Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Idea Tree

At least once a week, someone asks me where I get all my ideas for book plots. I tell them I go out to the backyard and pluck them off of an Idea Tree. They snicker or say, "Yeah, right." So where do a writer's ideas come from?
For me, it's a complex answer. As far back as I can recall, I've been thinking up stories. My Barbie dolls had the most convoluted backstories you could imagine. I knew their history with Ken, Ken's emotional baggage, Francie's inferiority complex since she was always the sidekick, never the star. Even little Skipper had skeletons in her pink plastic wardrobe.
My stuffed animals formed a society with assorted roles - governor, mayor, police chief, resident movie star. And yes - I was a weird little kid, what with all my toys taking on lives of their own! But my point is, stories have always been floating around in my head, dying to come out. Now they come to life on paper. How great is that? These days, fodder is everywhere, from the newspaper to the PTA to the neighborhood goings-on. All I have to do to find the first thread of a story is to look around me.
What about you? How do you come up with your story ideas? Have you always had stories dancing inside your brain or do you struggle to come up with a plot?

13 comments:

Chudney said...

Sometimes, its a simple as a conversation, or reading the news. Something jumps out at me and my mind starts coming up with options. Which can be really distracting when I'm trying to focus on something else.

Katie Reus said...

Ha, I'm glad I wasn't the only little weirdo who wrote mental scripts for Barbie. Although, my Barbie dumped Ken for GI Joe...what can I say, I've got a thing for a man in uniform :) For as long as I can remember plots and fictional people have been running around in my head, screaming to be released. I've never had much of a problem plotting, unless you count trying to simplify the plot.

julia said...

Yes, my Barbies always had two-week story arcs. I think this is what sets future writers apart from the other kids.

Dara Edmondson said...

Interesting how many of us Barbie story makers there are out there!

Terry Odell said...

Dating myself here--I was too old for Barbies.

Since I write about characters, I have to know who they are before I can write anything. One source of inspiration for my characters is song lyrics--usually there's a line that triggers and emotion and the character 'click's for me. One was "Papa, I don't think I said I love you near enough," from Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band." I heard that and Blake Windsor's character gelled for What's in a Name?

Dara Edmondson said...

I also think about songs sometimes. My villain for Dance for Me was inspired by "I'll be Watching You," a Police song that always gave me the creeps.

Isabella Snow said...

The basic plot comes all at once and then the details just pop up whenever, wherever. I have started carrying a little notebook around, cos they really just show up!

Nancy said...

My motto is “So many stories. So little time.” I see a story in nearly everything. In fact, my first published book, “Reinventing Olivia,” was born from a single image I saw one night when I was downtown. I heard party music blaring from a loft condo. I looked up and saw a hand holding a drink over the balcony. That image started the ball rolling.
Even this Valentine’s Day when my husband left a heart-shaped balloon tied to my windshield wiper – even though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt he’d left it – I thought, “Ooooh, what if a woman who’d been involved in a long-term relationship received an “I love you” balloon from someone who was not her significant other… No disrespect to my husband and I certainly don’t mean to diminish his romantic gesture, but I think a writer’s mind just naturally asks, “What if…”

Dara Edmondson said...

How cool, Nancy! I got the idea for one of my short stories from a picture I saw on the net. Funny how something so brief can spark a whole story line.

Macy O'Neal said...

Story ideas float around in my head constantly. I've learned not to put pen to paper the moment they appear, however. It usually takes some fermenting time to understand which ones are good and which are not so good.

I just wish I wrote faster and had more time.

Tempest Knight said...

*LOL* Your story about how your stuffed animals took a "life" of their own reminded me of Calvin & Hobbes. Except for the mischievous things. ;)

Dara Edmondson said...

Calvin & Hobbes - love it!

Lara Dien said...

Late to the show ...funny how having 'the week that was' can throw you completely out of it ...

Stories ... I used to pretend in detail when I was a kid ... just go off someplace quiet and daydream entire stories. I had paper dolls instead of a legion of Barbies, and would set all sorts of scenarios for them.

Today, my ideas come much the same way as Nancy and Chudney mentioned, although it's usually something I hear or read instead of an artistic moment. "Dreamwalk" was dreamed up from a one-paragraph article in the paper several years ago about a multiple killing in Montana with no clues and no known motivation.