where to get ideas

Who is in control, muse or me?

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People often ask me, “where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is always the same, “they just seem to drop in on their own.”  I know that’s not a very helpful answer, but it’s the truth, and I always tend to think of the ideas as coming from somewhere outside of me.  Whether it’s just creative energy floating around in the ether that just happens to land on my brain cells, or whether it’s being fed to me by the spirits of dead writers, or even if it escaping from another dimension that just happens to have strayed too close to this one, I don’t really care.

Many creative people talk about their muse as if it’s a person, and I’m the same.  Mine feels like a male, but maybe that’s because I’m a female and subconsciously, I know I need the male energy to complete me.  He doesn’t have a name and I haven’t given him one, but I do believe in him as male.  He’s fairly easy going most of the time, but he can crack the whip when he feels the need.  When he does, he’s persistent and won’t accept being ignored.

His method is subtle though.  If I’m ignoring him, he will bombard my brain with ideas, or a single idea, and no matter what I try to do, it won’t go away.  If I have a certain direction in which I want to take my story, and that doesn’t match his plan, it’s his way or the highway.  I can be typing away quite happily, then suddenly find myself typing stuff I had no intention of typing, with no idea where the idea for those words came from, and it’s usually the polar opposite of what I wanted to do.  I’ve come to realise that he knows best, so I always give in and let him  have his way.  If I’ve been resisting his push for a while, when I do finally give in and write, the story usually pours out like a tidal wave.

I decided a little while ago, to write some more short stories for another anthology, this time paranormal based rather than straight up horror.  I had a couple done, and had an idea for a third that kept banging away inside my head for ages.  When I finally sat down to write what I thought was going to be a short story of no more than 4k words, it quickly became obvious that His Lordship had other ideas.  He wants this to be a book, maybe a novella, but certainly NOT a short story, perish the thought.

This sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not.  I love that the creative force is so strong and active and tangible for me, and I feel sorry for those who don’t feel that way.  I don’t know how I could advise those folks.

So who is really in charge?  The answer for me is two fold; either the writer takes charge and ignores the muse, or the writer listens to the muse and let’s them direct the story.  My personality is one that needs strong leadership and an active ‘hands on’ approach.  I need firm but constantly encouraging guidance.  I’m one of those types who would thrive in the gym if I had a personal trainer yelling at me all the time.  Sometimes I find it hard to motivate myself, so a strong push from outside of myself is what works for me.

I’m happy to let my muse be in control.  I trust him completely and never argue, it’s pointless to try anyway.  I always say that I don’t actually write my stories, my characters write them, and I just take dictation.  I find the whole subject of the muse, fascinating, and would love to know what your experience of it is.

Ideas and Inspiration – How do you find them?

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That moment when a fantastic idea for a plot line drops into your head is one of the most wonderful moments in a writer’s life.  On a par with that moment when you write “The End” or when you notice you’ve made another sale, when inspiration comes knocking, your mind explodes like a firework display.  Time stands still, everything around fades to mist, and your imagination suddenly takes off at near light speed as you see this initial idea suddenly grow and blossom inside your head.  I may be over dramatising it but that’s what it’s like for me.

As time goes on and I write more, these mind blowing moments happen more often and more easily.  I’m at the point now, where I can almost make them happen simply by looking at something with a certain questioning  attitude at the forefront of my mind.  For instance, just now I saw a commercial on TV that showed three women singing, (it was for insurance).  I decided to find out if I could come up with a plot idea, so I watched the advert and mentally asked myself, “what could I make out of this?”  Immediately, I realised that I could base a story around a woman (or man), who comes from a planet where their voices have a much larger vocal range than humanoids from earth.  This person could have developed their voice so that when they sing at the certain wavelength, the sound has a strange effect upon anyone listening, rendering them into a state much like that of light trance.  He/she could then either commit some crime and disappear, or commit a  crime and then continue singing on a different wavelength so that listeners would have no memory of him/her doing anything other than singing a song, thereby getting away with murder or some other crime.

That whole process took me less than ten seconds, and you can do it too, with a little practice.

TV commercials are great sources of plot ideas, because they are already little stories in themselves.  Next time you see a commercial, pay full attention to it and ask yourself a question – “what is the first thing about it that grabs my attention?”  In my case, it was the singing, but it could be the landscape, the way a person looks, what they’re doing, anything.  Whatever it is, remember it and then ask another question – how could I use that landscape/appearance/action etc,  in a story?  Of course, you will have to think in terms of your own genre, and maybe it’s easier for me as a science fiction writer.  I can invent stuff and allow some things that would not fit into, say, historical romance for instance, but the principle is the same.  Pay attention to what you’re seeing and hearing and ask yourself the questions.  This will teach your subconscious mind to practice being imaginative with less stimulus.

You can do this anywhere and in any situation.  I like listening to people’s conversations, and quite often I will hear something in the supermarket that gives me an idea.  Again, ask yourself  “how can that statement be used in a plot?”

Just to prove that this works for any genre, I’ve just watched a commercial for a supermarket chain.  It showed two very famous celebrities going shopping in a market, talking to the stallholders and admiring the produce (meat, vegetables, fruit, bread etc).  I asked myself “how can this be used for a romance story?”   Immediately I see two strangers, a man and a woman, going shopping on a rainy day.  The woman is stressed and is rushing to the market to find something for dinner.  The man is happy and is wandering around trying to find something for his dinner.  The man has just moved into the area and has great plans for his life, whereas the woman has a job she hates and is bored with her life.  They both arrive at a stall selling meat, to find the stallholder has just one fresh chicken left.  Both want the chicken, and the man, noticing how stressed the woman is, lets her buy it and goes elsewhere.  Later, the woman arrives home to her apartment to find the same man has just moved into the apartment next door.  They get talking and, well you can take the story from there.

I don’t write romance, I don’t like romance, but I have just come up with a perfectly serviceable romance plot from a TV commercial.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  All it needs is a slight alteration in the way you observe everything, and a willingness to mentally interact with what you’re observing.

Trust your subconscious, let it work for you.  You have the ability to be creative, all you need to do is access that ability.