The Idea Store!

Question from FA: “I was just wondering, when you don’t have any ideas for your books, how do you go about on getting them?”

This is a variation on the old “where do you get your ideas” question that has plagued writers ever since the first storyteller in the first social group of apes mimed out the story of their creation, and one of the apes in the audience mimed back “where you get idea?” Harlan Ellison famously answered “Poughkeepsie,” and other writers have mockingly said, “The Idea Store.”

There is a great blog filled with the answers to this question from various writers, if you’re inclined to peruse it. But none of those answers are mine, and that’s what the questioner asked about. So here is my answer:

I tend to go with Philip Pullman on this one. I can’t believe that people aren’t having ideas all the time. I have never been in a situation, since I started writing books regularly, where I did not have more ideas than I had time to write them. In one of my writing workshops, we did idea generation exercises: look at popular headlines and take words out, brainstorm with fellow writers for fifteen minutes, read the latest scientific news. Ideas are cheap, good ideas only slightly less so.

What’s rare is the kind of idea that will hold your interest long enough to write a story about it. And for me, those ideas always come from the characters. I have said before that the inspiration for the Out of Position books came from an image in my head of a fox at the door of a tiger’s apartment. The characters in that idea were so strong that they demanded a story, and then another, and another. When writing my stories of superheroes, I thought about a lot of superpowers–just browse the comic book store racks–but the ones that interested me were the ones where I could imagine how that power would change the person, how their struggles in life would be different because of their power, some things easier, some things harder.

Read advice columns. Read headlines. Talk to your friends. Ideas are cheap enough to fill a flea market, and you have to go through a certain number of them to find that gem.

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