How or where do writers get their ideas? If you asked our loved ones, they might feel like they could swear the ideas were found somewhere just outside a window, or that somehow the idea stork drops another package for us after the appropriate incubation period, or as in The Hunger Games, some avid beneficiary will parachute it down to us in our hour of need. A gift from “your sponsors.”
So, really, where do we get our ideas? In case your loved ones didn’t know, the raw materials of fiction are available at your very own local craft warehouse. Yes, the craft warehouse…of fiction writing. The one in your mind. So, next time you’re found staring out the window, your friends and family can now picture you parking outside that “store,” and perusing for those fiction gems, up and down those mental aisles, pushing your “shopping cart,” checking the shelves for that perfect plot or hero or setting. There we’ll be, filling that “shopping cart” full of ideas, realizing that we might have to come back later for more, that we might have to in fact exchange some things. Or sometimes just wandering around looking and comparing. Now where was I stocking that one thriller plot?
That warehouse is an accumulation of all those things we’ve been exposed to, all our ideas, divided into two not-so-neat departments, nature and nurture. Not to say that we’re using “stock” characters or “stock” anything. For me—for any writer—that warehouse “stores” all the experiences I’ve had personally, all the people I’ve met and known, all the stories I’ve read, characters I’ve met, and more importantly, all the wonderful spaces and possibilities in-between where my ideas or the fragments of ideas to come may be found. And those departments are divided, of course, into other departments, other sections. Everyone’s is the same; yet everyone’s is so different.
So, there we are, trundling our shopping carts through those aisles, row upon row, shelves stacked. Signs overhead pointing to Department of Plots & Subplots, and Department of Psychology (Character arcs) or Human Resources (heroes, heroines, secondary characters, villains). The World Market (world-building, settings). Starter Kits (openings, themes, genres). Department of Communications (dialogue, non-verbals). Research & Development. And in the back corner or perhaps the basement—isn’t it always—there’s… Bed Bath & Be-Erotic (with directions. Insert A into B—in infinitely (we hope) different ways). And so on. Oh, and don’t forget the Open Bin section, for those miscellaneous things—ideas returned or those we might use someday.
Obviously, some writers have more shelves stacked with particular things (in, for example, HR), like vampires and werewolves; others with action figures or hunky romance heroes, or hard-nosed detectives; and still others with female helicopter pilots and CIA operatives; beautiful suspense heroines, duchesses, teachers, wives and girlfriends.
But while you’re cruising those mental aisles, don’t forget about restocking those shelves. Yes, restocking. (Picturing myself struggling with a large box of dialogue, shelving it in Communications after a trip to the University? Or to uh…Craft Warehouse?) But restocking is the other fun part of writing. It’s refreshing your supply of …everything. Getting out and experiencing. Reading, researching. Then reorganizing. Sifting through. And restocking. And it’s all on the conveyor belt of Life.
Then it’s ready for you, the writer, to create something…with those elements of fiction. And like DNA—Recombinant. In this case, Dialogue, Narrative, Action and everything in-between.
The elements or molecules of fiction are the [writing sequences] that result from the use of the craft to bring together the writing material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in written “organisms.” Like Recombinant DNA, it is possible because those craft molecules share the same basic structure; they differ only in the sequence of elements within that “identical” overall structure. And of course, the writer’s creativity.
What’s on your list today?
Happy Valentine’s Day!!
Note: (For the last paragraph on Recombinant DNA, I was paraphrasing from Wikipadia’s text on Recombinant DNA, but changing text to apply to writing, so I could “recombine” some metaphors.)