The Stork, Of Course
“Where do you get your ideas?”
I hear this question frequently and it always makes me laugh. “From the Idea Stork,” I want to reply, “similar to the one that brings babies and those spiders that randomly show up in the bathtub.” It might be a more satisfying answer than the truth, which is: “Everywhere.”
I usually don’t elaborate, either on everywhere or idea storks, but since this is a writing blog wherein I blog about writing, I shall give it a go. I think it’s important for writers (especially fiction writers) to constantly explore possibilities. In my case, I can’t seem to shut it off.
People Watching For Fun And Fodder
My primary source of information is simply people. I have a very long commute to and from my day job and this has been both a curse and a blessing. A curse because it takes precious time away from the process of actual writing, and a blessing because of the never-ending creativity fodder. Let’s face it, people are incredibly interesting.
I once encountered a man in the bus with a self-made tattoo. “Melissa” it said, scrawled down his forearm in a rough print, uneven and, frankly, unattractive. My mind spun crazily. Who was Melissa and why had this man felt the need to permanently mark himself with her name? Had he done it himself or had he recruited his ten-year-old nephew to help? Was she an unrequited love? Old girlfriend? Book character? Favorite dog? (The paths my imagination took were likely far better than reality; I didn’t ask and he departed at the next stop.)
Create Your Own Club
Then there are the men with the handlebar mustaches, seen at different places and different times. “Why?” I want to ask. Do they think those enormous, curling mustaches are attractive? Are they part of a cult? A secret handlebar mustache society? Do they meet on Tuesdays and discuss twirling techniques and villain stereotyping? (The urge to put such a club in a story is great, I assure you.)
Give Them A Backstory
And what about the beautiful black man dressed like a street thug while clutching a magazine written in French? He opened it next to me and began to read. With less than a minute to my exit, I did not have the time to ask him anything. “Who are you? Where are you going? Is your family, friend, lover from France? Canada? Did you learn the language as a child or an adult?” Without actual answers, my imagination had to fill in the blanks; just like that, a character was born. Perhaps one day he will interact with the icy blond businesswoman who sat near the front of the bus with perfect posture and unshakeable poise, looking utterly out of place on the grungy city bus. Where was her Mercedes? Had she fought with her boyfriend/husband/best friend/sister and stormed out of the car/condo/office to get on the bus and flee to her mother’s/the bank/the airport…?
And We’re Off!
The possibilities are endless. Maybe one day on the pages of a book she will bump into Mr. French Magazine and speak to him in flawless French. He will introduce her to his best friend, who has a handwritten tattoo scrawled on his forearm…
“Where do you get your ideas?” they ask.