Where do ideas come from?

As well as talking about books and reading on this blog I thought it might be useful and fun to talk about writing. Over the next few weeks I’ll share my thoughts on plot and characters and names and all the twiddly bits that you need to think about when you are creating your own stories. A good place to start is ‘ideas’. A question I almost always get when I am visiting schools and talking with groups about writing  is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ My answer is that ideas are everywhere – out there in the world in day to day life, out in the playground, at home, in the conversations I have with people, on tv, at the movies, in the news and newspapers and of course in the books you read. Now if you are just starting out with your writing and you are having trouble coming up with good ideas this answer isn’t very helpful at all. But there are three things I can tell you that may help.

1) Before you can find your own ideas, you must know what a good idea looks like. The best way to do this is to read a lot. If you really want to write you need to start asking why you liked a particular book and what was so good about the story. I also ask these questions when I am watching a good movie or television programme. Part of the idea for my novel Jack the Viking came from watching the third Lord of the Rings movie.  And the more you read, the more you discover how inspiring language can be. Sometimes my ideas spring from a few words that are combined in just the right way to get my brain turning excited somersaults.

2) Start with simple ideas. My summer holiday. The first time I cooked. We got a dog/a cat/ a bird. We lost a dog/a cat/ a bird. Starting a new school. The thing that went bump.

The wonderful thing about how we get ideas is that it is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the bigger and stronger it gets and the better it works. It can take a little while to build up this muscle but giving it regular exercise is a good idea.

3) I think ideas come from 3 things – experience, imagination and curiosity. My stories tend to be a mixture of all three but if you are a bit short on one of those three things, try making up for it with one of the other things. When I watched the third Lord of the Rings movie I was curious about what would happen if you put a modern day boy into a battle from a thousand years ago and that’s what inspired Jack the Viking. But I also used my own experiences to create the central character and his day to day life, and my imagination to help describe places I’ve never been to (a thousand years ago). The more things I do and see, the more ideas I get. The more I read and watch, the more my imagination grows. The more I ask questions, the more interesting the answers are to me.

So if you are having a hard time coming up with good story ideas, don’t worry – read lots, try and think about what made your favourite stories good, practice with different ideas, and remember ideas come from the things you do, the questions you ask, and your own imagination.

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