Where Do Ideas Come From? (A Personal Point of View)

As fellow writers (closet writers, aspiring writers, backseat writers, etc) what sparks your imagination?  Ever wonder how your favorite author comes up with those crazy/scary/insane/hilarious/intriguing/unbelievable/diabolical ideas?  What made J.K. Rowling come up with a story about an orphaned boy who is really a wizard?  How did Neil Gaiman give birth to a man named Shadow who works for Odin, the All Father?  Why haven’t James Patterson, Robert Ludlam, Patricia Cornwell and Janet Evanovich (and the likes) been arrested for filling the minds of millions with far-fetched criminal ideas.

Where do all these ideas come from?

From a very active imagination and a lot of research, that’s where.

For me, the idea usually begins with a dream.  A little snippet of a series of images that don’t make sense, don’t seem to have any structure and occasionally scare the crap out of me.  But, there is always one part of the dream that stands out.  That part usually lingers long after I’ve rubbed the sleep from my eyes.  Long after I’ve had my morning cup(s) of coffee.  Long after I’ve shaken the fuzz from my brain and sorted out dream from reality.

That’s when I suspect I might be able to use that lingering image.  Last time that happened, I gave birth to the idea of a story set in an old abandoned theme park dedicated to Fairies.


(Hang on… just had an idea.)


Sorry about that.  Had to write it down.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes.  Fairies.  Fairies weren’t the initial idea.  The initial idea was about a boy who ran away because his best friend, a girl, had crushed his feelings.

So, how is a story created with only that to go on?  That is where imagination and research come in.  There are a series of questions that need to be answered.   I spent hours fleshing out these two initial characters, creating their antagonists, establishing a good visual (in my head) of the setting.  I also had to decide what the conflict would be.  Who would be the bad guy?  How will it end?  And more technical stuff before I could even begin writing the first word.

I found books on my prospective topic.  Books on fairies, goblins, gnomes and trolls.  Anything that could help me build this world of imaginary creatures.  While the story is purely my imagination, a lot of it draws upon the imagination of centuries and centuries of superstitious people.  And that requires research.

Every writer has their own ways of coming up with ideas.  That is what makes each writer unique and every story different.  So the next time you ask, “how do they come up with this stuff?” know that the answer could be a “diet coke-induced hallucination” or “lingering dreams” or even, “I once knew a guy….”  Either way, once the idea is born, the real work begins.


Please feel free to share your own experiences in writing.  Where do you get your ideas (even if you never write them down)?

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