Author Stephen King once said that the question he is asked most is where his ideas come from. This quote is the answer he usually gives:
When he’s been in a more snarky mood he has said that he has a magic box in his basement where ideas appear and when he wants to write a book, he just goes and grabs one.
That being said, not all of us have the fertile mind of Stephen King so where can we get our ideas. Many of my ideas have come from these sources.
1. Use News Headlines
I’ve written many short stories and a couple of books by perusing the news headlines. My first published short story, Heal Thyself, came from a headline that I read and then embellished into a ‘what if’ scenario.
I used this piece as a way to overcome getting stuck while writing the novel. I remember traveling to Chicago for work for a period of time when I wrote this story. It was written completely by hand in a notebook while sitting in airports and on airplanes waiting to get somewhere.
I saw a story about a man riding a motorcycle that had been in a horrific crash and his injuries had paralyzed him from the neck down with multiple internal injuries.
Instead of this inevitable outcome, I started thinking about what alternative endings there might be. I have always been an avid reader of everything written by Stephen King and I began thinking of his book, The Dead Zone which centers on a man that wakes from a coma with psychic abilities that end up torturing him. Thinking of that story gave me a direction for Heal Thyself and I was off and running.
2. Use Editorials
As you read the news, you can find subjective editorial pieces that talk about a trend or give an opinion on a current event. These items can be a great source for stories and books. You can either embellish and augment the author’s opinion or devise a story that is counter to their opinion.
Here is an example pulled from an editorial published today called Pulling Back on the Barbaric Use of Solitary Confinement published in the New York Times. The article was written in support of ending the use of solitary confinement in prisons. It cites things like the withholding of sheets and bedding along with the isolation and their propensity to increase depression, paranoia and violence.
It might be fascinating to write a story about the effects of this type of punishment on an innocent prisoner and how it might turn them into the criminal he or she is accused of being. You could also turn it around and talk about how a hardened criminal might pretend to be rehabilitated from being isolated and then, in a reverse, become even more ruthless when repopulated with the other prisoners. You could even have someone in solitary confinement develop some type of mental or physical power during their time alone.
As you can see, these are just a couple of examples of idea incubators that you can pull from. I keep little germs of ideas in a notebook as I find things in the news each morning. I jot down the main idea of the news item with a couple of notes that will help me remember what I was thinking. Right now, I have enough ideas to last me a couple of lifetimes. I just don’t have the time to expand them all.
So, where do you get your ideas? Do you have a magic box in the basement?