Where Did They Come Up With That?

Don’t you sometimes wonder, when you’re reading something, how the author came up with that idea?  Or maybe you’re the author, banging your head against the wall, trying to force out that next great brainstorm!  For some people, generating new ideas is as easy as breathing.  They sit at their desk and the ideas flow.  For the rest of us . . .

Thankfully there are things we can do to help open the ol’ noggin.  Here are just a few that I find useful from time to time.

Everything.  Not just books in your genre, but EVERYTHING.  Newspapers, fliers, ads, studies, blogs –  whatever happens to be handy at the time.

Play ‘What If’
Take everyday situations, and put the ‘what if’ twist on them. Watch what’s going on around you and ask yourself what would happen if circumstances were somehow different.
What if . . . there was a place, where everybody knew your name – and then one day they didn’t?  Or vice versa.
What if . . . you really could walk through walls?
What if . . . you found out you aren’t who you thought you were?  Or, you are.

Collect Quotes
I have several notebooks (and computer files) that contain nothing but quotes, lyrics, snatches of dialogue, poems and the like.  Anything that strikes a chord.  When I’m feeling totally devoid of inspiration I thumb through them.  You never know what they’ll prompt.  Sometimes it’s no more than a feeling, sometimes a character or a scene.

“Time to change has come and gone, Watched your fears become your god” ~ Alice in Chains

“When I first saw your trespasser
He wandered uninvited
To your door
He seemed to know his way around
Although I’d never seen
His face before”  ~Al Stewart

“In the absence of light, darkness prevails. There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Myers. Make no mistake about that. And we are the ones who bump back.”  Professor Bruttenholm from the movie Hellboy

Collect Images
I have file folders of random images I call my ‘morgue’.  I used the images mainly for reference when I was doing more painting and drawing than writing.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, use that picture to write a thousand words.  The monthly Flash Fiction contest over at Devin O’Branagan’s forum often uses an image as the writing prompt.

Respectfully, of course.  Use other people’s conversations as a springboard for ideas.  Not everyone handles life the same, not everyone’s life is the same.  Do you want to improve your characters and your dialogue?  Become a people watcher.

Those are just a few ideas to get the ol’ brain firing.  If you have some of your own I haven’t touched on, please share!


  1. This post was genius–especially the point about reading everything, and the point about respectfully eavesdropping. It stings me how many people don’t appreciate the value of using “non-literary” inspiration. The best story ideas often come from the least likely sources.

    • >>This post was genius<<
      Well, gosh I’m not sure it was *that* great, but thanks. 🙂 Yes, I think we need to take our inspiration from wherever we can find it.

  2. My husband and I take characters, get to know them, and then shove them at each other. It’s sort of “what if” meets “The Real World”. Which is kind of weird, now that I think about it, but that’s totally how it happens. I’m not sure if I’m proud or shameful I just compared my writing to “the Real World.” …yikes.

  3. Fantastic suggestions! I know I keep a notebook just for lyrics and quotes and what not. I love going back and reading what’s inspired me over the years…always surprised by how little I’ve changed, and things that resonated with me then still do now. The what-if game is also a good idea. And YES! READ! You can’t emphasise that one enough.

    • >>I love going back and reading what’s inspired me over the years…always surprised by how little I’ve changed<<
      That is surprising, isn't it? I actually still have quotes/poems/etc from high school and they still resonate with me. Maybe not quite in the same way as they did then.

  4. Great suggestions! I have dozens of notebooks scattered throughout every room of the house where I jot down snippets. I carry a tape recorder in the car for the same purpose. The notes always come in handy. I use everything, one way or another!

  5. I wonder how many writers use tape recorders. I used to, when I traveled alone more often. I have a six hour drive coming up in January, thought I better dust the little record off in case inspiration hits. The only downfall – I *hate* listening to my recorded voice! LOL

  6. Constantly getting great inspiration from your posts, this one is no exception. I especially like the ‘what if’ and ‘eavesdropping’ tips. Thanks!

  7. I did a post called ‘Ideas on beating writer’s block’ with a few more tips on forming inspiration for creative writing but I like your eavesdropping suggestion. I’ve heard it before and it’s just fabulous. It’s one of the best suggestions for writers — makes your writing so realistic. There are little gestures and habits you just dont think about sometimes when you write directly from your imagination.

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