Sunday, 6 September 2009

Ideas - where do they come from?

OK, after a slightly longer than expected absence, due to family stuff, I'm back with the next installment. By the way, I do apologise most humbly for the delay.

Ideas and where do they come from?

I suppose that's the one question that we all face if ever we mention that we write.

"Where do you get your ideas from?"

So where do they come from?

A few concrete examples. My first film script (it's available if anyone wants to buy it for the going rate - hint, hint) was about eco-terrorism masking corporate greed, and it came about from reading an article on dams in Idaho and the potato farming that had been made possible by these dams. This was an article in National Geographic, and I was reading it in the dentist's waiting room. The rest of the plot was elaborated in thirty minutes of semi-inebriated conversation with a script-writing friend of mine, Dr. Roger Cottrell, a few days later. Just a few concrete (no pun intended) facts and then the 'what if' moment.

My third novel (no, it's not finished yet, just the first draft) was loosely based on the premise - 'what if man-made global warming is a reality? What if Governments and corporations were aware what they were doing? What if they were doing it deliberately? Who would benefit? What if the beneficiaries weren't human?'

Add a few facts and figures, and a degree of inventiveness and you have the idea from which the plot develops.

My second film script was based on an article in one of the broadsheet newspapers, commenting on the increasing divide between urban and rural communities. I thought 'what if you take this to its logical conclusion?'

You would have totally separated communities living entirely dissimilar lives, with the chattering urbanites being blissfully unaware of their complete dependence on the rural society. Throw in a few other semi-related facts and stir. Voila! You have a plot.

You can see from the examples I've given, that my ideas come from events or facts in the real world, twisted by my warped imagination into some sort of demonised offspring. Add in a few other facts, similarly distorted, and you have an idea.

The 'what if?' bit is crucial. Take Event A, as reported by e.g. the BBC. What if it were totally false? What would be the consequences? OK, what if someone stood to gain from a widespread belief in this event? How would they organise it? Who would notice what they were doing? Who would try to stop them? Then stick the story thirty years in the future when - unrelated fact - all cars apart from emergency services were electric, state owned and driven by computer. Add in an elevated concern for health and safety, risk avoidance and litigation, exaggerated to extreme levels. (I know, that bit is already true, but bear with me.) What sort of society would we have? What would be the likely outcomes? And you have the basis for a story.

So, today's homework: choose your own event of interest, extrapolate thirty (or fifty or a hundred) years, add in two unrelated facts of your choice, and then (this is the fun bit) open a bottle of your favourite tipple, sit back, kick off the shoes, loosen the tie, ignore the dog and just ... speculate.

When it comes to facts, related or otherwise, I'm lucky. I have the sort of memory that stores immense quantities of information. OK, 95% of it is completely useless, but the remaining 5% - oh yes.


I've read other writers who say their ideas come from watching people in the street, or a chance conversation overheard on a bus or ...

Fine, whatever works for them. I store up observations and snippets of conversation to give authenticity to dialogue or description, but my ideas are always generated by events or facts.

Or at least, by articles that claim to relate events and facts. I don't actually believe much I read in newspapers or hear on TV, but if it's interesting, the authenticity quotient doesn't matter.

Finally, I would like to quote an answer that Stephen King gave when asked, on a chat show, where his ideas came from. He said the usual things we always say, but was then asked, 'But why do you always write horror and darkness?'

To which he replied, 'What makes you think I have a choice?'

Tomorrow I'm going to start a series of articles on plot structure - typical Aristotelian plot structure that is. A technique that has worked well for story tellers for the last 10,000 years.


1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love that quote by Stephen King! It is most certainly pertinent!