One of the things I get asked most frequently when people find out I’m a writer is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I think every writer hears the same, though I have a hard time comprehending how someone could not have story ideas brewing in his or her brain all the time. Doesn’t everyone see tales in mundane, every day things?
Or maybe I’m just afflicted with Magical Writer Brain™.
Okay, so the term Magical Writer Brain isn’t really trademarked (I should remedy that), but I think every writer’s got one, even those who don’t write speculative fiction. It’s the kind of brain that looks at the world a little differently, asking why and what if and, most importantly, what then.
It’s a brain where imagination is allowed to ramble when it sees a cop car stopped on the side of the road—and throws out possibilities that may or may not reflect reality. Has the cop pulled over a speeder, or is it a fugitive? Why is he a fugitive? Did he actually commit the crime he’s accused of? Maybe he’s taking the fall for his younger brother, because he’d promised their mother he’d protect him. And so on.
The great thing about Magical Writer Brain is that anyone can develop one. No purchase required! You simply need to feed the brain you’ve got—and food is everywhere. Books, articles, blog posts, pictures, people watching at the mall, news shows on TV, publicized editor prompts…anything can feed your imagination. Start asking yourself questions about these things—why, how, what comes next?
The smallest thing can spawn an idea. Even something as inconsequential as an autocorrect—and I’m not joking. The next series Kelly Jensen and I will be working on came about while we were chatting one day on our phones and a word was unexpectedly autocorrected. It prompted the creation of a new world that we can’t wait to get to.
Another question I hear is, “How do you come up with new ideas?” And the answer is…well, you probably don’t. Don’t get hung up on trying to tell a story that’s never been told before—the likelihood of that is slim. Focus instead on telling your story. Even if it has a tried-and-true trope like “farmboy is a hidden prince” (a story that’s been told in Star Wars and the Belgariad series by David Eddings, and many, many tales in between), no one has ever told that story quite like you would tell it. Trust me.
Be open to ideas, actively seek them out in your everyday life, and when you get them, don’t strangle them with fear of repetition—that’s the key to Magical Writer Brain.