Wednesday on Writing: Ideas

One of the questions writers get asked a lot is: Where do you get your ideas? I think the most common answer is: Everywhere! I also think it’s the truest one, at least for me. An article read online. Something on TV. A snippet of overheard conversation. A picture. It just pops into your head. Sitting down with pencil and paper and just doodling or free writing. All of these things have sparked stories for me. There isn’t a tried-and-true, one size fits all answer to that. It is much the same as most anything in life.

I think a more interesting question might be: What is an idea? Is it a fully formed concept for a story? Is it just a whisper of something, vague and foggy? Something in between?

Let me give you an example. A few nights ago, I woke up at 4 AM with a scene in my head. I got up, got a pencil and paper, and sat scribbling the scene down. At 4 AM. I knew if I didn’t, by morning, all I would remember is that I woke up with this thing in my head but I’ll be damned if I remember any of it now. Here’s the scene:

I woke looking up at the ceiling tiles. Except we don’t have ceiling tiles. I blinked a few times, thinking the bright light must be confusing me, but they didn’t go away. I turned my head, ignoring the painful headache the motion caused. There was a blonde woman sitting in a chair placed diagonally across the corner of the room. She was closing the small red book she’d been reading.

“I’m Christine,” she said. “I’ll be watching you.”

That’s it. No context. No thought where it may (or may not) be going. Just this little vignette. So, is that an idea? I don’t know. It’s maybe a piece of flash fiction. Or it could be a short story, a novella, or even a full novel if the rest of it surfaces at some point.

But is it an idea? According to one of the definitions of idea in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, it does qualify:

5a: an entity (such as a thought, concept, sensation, or image) actually or potentially present to consciousness

b: an indefinite or unformed conception

I don’t know, though. To me, that little snippet is barely an idea. It might turn into an idea if it simmers in my subconscious long enough. Or it might not. I generally think of an idea as the basic concept of a complete story. Not fully realized and surely subject to change, but at least a progression of start, middle, end.

Ideas are funny things. They are different things to different people. And they come at you from all sorts of angles. I think the most important thing is to always be open to the possibility that something, anything can spark an idea. Even a weird, four in the morning, half-dream.

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