I a previous post I was talking about the question “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Short version: The question has some problems.
But it’s still worth asking.
When I think about my own writing, I can point to some ideas which … well I don’t know if you could say they started a book … but at least they were there, right at the beginning.
So what were they and where did they come from?
Well, as I was saying,
the term ‘idea’ is vague.
Its meaning can be a bit hard to pin down.
So, just to try to be a bit clearer about what we mean …
What I am talking about here is not a plot line, or a character. Nothing as complex as that. An idea that starts a book might be a character I’ve observed, or a setting, or an event. But it might be much smaller than that.
Often, the idea which starts a book is a tiny thought or fragment of a thought. It might be a gesture, or part of a photograph, or the light in a room — something that is really not anything …
Heh heh. Well, I did say this was hard to pin down.
But sometimes, one tiny fragment really resonates with you.
And then the tiny fragment draws other things towards it, until it becomes a bigger and more enchanting thing. And then that might keep drawing other ideas and thoughts in, until, after a while, you start to think you might have something that might be the beginnings of something.
So. That’s all perfectly clear now, right?
Little ideas will come along and link up to other little ideas and then in a few short years, I have a book.
John Green *
By now something might have occurred to you …
When I say a book starts with something that is infinitesimally tiny you will realise that
ideas this small … they are everywhere.
If you’re in the right frame of mind, you can catch some ideas and put them in a file or a book and pretty soon you’ll find that you have filled up the whole filing cabinet, or that you need a new book.
In fact, hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.
Really, don’t forget that thought. It’s important.
First, let’s try to make it clearer. What about some examples?
Here are some ideas I have written in my bulging “IDEAS” book.
An abandoned orphanage. It was closed in the 1960s. Some women say there are children buried here. Children just used to disappear.
A person in a photograph, taken at a funeral. He is smiling at someone off camera.
Some words in a song called “Trojan Blue”: “Is this the moment you made? Is this the way that you planned? It won’t be long now.“
In a Doctor Who episode a girl peels of old wallpaper and finds a message for herself.
Drifting curtains against a colored sky.
“Sometimes I get the feeling that life is like a movie, projected onto a screen, and the real thing is happening behind the screen, but you can’t see it because of all the colour.”
from Macbeth: “Light thickens”
You can see what I meant when I said it’s not really the first ideas that matter.
These are fragments.
They are tiny. Some are almost nothing. There’s a lot of thought that has to be done before you could use them in anything, let alone turning them into a novel.
So, if you want to write something, and you need an idea to start you off, really it’s just a matter of being sensitive to what’s around you, the things you see and hear, and smell and feel. Then you can choose some things that resonate with you.
Resonate means ‘ring’. Technically it means ‘to fill with a deep full sound’.
Here’s an artwork called “Resonate”. I thought I’d put it in. Not because it explains the word ‘resonate’ but because I think maybe, in a way, it illustrates the building and linking process of writing a novel.
No? Just me?
OK. Moving on.
You want an idea to start a piece of writing.
Choose some things that stand out for you or touch you. Then live with them for a while. See if they start other things running around in your head.
Everything you’ve seen, experienced, read, or heard gets broken down like compost in your head and then your own ideas grow out of that compost.
J K Rowling
The first idea is not really the important thing.
Here are some more.
Title of a book by Italo Calvino: “If on a winter’s night a traveller …”
Miss Marple is summoned by a letter from a man who is dead.
A plot made of two plots that spin together like a double helix.
A story I’m told about a woman (call her Susan) who marries a controlling man and moves overseas. When Susan comes to Australia to visit her daughter, her husband starves himself and declares he is sick, until she goes home. Susan’s daughter gets cancer. Susan does not come while her daughter is sick and she does not come to the funeral.
A video installation at the MCA in Sydney. Shaky hand held camera footage of a path through a park. Grass and a screwed up piece of paper. The same footage again, but this time the paper isn’t there.
No, actually, that last one is a really good one. I’m keeping it.
In fact, I don’t know why I’m sharing these with you, because I want them all.
Really, as I said, there is an infinite pool of this stuff.
We can always get more.
There will always be more ideas than I could ever turn into books.
And if you turn one of those ideas above into a book, well, it’s going to take you months, or years.
Maybe I’ll race you!
It wouldn’t matter, because if we both used one of these fragments as a starting point, and wrote a novel, well …
you are you and I am me
and obviously …
No one would ever recognise that they came from the same initial idea.
So pick one. Knock yourself out. Email me and tell me which one you’re going to use.
And yeah … maybe I really will race you. Heh heh.
So that’s it, really.
Ideas are hard to define.
They are tiny.
They aren’t the most important thing in writing.
They are everywhere.
There will always be too many ideas.
And, even though a question can’t be wrong
that one isn’t very helpful
But just before we finish on the topic, there is something important I can tell you about ideas.
There is one crucial thing you should know about them.
And, if you want to be a writer …
Actually I don’t know what that means — “be a writer”. What I mean is: if you want to write some things and maybe do it all the time or even quite often ……
If you want to do some writing, this is one of the most helpful things I could ever tell you.
It’s the thing I asked you to remember. Go back and have a look.
Or don’t bother.
Because it’s so important that it’s had its own post. It’s called “The One Thing You Must Do — Always”.
Thanks to these people for the images.
“Mist” on pexels.com
“Margaret Rutherford” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Rutherford
“The branching pattern of megaphyll veins may belie their origin as webbed, dichotomising branches.” by Lưu Ly – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Vein_sceleton_hydrangea_ies.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3435679
“Holy Family Orphanage: by P.Gordon ( [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holy_Family_Orphanage_(8358734677).jpg
“Resonate” at Luminale 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo, Thomas Wolf. Light art: FH Mainz Gestaltung Innenarchitektur in cooperation with Hochschule für Musik of University Mainz https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luminale_2012_-_Resonate-1.jpg
“A CGI sketch of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room” by Dominic Alves https://www.flickr.com/photos/dominicspics/7001610814/in/photostream/
“Kids about to race” http://www.public-domain-image.com/free-images/people/children-kids/kids-about-to-race
“The Odd Couple” by Constanza https://www.flickr.com/photos/peregrineblue/3012358544
“Gale Henry” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gale_Henry
“Girl smiling” on Pixabay