Sorry I haven't been as good with posting lately. I meant to get this posted over the weekend, but that didn't really work out. Oh well, better late than never, right? ;)
"Where do you get your ideas?" It's a question I come across in a lot of author FAQs and interviews. Popular answers include "my brain," "life," "everywhere," or, with a dash of irony, "that grocery store around the corner." I know it's a vague question, one especially difficult to answer for people who are constantly inspired, and yet I can relate to that sense of curiosity regarding writers' creative processes. I love reading posts about how people write. Sometimes I try to steal one or two of their tricks, and other times I just marvel at how personal and idiosyncratic the writing process can be. So here's my take on how I get story ideas, for those of you also fascinated by the writing process. I'm hoping this post will come in handy when I'm a rich and famous author and get asked that question all the time! ;)
When I was younger, my story ideas centered around characters I wished to be. I've mentioned before that I loved pretending to be a magical princess with my friend and sister, and we spun stories about our adventures that I tried (unsuccessfully, I'm afraid) to knit into a novel. Later stories I wrote featured wish-fulfillment protagonists, such as a recent graduate from the mages' university, a shape-shifter with golden eyes, or the new girl in town who wins the heart of the hottest guy in school (so yes, I can understand the appeal of Twilight).
I didn't stop daydreaming when I got older, but I did stop trying to turn them into stories for a while. By the time I began to consider writing again, my story ideas were no longer inspired by fantasies wherein I was a special snowflake. Instead, real life intruded, and traumatic emotional experiences became my muse.
Of course, "traumatic" is subjective. I'm fortunate enough to live a life that has been, for the most part, happy and trouble-free. I have not experienced the death or severe illness of a close friend or family; I have not been abused or assaulted; I have never been in want of food, or shelter, or love and support. I am beyond grateful for the blessed life I live. Any difficulties I've encountered seem trivial in light of all the good I enjoy, but they nevertheless evoked emotional struggles that were real and significant to me. They marked me and forced me to grow. They inspire me to write.
There was the time I lost a close friend due to my own flaws. Maybe I deserved it, but it hurt, so much, to feel that I wasn't worth a second chance despite my apologies. It pained me that someone whose opinion I highly valued had deemed me irredeemable and found my worth as less than the obstacle of my imperfections.
There was that crisis of faith in my sophomore year of college, when I grappled with guilt and doubt and fought surrender. I tried to ignore the internal battle because I couldn't see how I could ever force myself to choose. It seemed impossible.
Or the time my family was on the verge of falling apart, and I hated myself for not being powerful or brilliant or strong enough to fix everything that was wrong. I cursed my helplessness and drowned myself in despair, unable to bear the burden I'd placed upon myself.
Small, perhaps, in the grad scheme of things, but these and other experiences mattered to me and shaped who I am. I saved up those feelings of hurt and anguish and anger, and amplified them by imagining greater stakes and harsher consequences. What if someone's crisis of faith could cause a war? How does someone face a responsibility, too great to bear, that could mean the life or death of hundreds? What would force someone to fight through feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness to save the world? Those heightened emotions become the heart of my stories, the dark moment my protagonists must face and conquer.
Some things flow easily from that kernel. Theme, for one, is closely tied to the greatest struggle the protagonist must face. I also consider what traits, values, personality, and experiences would make the decision the most difficult for someone, and thus flesh out my main character and her arc. These elements can influence certain worldbuilding decisions, and a few plot points come to mind, too, as the dark moment must be triggered by a crisis and bring about a climax and resolution.
Other aspects of developing story ideas are difficult for me, though. High-concept premises would be one; I try to come up with a cool-sounding idea separately and see if it can fit with any of the stories I want to tell. Settings have never been my strong suit, either, and beginnings tend to be nebulous since I essentially start with the ending.
I wonder what it says about me, that most of my story ideas come from inflicting an intensified version of my personal struggles on a figment of my imagination. Maybe I write as a form of therapy, as Biljana at LTWF does with her fiction. It's my way of writing what I know, and I hope that I can become skilled enough to take my readers on an emotional journey with my words.
So, enough about me. I want to hear how other writers come up with story ideas. Are you consistently inspired by certain observations, experiences, or media, or is it different for every project? What usually comes first when you get a story idea? How does that influence the way you develop the story? Feel free to leave me a link if you have a blog post on the topic!