Where do you get your ideas from?
I’ve never actually been asked the question that’s the title of this post, but I know it’s inevitable that I will some day. Also, I’ve got insomnia and this is probably a better use of my time than watching Doctor Who or Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse. Yes, those are presently my favorite (still airing) shows. I’m weird, what can I say?
Anyway, when I post short stories on here, I usually give a bit of info about what inspired that particular story, if I can recall it. So I’m going to do the same thing for the works I currently have progress meters for:
No More Lies: I invented Bobby as a kid as what I’d now call an AU version of Storm Shadow, then later decided he wasn’t him; he was his apprentice. Bobby’s evolved since then, and any resemblance between Universal Nexus and GI Joe: Real American Hero is coincidence or homage now, but he’s still a ninja who used to be a bad guy. This story though . . . I woke up with the image of him under a tree and knew what he was thinking and had to write a bit to figure out what was going on. Turned out it was the day he met the love of his life.
UNTITLED NOVEL: First of all, this one isn’t actually untitled; I just really don’t like the present working title and am trying to come up with a better one. This one is a bit different than the others, since it’s not my setting, but still probably not what most people are looking for when they ask an author where they get their ideas. Anyway, I was reading the setting description and thought of a character pretty much instantly. He wanted a better ship. That implied I needed a guy with a better ship. After that, it was just a matter of figuring out how to throw them together, and I went with a pretty clichéd idea for that because it isn’t the idea so much as what you do with it that makes a story good.
Dangers of the Past: As a fun “what if” thing, Jaye and I were discussing how Bobby’s wife and kids would react if something that had been true in an earlier version of the setting were still true: he had a child he didn’t know about until they were an adult. I started writing it as, basically, fanfic of my own setting. Then I realized with a couple of tweaks, I could make it work canonically. I think a random die roll is what gave him the kid in the old version (kids, actually, back then, but I couldn’t make that work.)
Jake’s Last Mission Expanded: Jake is another character I created the original version of as a kid. He’s changed too. A lot. His last name isn’t Skywalker any more, for starters. (I was seven or eight, okay?!) And he somehow transformed from an Army colonel to supreme commander of a space fleet. I never intended to write him as the protagonist in anything, then one day I suddenly thought of the first few paragraphs of the story. I got stuck about two pages in for like a year, then suddenly realized if I deleted the last sentence I had a plot. So I did that and finished the novelette in a week or two. The expansion was an idea I’d been kicking around for a while, then one day while sarcastically rewriting the first bit to match some of the most common criticisms (to entertain myself and vent after yet another bad review), I realized that while 99% of the criticisms were things I was going to continue to ignore (I am not going to quit using made up words in a motherfucking space opera!), the ones that said it should be longer were right. The story was too compressed for what I was trying to do in it.
Quinn’s Nephew: This, which needs a better title since my readers don’t know who Quinn is I just realized, since I’ve taken the story with him as the narrator off my priority list for the time being, started life as a pitch for another setting, but in the process of writing it, I realized I’d in a recent rpg session created a character that was perfect for the plot I had in mind. I first tried copying him in that other setting, but I finally decided he worked better exactly as he was.
Hmm . . . that’s interesting: I don’t talk much about the plots when I talk about where I get ideas from. I talk about the characters and the inciting incident, but not the plot itself. I think this is because I don’t really think about plot much as I write. I have a starting point, the main character (who’s usually the narrator because I’m presently finding first person so much easier to work in than third), and usually some idea what the ending will be like, but everything between the first scene and the last scene? I have no way of telling you where I get those ideas from because generally I’m just typing things as fast as I can so I can find out how the characters get from the start to the end without getting themselves killed. Sometimes I have very brief notes on the next few scenes, but they’re really brief, not really “ideas”. They’re mostly things like “Bobby says really stupid thing”, “bad guys attack”, and “epilogue, 20 years later”. Those are mostly so I don’t forget to include cool and/or important bits that I’ve already thought of, because I can usually only write linearly, but sometimes I think of little snippets from later bits (or have them from prior attempts at stories), and, well, if I didn’t have things like “epilogue” on there, I might forget I’d written one and put it in a separate document.
And I certainly can’t say where I get any themes you might see from, because I don’t put them in there deliberately.
Really, Louis L’Amour said it best . . . oh, this isn’t the quote I was looking for, but it’s even better, I think:
I start with a character and a situation, but I don’t know what’s going to happen until I write it. Sometimes things happen that surprise me. — Louis L’Amour
I’m the same. Hell, I thought No More Lies was going to be a 3000 word short story! It was supposed to just about Bobby and Karen meeting, but that wasn’t a story on it’s own, so I kept adding to it. It ended up being a chronicle of his life from the moment he met her until their wedding. (It’s a romance; that’s not a spoiler.) For me, a good part of the fun of writing is finding out what’s going to happen next. Yeah, I’m one of those authors who needs an end to work towards pretty early on, but that’s a focus thing. If I don’t give myself that, I end up wandering all over the damned place, chasing every new shiny idea. With an end point, I can go “Yeah, that is cool, and it is happening at the same time as this story, but it should be a stand alone thing, not part of this.” That doesn’t interfere with my fun, it just stops me from getting frustrated to tears while editing.
I suppose people could also mean “Where did you get ideas like Sweytz’s government, Ruvellian culture, a ninja/spy/assassin who is also a comic book geek, etc.?” and that sort of question I certainly can’t give very good answers to, because, well, let’s look at the ninja/spy/assassin/comic book geek: ninja, because Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are two of the coolest motherfucking characters ever; spy, because spies are cool; assassin, because . . . fucked if I can remember now; comic book geek because . . . I think I had him say something kind of geeky once accidentally and suddenly decided it’d be cool if he, despite being such a fucking badass, was One of Us. (And if anybody finds that too unrealistic . . . I was once told that military dudes don’t play rpgs and read comic books because they don’t need the vicarious thrills from them, for instance . . . read the bio of fantasy author Myke Cole: http://mykecole.com/about. Now give him the badassness upgrade necessary to be a space opera protagonist.) Anyway, look at what I said: “I think”. I don’t know for sure. Fuck, maybe I’ll find an old note somewhere that’ll say something like “Bobby hates comic books” and somehow I misremembered it as him loving them (this sort of thing happens to me a lot. In my defense, some characters were hardly even mentioned in anything for years, so I can get details mixed up.)
Ruvellian culture? Cormyrean nobles from Forgotten Realms and pirates are influences, but beyond that, I’m making it up as I go.
Sweytz’s government? Okay, that one I could actually answer, but I really don’t feel like discussing political theory pretty much ever . . . partially because it’s a topic where I have a hard time finding the line between “defending my position” and “browbeating the other guy until he sees things my way.” I could, if I ever took it into my head to do so, probably reach Heinleinian levels of preaching political views in my fiction, okay? As I’d rather focus on fun stuff, I don’t do that. I just ask that readers accept the society works the way it works and then get on with enjoying whatever shit my characters have gotten themselves into this time.
Really, I’ve never understood “Where do you get your ideas from?” It’s not a question I’d ever think to ask an author. I can see asking “Where did you get the idea for SPECIFIC THINGY?”, but not ideas in general. Ideas just kind of happen, you know? I mean, if I wanted to get deep about it, they probably come from the synthesis of everything that we’ve read, felt, experienced, etc., but I doubt that’s what the asker really wants to hear.
Anyway, where do you get your ideas from? 🙂