Sunday, January 20, 2013

Generating Ideas

I thought I'd make a list of where I get my ideas for what I write (fiction and poetry).

Believe it or not, many, maybe most, of my ideas come from dreams. Dreams are atmospheric and affective: we are experiencing a reality (which happens to be not the one we agree is the real one) that hides meaning like creative writing. I write down a summary, at least a few notes, of the dream (what made it memorable or affective) as soon as I can to not forget. I have a Word file with all the ideas. Alas, there are too many for one life time. In a way, this is good because I have to choose my stories and poems carefully, making sure to write the most important or relevant things first - a strategy I think most, if not all, writers should employ.

I also get ideas from what I read. Good fiction is fodder. It stimulates; you see good writing in action, the dialogue, the characters, the plot, the structure; and learn. Sometimes, the atmosphere or mood of the piece gets you writing. Sometimes, you read something and feel like you can take the plot in a different direction or write a similar, but different, story. I was recently inspired by an old newspaper story of a recluse who hid his mother's corpse. I wrote a story trying to figure out his motives and feelings leading up to the incident.

Also, from movies and TV shows. This is what good films and good TV do. For me, Lost and BSG are great for this purpose. (I also liked the short-lived Stargate Universe, which had a lot of promise.) It's important when inspired in such a way that you do not mimic the source - there is a difference between inspiration and imitation, marked by a thin line. I tried to write a novel (but failed) about a motley crew of people (and a robot) on a stolen spaceship (somewhat like Farscape). In the end, it was too formulaic, generic, imitative, and not true to me.

Sometimes, I'd get ideas from conversations. This has happened a few times. I'm talking to someone, say, about free will, and I'll get an idea for a blog post or two. Or someone will bring up an interesting question that I want to write a short story to explore. Or sometimes I pay attention to conversations around me, say, on the train or bus. For one thing, it teaches you a bit about dialogue. But it is interesting what people talk about and sometimes this leads to a great story idea, giving the conversation a context, a plot.

Other times, I just free-write about what I feel or want. I wrote a few poems reflecting on my mood at home alone. I'm writing a very creative (if I do say so myself) flash fiction piece inspired by a simple experience of hearing the wind howl while looking out onto the quiet night. I wasn't sure if it would become a story or not, but I believed in the practice of writing exercises. I'll do another post about different such exercises.

These are my ways of generating ideas. Maybe I've left something out. The important thing is to get the ideas down as soon as they come to you. Modern technology is good for this, but paper and pen will do. Keep track of them and return to them whenever you're deciding on what to work on next, which is what I do. You may not like an idea for several years, then one day you see its brilliance. 

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