Catching Ideas

So, where do ideas come from anyway?  I used to wonder where the great, big stories came from.  You know the ones I mean: stories like Starwars, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, or whatever.  I had this weird idea that these folks were creative geniuses that had all these ideas rolling around in their heads, fully formed.  Now, I’m not saying that they aren’t creative geniuses.  I’m just saying that there is a lot more to it than that.  I have no doubt that those ideas took a whole heck of a lot of work before they even started to resemble the finished products.  Never mind the actual stories.  Ideas have a long way to go before they become stories.

So, if they don’t start out that way, what do they look like?  Well, they are often little things that don’t look like they amount to much.  I can’t say what the inception of other authors’ ideas looks like, but I can tell you the idea for The Timekeeper’s Son started out as a couple sentences.  That’s it.  In the beginning, that’s all I would have been able to tell you.

And those couple sentences can come from just about anywhere.  You could be in the shower or at the dinner table.  You could be sleeping, driving, or in the checkout line at the grocery store.  Ideas really can come from anywhere, and they are stealthy little things.  They like to sneak up on you, slapping you in the back of the head when you least expect them to.

Usually, it’s just a little slap, though.  More like a tap.  You really have to be paying attention or you might not even notice it.  It could be a thought about a serial killer biting off more than he can chew or maybe about someone swindling a used car salesman.  Who knows?  The important thing about it is that it sparks something in you.  It makes you stop and say, “Hmm.  That’s interesting.”

That may be all you get.  It may just be a little snippet of a thing and no more.  In fact, you can probably count on it being disappointingly small and that’s ok.  You have to think of it like a seed.  Seeds have to be planted.  They have to watered.  You have to nurture them if you want them to grow into something useable.

That is exactly how ideas are.  When an idea happens upon you, the most important thing you can do with it is write it down.  Write everything you know about it.  Even if it’s only one sentence.  I said ideas were sneaky little things and I meant it.  They can sneak away just as well as they can sneak up on you.  You’ll go to think about it later, but it’s gone as though it never existed.  You have to grab hold and handcuff it to the railing before it can get away.

I have a Microsoft Word document where I keep my little, idea seeds.  Usually I’ll create some working title even if it’s stupid and then I’ll write everything I know about it.  Like I said, sometimes it’s just a sentence or two.  Sometimes it’s a couple hundred words.  Maybe you won’t do anything with most of them for a long time.  Maybe you won’t ever do anything with some of them.  That’s ok.  If just one of them ends up exciting you enough to flesh out, then you have one story.  Chances are that you’ll have more than one good idea, though.  I can almost guarantee it.

The next step is taking that seed of an idea and nurturing it into something beautiful.  That’s harder. We’ll start looking at that in the next post.

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