Why is it bad to ask authors where they get their ideas from? I hasten to add that I’ve never committed this sin in person (and it does seem to be a sin in the eyes of many writers). Neil Gaiman describes having to answer the question as one of the pitfalls of the job. However, he’s written an essay on the subject available here, that does actually address the question and I think is a really interesting read.
I’ve also discovered a whole blog – http://wheredoyougetyourideas.wordpress.com – devoted to the topic.
And then, just for contrast, there’s this video on You Tube which bravely covers the whole novel-writing process in 1 minute 57 seconds. (I’m afraid there’s a noisy ad. before the video proper starts). Classic. I particularly love the woman throwing herself down on her desk. Maybe it’s in response to the weird order of the instructions the video gives. I rather like the comment below the video by noworryz too.
Neil Gaiman points out that the idea is only a tiny part of the process, and how creating believable characters – for instance – is much harder. Well, that’s true, but when it comes down to it, you’re still stuffed if you haven’t got the key idea in the first place.
I have always written stories – at first just as and when I felt like it from the moment I could hold a pen, and now because, career-wise, it’s all I really want to do. It’s a compulsion, and ideas come so fast it’s almost uncomfortable. But I’m sure I can remember a time as a teenager when I sometimes had the urge to write something, without the idea to back up the desire. I suspect Neil Gaiman is right, and that everyone has ideas; it’s just a case of getting your eye in, so that you notice when you’re having them.
Now, when I see Mrs You-know-who from 35 Accacia Drive in Tesco, I ask myself, can she really eat that much ice cream on her own? Or is she in fact hiding an escaped convict in her loft? My mind moves on to ponder what really underlies Mr Thingummy’s obsessive hatred of cats. And if Mr Mad minds that much about his begonias, what would he be prepared to do if they were threatened? It’s amazing how many crime fiction ideas can come from observing the most innocent people. At least, I presume they’re innocent.
I think I get most of my ideas from a central question like those above – resulting from particular characters and their likely response in some kind of crisis. The details become more dramatic in my mind of course: the threatened begonias become a family member, the cat becomes a youth who lives down the road, who looks so innocent, and yet…
However, I know that PD James says her ideas usually begin with a place and I imagine there are many other starting points. I’d love to hear about what sparks your imagination if you feel like leaving a comment below and breaking the taboo!