Where I Get My Ideas

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It is a simple enough question: Where do you get your ideas?

The answer is simple, too: Everywhere.

But I suspect you may want some more specificity, some meat on the bones, as it were.

Fine, I get many ideas by stealing them from other writers.

More accurately these types of ideas occur to me when I am reading (or watching) something and I see something that I would do differently. Some little plot point that niggles at me like a thing that niggles. I might zig where their version of the story zags. I might change their ambitious politician character into a sad, one-armed clown. I might let the bomb go off at the end, just to see what happens. A lot of times I’ll read a story and be surprised the writer didn’t use the ending I would have used. I may like their ending just fine, but now I am stuck with my imaginary ending, dangling like a limb without a body, and I feel some kinship with it, so I feel compelled to take that ending and create a new story for it. (I usually end up changing the ending to these stories.)

Language

Truth be told, I get most of my ideas from the words themselves. I love words. I love weird, quirky words. I love how they sound and how they look and how they always seem to be there when you need them. It is why I read voraciously, and why I became an English major (well, I also wanted to woo women with poetry). And I am one who is wont to play around with words in my head when I am in the shower, or on the train, or running from those damn gypsies again, and I try to put the words into new, heretofore unseen, combinations. Usually it takes just a phrase, or sometimes just two unlike words yoked together, to get the juices flowing and the story rolling. I have to come up with a really good sentence to use the phrase in. Then I need really good paragraph to match the majesty of that sublime sentence. Then I need another one, and so on. Words are like the seeds of stories, and they are best watered with India Pale Ale.

Images

A lot of my ideas come from images, things that I see in my day to day life. Like just yesterday I saw some pigeons pecking away at frozen vomit on a city street. Boom! Instant story. I don’t know everything about the story yet. But I know it is there, waiting, patient as frozen vomit thawing in a pigeon’s belly can be. As another example, there is some guy that speeds around Downtown Crossing in his mechanized wheelchair—actually he hauls ass in that thing—and, because he is so damn fast, all I can see is just a torso with a head. No arms. No legs. Maybe little flippers? Not sure. But it is another story. Definitely not a pleasant story, but a story all the same.

A simple image gives way to “What brought this image about? What caused it? What does it mean? What does this say about the world as a whole?” Story, story, story.

Where else do I get ideas?

As I said I read voraciously. Mostly genre stuff, horror, SF, fantasy, in all its myriad permutations. I love space opera, splatterpunk, new weird, new wave, old weird, hard SF, epic fantasy, phantasmagoria… I read it all. I read the news. I read magazines. I read comic books by the ton. Marvel, DC, indies (anything by Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughn, Neil Gaiman, etc.). I am a political junkie, driven to distraction by electoral minutiae. I watch too much television (yay, TiVo!). I travel a lot with my beloved wife, and we seek out things that most people don’t. I love IPA beer. I am a cat person. I have a weird, twisted, mistanthropic worldview, and everything I see is seen through that prism. All of this is a factor in where I get my ideas from, because essentially I get them from me. And it’s not my fault.

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