What Goes in…

A while back I’d gotten a question, I replied quickly, because I have no time these days to make lengthy, well-reasoned responses happen, and I moved on. But it came back to me today, when I was sitting here staring at the blinking cursor for an inordinate amount of time, trying to think of what to talk about to all you brilliant beautiful people. Where do you get all your ideas? 

Questions like this usually make me blink and wonder what kind of a person doesn’t have more story ideas floating through their brain on any given day than one person could possibly write down. I will never, if I live to out-survive my Great-grandmother, who we lost at 107, be able to write down all the story ideas I have. This last week I had a short tale about a graffiti artist and a pixie float through my head, the story of a street-smart, mouthy teen girl (who lives for her photography, and inadvertently took a picture that is getting her in big trouble), and several others that flitted through, didn’t get written down, and may yet return to haunt me.

Could this be the genesis of all ideas? It would explain a lot.
Could this be the genesis of all ideas? It would explain a lot.

But where do the ideas come from? They aren’t springing forth in some weird spontaneous generation from the muck of my brain, the way people used to think flies emerged from rotten meat. Instead, the process is more like making sausage. Like most writers, I read a lot. I don’t just read fiction, either. Nor do I limit myself in the scope of what I read. In my open tabs right this very minute, I have the following:

The Art of the Supervisive, by Tom Simon

“The job of the superversive is at once difficult and rewarding. We shall need to build on the high ground, as people used to do: not only for defence, but because the high ground is more solid. Before the subversives dug their mines under the churches, there was a parable that used to be widely known. The gist of it was that a house built on rock will stand firm, but a house built on sand will soon fall down. High ground is usually rocky ground, and from that perspective, ideal for us to build on.”

Amazon’s Crowdsourced Publishing Platform Amazon is hoping to tap the power of the crowd to determine which ebooks it should publish. And for a very good analysis of why this isn’t precisely a good idea, you can see what our very own Sarah Hoyt has to say, here.

Bacterial Hopanoids: The lipids that last forever

With all this time in the history of the planet, hopanoids accumulated in spectacular amounts, perhaps as much as 1012 tons. This makes them enormously abundant and equal in mass to the organic compounds of all organisms now living. Almost certainly, they represent the largest mass of any single class of organic molecules on Earth. And yet, they are unfamiliar to most people, in and out of science.

When Europeans were Slaves

Davis said it is useful to compare this Mediterranean slavery to the Atlantic slave trade that brought black Africans to the Americas. Over the course of four centuries, the Atlantic slave trade was much larger – about 10 to 12 million black Africans were brought to the Americas. But from 1500 to 1650, when trans-Atlantic slaving was still in its infancy, more white Christian slaves were probably taken to Barbary than black African slaves to the Americas, according to Davis.

How to make an Owl

I think you get the idea. I read a lot, and about a lot of different things. This doesn’t even get into the books I’ve read recently, of which there is a partial list here. As you can see, with all this, and the reading I must do for school, there is a lot going into my brain. From all this, ground up and digested over time, come the ideas for stories. Often times I have forgotten where the genesis for a tale came from. Other times, I’ll be watching people, or listening to music, or… and a story will pop into my head. Most of the time, I have no trouble finding ideas. Unless, of course, I’m sitting here staring at the screen knowing I must write something, or else.

And even then, pressure can work wonders. I woke up yesterday, sat bolt upright in bed, having just remembered I was supposed to turn in a short paper that morning in microbiology class. I got up, researched, and wrote. In an hour, I had the paper ready to go, and plenty of time to get to school without having my feathers ruffled. Well, not too much – it was windy and raining. Sometimes setting a deadline can do the trick if you find yourself unable to produce.

We live in an age where the written word is not dying. Rather, it is becoming ever more pervasive. The internet, emails, text messages and chat-rooms have revived the art of the letter in a new and strange way. Books, far from being an endangered species, are becoming so numerous that many sources refer to them as a tsunami. It’s not hard to let that flow over you, and into you, and what comes out of you after ingesting all of that might not always be good but with some discipline, feedback, and persistence (mostly: finish it! Stop dinking around with pre-editing and formatting and write, darnit!). Ahem, where was I? Oh, yes…



27 thoughts on “What Goes in…

  1. Tolkien in “On Fairy Stories” talked about the “Cauldron of Story” which IIRC every writer/storyteller takes from and adds to. [Smile]

        1. Yeah… that’s kinda my reaction too. There are some curiosities that should not be satisfied, because one tends to regret them later.

          By the way, if anyone can suggest something I can link back in revenge for Housemate sending me a link his female friends felt was great to torment him with (Do NOT google ‘crotch potato’. Ever.) and he felt that shared pain seems to lessen his own… I’d love suggestions.

          (Okay I’ll admit that it’s funny to have him BSOD on the stuff they show him but sometimes, there’s some things that are just – insert No No No cat impression here-.)

        1. I was a temp, when I was very young… and worked in a call center for one day. Following which I went to the agency, gave them my list of the labor law violations I’d seen in those 10 hours, and requested they never send me back again.

          1. My time in the call centers gave me vast appreciation for the insanity that Housemate has to deal with. I’ll admit, I was usually given the angry customers because I was great at handling them (never lost my cool) and I always, always felt bad for the older customers who were constantly apologizing for ‘being a bother.’ Makes you wish you could send them comforting hugs.

  2. I noticed that leaving my usual environment knocked loose all sorts of ideas, many for the two novels looming over me at the moment, but others will come later. Like the story I heard about the ghost of a water engineer from the 1300s who still visits his projects, riding a carriage drawn by black cats. How can you NOT use that in a story, or turn it into one? (He liked black cats in life, but why a carriage? And why is he still around? It’s not a punishment, according to the original folk tale, but one wonders . . .) They are percolating up from bits and pieces of memory, a bit like sausage, as you say.

    1. It’s interesting, because I will occasionally come across a ‘writer’ who claims not to read. Them, I wonder about. How on earth do you find material for the sausage, then? LOL

      1. IIRC those authors often have stories with “overused and poorly done ideas” but claim their ideas are “great new ideas”. [Frown]

      2. I dunno.

        Suppose that in the end, it is just a specific variation of a problem solving process. Sure, prior art is useful for on the one hand avoiding needing to reinvent the wheel, the gear or the belt drive, and on the other having some idea if the work is up to code.

        Couldn’t someone develop to where that they didn’t strictly need to check ‘code’ and component specs to do well enough? Okay, if you get to that point, you probably have a reading habit, and if you slack off on studying, it likely hurts the ability to improve, but it still seems like I’ve described points on a real space.

  3. Having unfrozen my brain a little after the mild BSOD of that last XKCD panel, I’ve been informed that Sparrowind has sold over a hundred copies! THREE DIGITS!

    So anyway, I am stoked for ideas, and am keen on writing them down – some of these, I think, will do well to start the writing for the next / first book of the series that I’m planning to expand Sparrowind into. A couple of ideas I’m kinda filing away since they’re more like ‘unrelated short stories’ or for a series of short stories still in plot/concept mode.

    Insomnia may also have something to do with that. I’ve noticed that when I’m super, super tired, and too tired to sleep, that’s when the ideas start to … proliferate. That, or when I’m on the verge of actual sleep. That’s where most my story ideas come from. Or while I’m in the midst of doing something completely unrelated!

    Some of them are rather odd tho’… I’m not sure what pink teddy bears and fizzy lemonade have to do with fairy tales. I’m a little scared of the part of my imagination that made that happen. O_o

    1. When you’re really tired the brain is affected in much the way that intoxication hits you. And when that happens, the barriers start to go down, and the subconscious cuts loose. Personally, I can absolutely see the connection between fairy tales and pink teddy bears and fizzy lemonade, and it has to do with a little girl holding a tea party for her stuffies and telling stories…

      1. Yeah, I used to drink these pre-mixed drinks called Tanduay Ice, a Filipino version of Smirnoff Ices, same 5% alcohol, sweeter than actual Smirnoff Ices, just to get a nice little mellow buzz, during social gatherings (They’re cheap, and it’s really hard to get drunk on them. One runs out of allotted cash first on drinks before ‘drunk’ is even remotely on the horizon, which is GREAT for just sipping and drinking while chat-chatting about random stuff…) and… er, sorry for the digression. But yeah, I’d find my brain coming up with ideas, and since I’d usually be drinking with the same people I played RPGs with, those ideas got injected into convos about role playing… or we’d have impromptu in character convos.

        Those were kinda fun, and I miss my gaming group.

    2. Jealous. I’m about to drop below 900,000 again. WordPress says nobody’s looked at my blog in a week (can’t blame them, I only post book links there). Amazon says nobody but the spambots have been following my associates links from my other blogs. (you can tell because each link has the same number of hits). It’s a little discouraging.

  4. Thanks again to mbarker, who here lead me to the insight that ‘where’ is the wrong question. The correct formulation is ‘How?’

    It is a process.

    I think it is easier to teach in terms of process, even with huge amounts of variation.

    1. I think writing teaches our brains to turn control over to the subconscious, or facilitates leakage from there or something. It’s certainly a different state of mind, when the words start pouring out.

      1. It is. In some ways it’s as if I’m visualizing the same way I do when I dream, but I’m not as immersed as in a sleeping dream. And different bits and pieces pop up, like when I was writing down notes about a castle and had an entire chunk of scene start playing out in my mind’s ear. I expect that when I’m at my desk, but having it happen while I was walking down a rather steep, uneven spiral staircase was disconcerting.

  5. The grammar thing makes sense since texts with so many abbreviations rely more heavily on the deep meaning that is transmitted by word order and relationships rather than on the words themselves.

    When the “because Nouns” thing was new there were a couple of language articles about how this was *new* grammar… but it’s not. It’s an extreme elliptical phrase where a great deal is left out but is understood because of word order. The missing bit is obviously missing and needs to be filled in for the grammar phrase to be complete. Because we know grammar in our bones, we very *naturally* complete it.

  6. Here is a superversive thought: have you considered NOT making your teenage photography enthusiast “mouthy” and “street-smart”, but rather quiet, mousy, and reflective?

    Because that would not only be different these days, but would likely present a considerably more convincing character given the generally introverted nature of most photographers who are not named “Terry Richardson”.

    1. The problem is this: I don’t design my characters. I take her as she comes. Also, this is a story I’m unlikely to ever complete, except as a whim. I just don’t have time for all my ideas. Not sure who Terry Richardson is, by the way.

  7. I have people show up in my head first. Then I get my ideas for them much later. Charlotte Fisher, the MC in my second book, rode around in my brain for over a year before I figured out what she was up to. A couple friends wrote an article about how there needed to be an agency that paid for de-orbiting space debris. I was teasing one of them that that wasn’t very libertarian, because the agency would live on long after the last fleck of paint burned up in the atmosphere. When I started thinking about a prize, I suddenly realized what Charlotte was trying to do.

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