Friday, August 20, 2010

Where do you get your ideas?

Free-form Friday

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas.

I once heard Brandon Sanderson answer this question. He said, "Writers train themselves to notice interesting things, wonder about them, and construct novels to answer their own questions."

It's not that writers get ideas any differently than you do, it's what we do with them after they come to us: we tend to hang onto them and bounce them off of each other until they start to stick together. Once enough idea atoms start to stick together, they form the structural seed around which a story can crystallize.

Put differently, because of the way books are marketed (publishers love nothing better than an evocative word or phrase that seems to capture the essence of the book), it's easy to assume that writers are home-free once they have a clever concept. Nothing could be further from the truth. The art of the novel is what you do with that clever concept to keep it interesting across hundreds of pages. A novel is actually the sum of tens of thousands of ideas all working together to create the pattern of the story that, from a distance looks like a clever concept.

So how do I get my ideas? I operate an unlicensed conceptual particle accelerator that bombards idea atoms until they fuse into stories. (Oh, and I try not to cross the proton streams.)

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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