I’d been thinking about a post talking about where the ideas for stories come from. Then in today’s Orbital Operations newsletter (sign up here), Warren Ellis summed it up in one paragraph:
“Sometimes the stories come to you in a completely backwards way. There is no ‘right’ way of creating a story. No single method. You can’t programmatise it. Programmatise may not be a word. But I’m using it anyway. See? There’s no one method. You can’t stop me. I have a medal and a doctorate.”
Of course, for each writer it’s different.
I heard Ray Bradbury say he came up with the titles first.
Stephen King said on his website:
“I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.”
Personally, my ideas can come from anywhere. One story I’m working on now came to me with this opening image: a naked man sitting on a wall with his back to the ceiling. The catalyst for “Loss” came from my cat not coming downstairs for dinner. My upcoming poem “23 Years Sober” was built around one line: “Kurt Cobain stumbled out of the woods.” But all of these ideas were essentially what King talks about: Taking an image(s), event(s), or even a moment(s) and playing “What if?” with it. What if there was a naked man sitting in an upper corner of a room? What if my cat was dead? What if Kurt Cobain stumbled out of the woods? And on and on.
Also, being able to use different methods will give you more results. There was a time when I said I would wait for my Muse to give me an idea. First, that was pretentious, English major talk. Second, muses can be stingy with ideas. Don’t depend on one way for the ideas to come. Just observe as much as possible and play “What if?”
Next time, I’ll talk about how I write.