If there's one question authors hate with a white hot flaming passion it's this one: Where do your ideas come from?
When asked this Harlan Ellison likes to say, "Schenectady." If pressed, he might add that every week he sends the service in Schenectady $25 and they send back a fresh six-pack of ideas. (For this and more on Harlan Ellison watch the documentary of his life and work: Dreams With Sharp Teeth.)
Neil Gaiman has written and talked about this subject often and with his customary thoughtfulness and wit.
- Where do you get your ideas? by Neil Gaiman
- How Creativity Works: Neil Gaiman on Where Ideas Come From, by Maria Popova
But that's not what I'm talking about, not quite.
Often, when I write my zero draft, I'll come to a spot and realize: that's not enough. I need something else. I need another character, another arc. Or perhaps I just know deep in my gut that I need something. Preferably something significant and interesting, something that will startle and amaze and hook the reader.
And sometimes the microsecond I realize this my mind goes blank. When this happens there are three things I do.
1. Take a walk.
On a walk I can let my mind untether itself and wander, retreating from the multitude of daily cares that weigh it down. As my mind wanders sometimes an idea pops in.
2. Take a shower.
I don't know what it is about the shower but I've found taking one a great way of attracting ideas. Perhaps it's the sound, the feel of water flowing over skin, perhaps it's being momentarily cut off and immersed in one's private world. One feels freed to let one's mind free, to shift gears and dream.
Lately, though, I've found another way to attract ideas. A way analogous to gazing at the shifting colors of a kaleidoscope or to cloud gazing.
3. Use picture cards.
Yesterday I was writing a scene ... or trying to. I knew my characters, I knew the setting, and I knew that something new and completely different would happen at the end, something that would spin the story in another direction.
Something would happen. But what?!
I bought a couple of decks of Tall Tale cards weeks ago, the original and their Fairy Tales pack.
As I looked through the cards and thought about my scene certain cards felt right, so I put those to the side. I then took a look at the cards I'd selected and thought about what each card had in common with each of the other cards.
In this way I began to tell myself a mini-story with pictures. As I played, an idea popped in. Ah! It was the solution to my dilemma, the twist that would grab my story and send it in a new direction. (And the solution wasn't--or at least didn't seem to be--directly related to any of the cards I had chosen.)
I've tried that a few times, taking cards out and idly looking through them, seeing if anything pops. I think that perhaps pictures are a good way to communicate with my muse.
Of course, what works for me might only work for me! Though I doubt it.
Also, though I do like the Tell Tale cards, I imagine that any cards with images on them would do just fine.
When you get stuck on a story, what do you do to attract ideas?
Photo credit: "Amsterdam Calling" by Vieira_da_Silva under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.