“Where do you get your ideas from?”
It’s a common question I receive shortly after I tell someone that I’m a writer. Some people follow it up by telling me one of their own ideas, informing me that I can use it if I like. I always politely decline.
The unhelpful answer is that my ideas come from all over the place. Sometimes they’re purely internal. Other times, I experience something, that creates a spark. I have ideas all the time. In fact, I have more story ideas than I have time to write.
If I needed to be specific about where my story ideas came from, this is what I’d say:
A link exists in my head between gaming and writing. And when I say “gaming” I specifically mean tabletop roleplaying games. World of Warcraft once inspired me to write a poem about an elven hunter, but graphical, computer based RPGs don’t trigger my writing itch like tabletop RPGs.
The Repossessed Ghost was born from a character I played in a tabletop game. The character is quite a bit different, and none of the other elements from the game are present in the story. I started with a character idea, and then created a world and a story for him to play in.
The novel I’m starting in November is similar. I created a character for an online, text-based RPG named Simon. I had a lot of fun with him, and I’ve known for years that I want to take the core of who he is and stick him in another world. In a little over two weeks, I’m going to start the story I’ve been putting off. I’m really excited to see where this goes!
Gaming is a great way for me to develop the personality and the voice of a character. It is not so great a place for me to develop plots. For that, I turn to…
Real life experiences
I was in the airport last year, on my way to San Antonio for WorldCon. I looked out the window and saw one of those little trucks whisk by, luggage piled in a heap on the back. All around me stood other travelers, waiting to get on the plane. Below us, our belongings were already traveling.
It got me thinking about how our baggage takes a completely different trip than we do. From there, my mind made the leap to, “What if our bodies were baggage?”
I thought about cramped seats, crying babies, popping ears, and the slow shamble we all must endure when boarding and leaving the plane. I thought about all the things I hate about flying, and then I thought about a joke: “They’re always looking for the black box. The black box. Why don’t they make the whole plane out of the stuff they make the black box out of?”
And then I had my short story idea. Shortly after returned from WorldCon, I wrote Unclaimed Goods.
Sometimes, my motivation for writing isn’t to tell a story. Every once in a while, I write to work through something. The first novel, which some of my family has seen, was inspired from my Dad’s death. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wrote it in order to help deal with my grief.
Shortly before I joined the Air Force, I experienced a different sort of loss. I’m not going to go into the details, other than to say that my faith was shaken. I wrote a very dark short story to deal with it. It was blasphemous, really. I poured all of my doubt and feelings of betrayal into it. I’ve only shown it to one person, and I don’t have any plans of showing it to anyone else.
Some authors might be able to get away with pouring their tragedies onto the page and serving them up. Most of us should probably avoid doing that, though. If for no other reason, it’s going to be hard to edit and bring the quality to a serviceable level.
I have been able to tap into external tragedies, however. A Clean Slate is born from my perceptions on the Patriot Act, and all of the craziness that we’ve endured since 9/11. There’s more going on in that story, but underneath it all, I’m working through some of my thoughts and feelings about the price of freedom versus the price of security.
I don’t have any muses whispering in my ear, that I’m aware of. Nor do I have any muses clubbing me over the head with a crowbar. Ultimately, anything can become a story idea. A writer simply has to decide which one they want to spend months or years refining.