Where Do Your Ideas Come From?


As I look at my writing notebook (you should consider carrying one), I see the dozens of story, setting and character ideas that I have collected and I’m both inspired and anxious.

There are many ideas that I want to turn into stories. It’s hard to write one at a time. At any given time I have a book and some kind of serial or short story going at the same time. This is tough with a 50 hour per seek day job and 45 weeks of travel per year, but I somehow manage to squeeze in some writing.

As I looked at these ideas, I began thinking about where the ideas that I’ve recorded come from. It though that telling you some of my sources might help you look at some idea generation possibilities you might not have thought of.

Characters

During the past eight years, I have flown half a million miles around the US and into Europe for both work and pleasure. Instead of agonizing over delays and long layovers and sleeping during long flights, I’ve used these opportunities to participate in one of my favorite pastimes, people watching.

It started with trying to come up with celebrity look-a-likes for people that I saw on the plane or in line to board the plane. It was a way to pass the time without having my eyes lowered to my cell phone screen.

This pastime evolved into looking at people through the lens of an author that needed to be able to come up with and describe characters. I paid attention to body types, mannerisms, clothing and accents. It’s fun imagining what the lives of some of the interesting people I spot might be like.

I also base some of my main characters on iconic characters or combinations of well-known characters from TV, books and movies. My main character in my Frank Rozzani detective novels pays homage to the great James Garner as Jim Rockford on the Rockford Files.

Settings

Every time I tell someone that I travel extensively for work, I am told how lucky I am. If you consider staying in a Marriott in a city away from home for four days a week over a four to six month stretch lucky, than I guess I am.

I have, however, had the opportunity to travel to some interesting locations including New Orleans, Albuquerque, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York among others. When I’m in these locations, I try to be observant of the various areas of town, the geography, the food and, of course, the people. You might recognize some of these areas as settings in some of my recent short stories and books. A great setting can almost become a character in a story on its own.

Other great sources for settings in my books and stories are my original hometown of Syracuse, New York and my current home, Jacksonville, Florida. I continually use both of these destinations as settings because of the contrast between the two places I have lived most of my life and my familiarity with them.

Plots

There are infinite sources for story plots out there if you know where to look. This is especially true in the crime fiction genre within which I tend to focus. I’ve also ventured into more near-dystopian science fiction of late and there are great sources for this as well.

Current events, not just national, but state and local, are great sources for stories. I live in Florida, the drunk uncle of the rest of the states. Unusual and bizarre stories from this area are the norm. I often peruse the news services for story ideas, especially for crime fiction plot starters.

I also subscribe to some select magazines. These help me keep up with the latest technology so I can push the envelope and pull story ideas out of some creative evolution of the technology.


So what about you? Where do you get your ideas? Do you use any of these same sources? I look forward to your comments.

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29 thoughts on “Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

  1. It’s always really helpful and interesting to learn where authors get their ideas, Don. I think travel can be very helpful to stimulate creativity. It’s not just other settings and so on, either. It’s things like waiting through the security checkpoint. It’s the person next to you on a plane or train, etc… I can see how travel would get you thinking…

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  2. I think of the life cycle of a story is comparable that of a butterfly. There is the laying of the idea* in some dark recess of the mind (the egg); the hatching into our first draft where we type/scribble like mad to feed the beast (the caterpillar); the rest stage before we start editing with some cogitation on what we have written and how we can improve it (the chrysalis); and the editing that hopefully turns it into something special (the butterfly).

    * Where did that original idea come from? Like the egg probably from two special things mating – character X settting, character X incident, character X character. We see something, hear something, read something (there are always murders on the news for us crime writers to reinterpret) and it sends out signals for a mate. That mate may take a while to turn up to the siren’s call and consummate the coupling but the right one will turn up.

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  3. I often find myself looking at my surroundings and placing characters there. A walk through the woods can give me an idea for when my fantasy characters are on their way to somewhere. That gave me the idea of how a young character, who had lived entirely in the city, responded to the countryside.

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  4. Don, you are using your time well. I’ve always enjoyed eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. I used to do it in study hall in high school and write it down when I got home. Rich and I used to travel a lot – via camper – and I was inspired by the SD Badlands for a small setting in my novel. Other setting ideas came from the places I’ve lived – the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Easton, PA, where I grew up and PA’s Endless Mountains, where we live now. In The Heart of Applebutter Hill, these places are smoosched together, expanded and given more bling than they had in reality. The central courtyard of my Castle of Bargundoom features a round stone table with a pool in the center, upon which serving bowls are set adrift. Sounds fanciful, but if you visit Grey Towers National Historic Monument in Milford, Pa, you will find the real “Finger Bowl” – the family picnic area of the Pinchot family. Gifford Pinchot was the first director of the Forestry Service.

    I’ve always been a little afraid to use too much about people I actually know, but I included a few women from my life who we lost to breast cancer – not that there was anything about that in the book. It was just a way to honor them and hold onto their essences.

    Plots come from things that really happened to me and things I dreamed up when I was inspired by other authors’ writing. For instance, I created the legend of the Heartstone of Arden-Goth from a relatively short passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair.

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