Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Idea Wheel

Non writing folks constantly ask how I come up with my ideas. They never seem to ‘get’ my explanation that ideas are everywhere: in the newspaper, on television, studying the bat-shit-crazy-eyed man watching you from the bench in front of Starbucks. Or, maybe you stumble across some odd piece of history while on vacation, or even while reading a research book. The point is, ideas surround you. All you have to do is open your eyes and look.

As for me, I gravitate to the odd and bizarre. Things with a twist or unexplained elements.

For example- not too long ago our local radio station, in conjunction with our local police, put out a burglar alert. What was this thief stealing? Why he was stealing condolence meals gifted to grieving families during wakes, or meals following memorial services. He would show up at the funeral and then follow the grieving family to wherever they were holding the wake/memorial meal. He was well dressed in a suit and nice jacket. Always polite, respectful, and sympathetic to the grieving family. But he’d arrive with a backpack and after he’d paid his respects to the family, he’d open this backpack- pull out a dozen Tupperware containers and start loading them up with the food people had brought the grieving family. Last I heard, the local police were staging undercover officers at some upcoming funerals and the memorial meals in the hope of catching this vicious felon.

Yeah, seriously.

And if that news report didn’t inspire all sorts of story ideas,.

Or what about this? Suddenly, one night, out of the blue- over 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fall out of the sky. Dead. And nobody knows why. One hundred miles away, a day earlier, over 100,000 Drum fish, suddenly wash up on the shore. Dead. You can read about it here.
Now does this incite the imagination or what?

I can think of all sorts of scenarios for this and SOME of them aren’t even apocalyptic in nature.

What about the rest of you? Any odd/strange/bizarre piece of news that teased your brain into a story?


  1. Interesting scenarios! I seem to gravitate toward the everyday, mixed with the unexplainable. One of each gave me the plot in my WIP. I had the POV characters but not plot when a writer on a group I belong to ranted about her ex. I quickly knew I'd use that. Then, on the same group, someone posted a link to YouTube about the "unexplainable" element. I watched it and realized I'd seen it before. I went about my day, and only a couple days later when I was working on my plot did I realize how I could use it to tie the ends together. I love it when that happens.

  2. I read an article a few months ago about a helicopter crash in Alaska, and started thinking about what would happen if a seemingly random group of people had been on the copter, only for the protagonist to discover after the crash a nefarious reason why they had been together.

    Writers have wild imaginations!

  3. Edie,

    When you stop and think about it, it’s amazing that we can pick up a bit of info her, and a piece of character there. Here another bit of info, there another piece of character. And somehow when we're done we have a fully developed plot, plus three dimensional characters. Your new WIP sound interesting.

  4. Oooooo, love that idea Cindy. I can see it making for a very tension filled romantic suspense. I hope you're planning on doing something with it!

  5. I pick/get a lot of ideas by listening to music lyrics. Like, the one I'm writing is an action comedy that was inspired by this line from Whatcha Say by Jason Derulo: "...when the roof came down and the truth came out, I just didn't know what to do..."
    Gave me the idea about a can of worms/secrets and it all spilling out in the worst way.
    Little things really, but in our writer minds, goes Aha!!

  6. As I was reading about the funeral food thief, my mind was thinking about the dead blackbirds and fish story! Crazy stuff! Thanks for posting the link to the full story.
    I love finding out some bizarre thing and running with it to hopefully create a good story. My last short story came from my husband --while looking through a camping supply catalog--who said, "wow, an eight man tent."
    Now, the part that scares me is the idea that comes from the news bit or piece of dialogue! LOL

    Great post!

  7. You're so right. Story ideas are all around us. Some strange ideas I have for stories swirling in my head came from my son's video games.

  8. Fantastic post - ideas for stories come from every day living! Everything from the bizarre to mundane. Or, there's always the gossip rags that have the unbelievable articles of someone hiding that alien baby! LOL

  9. Zee music inspires my muse as well. In fact, I day dream to music something terrible and some of those day dreams do end up developing into books and characters.

    Right now I’m mulling over some characters that were inspired by Nickleback. I've even got a plot brewing for them. Eventually they'll get their own book.

    I heard that Jason Derulo song you mention on my way home from work. Yeah, I can clearly see how those lyrics would inspire a WIP. There's both conflict and emotion in them. Which is bound to get the creative juices flowing.

  10. Hi Ash,

    Yeah, the blackbird and fish deaths were downright freaky. I still think they have to be connected somehow. But I doubt if we'll ever be told the full story. Yeah, you can call me a conspiracy freak. lol

    You have me wondering what kind of short story you wrote, since it was inspired by an eight man tent. LOL

  11. Brenda,

    I've never played video gaves, but they are so visual it would surprise me to find that quite a few story or character ideas where spawned by them.

  12. Sheri,

    I used to want to write for those crazy, gossip rags. Not the ones that featured movie stars and such. But the ones like the Weekly World News, that featured bizarre stories. Stories like- I was raped by Bigfoot and carry his child. Or Ancient Mayan temple proved to be the first star ship. LOL The writers of those stories had so much imagination.

  13. Most of my story ideas come from science books! (Geeky sci-fi writer :) But I have also come up with a number of ideas while reading or watching something on TV that is outside my normal range of interest. I try to remind myself of that when I am lacking inspiration!

  14. Sharon!

    Thanks for stopping by. How did you come up with the idea for Ghost Planet? It is so unusual, and out there, I've been wondering what stimulated that plot.

  15. That's a hard one to explain, because I'm still fuzzy on it myself. :)

    What I remember is that I had written a few fantasy shorts and entered them in the Writers of the Future Contest. I had only honorable mentions so far, and thought maybe I'd have a better chance with sci-fi. So I let it simmer in the back of my mind, and one day came up with the title "Ghost Planet." Then I tried to think what would be the story behind something with that title. I wrote a 25-page short story in one day. It got another honorable mention, but I couldn't get the idea out of my head, and once it had grown into a novel, I entered it in RWA's Golden Heart contest. FINALLY, a finalist!

    But the symbiosis elements DID come from a geeky science book.

    Thank you for asking - I haven't thought about all that in a while. :)

  16. Thanks Sharon,

    Once you sell that puppy, I'm going to ask you to do a guest blog about Ghost Planet and how it progressed from a fantasy short, to a sci-fi shortstory and from there to a full-blown sci-fi romance. LOL

  17. Aw, I would love to - thank you! Happy new year!

  18. Yup...ideas are every where...that's why my idea file has about 280 ideas. How many does yours have? I know I'll never write all of them...but I can dream...right? LOL!

    Lynn Crain

  19. I don't actually HAVE an idea file. Well other than the one in my head.

    I already have plots waiting in the wings for a year out. LOL. For example, I know what book I am working on next- and then the one after it. My ideas tend to percolate in my mind for a couple of years before they spit out characters and a complete plot.

    Thanks for stopping by, and I think you just gave me another blog topic. Since I need to find 360 of those suckers, this one will come in really handy. lol