It’s good 🙂

  2. dellanioakes Says:

    How strange to get such a negative response. I think that’s a wonderful question. I suspect someone might object if they aren’t capable of answering the question, but I think it’s very thought provoking. It’s one I welcome and like to answer.

    My ideas come from all over the place – random – chaotic. Once it was a mud puddle swirling after a car drove through it. Another time it was a song on the radio. My ideas come from daily living – a writer’s best resource.

    The idea for my historical romance, “Indian Summer” came from visiting historical sites in Florida. The Castillo de San Marcos holds mysteries – my story was one of them. The idea for my sci-fi novel (series) came from a role playing game my husband and I used to play in college. The characters were actually from a scenario we ran in his “Traveler” game back in the early ’80’s.

    Other ideas come to me all the time. Some are good, others aren’t. Eventually, I suppose, I’ll run out of ideas – but I hope not!

  3. Pat Bertram Says:

    Dellani, I was truly surprised to see the negative responses to the question. It’s one thing for a world-famous author to dismiss the question, and another thing entirely for an unknown to dismiss it. It seems to show such disrespect for the reader.

    I get a lot of the ideas for individual scenes from walking. I passed a rose bush the other day that smelled like oranges, so I used that as the starting point for a scene. Ideas are everywhere, and no just in our heads.

  4. Sheila Deeth Says:

    I think my ideas come from pictures, but I’m not sure where the ideas for the pictures come from. I have this theory that everything I see get’s half-remembered and mis-filed when I sleep. Then random things turn into stories.

  5. amydetrempe Says:

    Sometimes when I write I do wonder “where did that come from” because I have no clue what prompted the idea. Other times I have taken a specifict event or time in history and developed a story from it. I don’t think it is a bad question at all. We are all curious, at least I am, what may have prompted a storyline by another.

  6. Dr. Tom Bibey Says:

    Mine are almost always from dreams. I wake up at night and scramble out of bed to jot them down, and then go back to sleep.

    My wife says I’m the only person she knows who works both day and night.


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