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September 15, 2011

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Artists of every type find inspiration all around them, and writers are no exception.  Ideas might come in the form of a dream, a “what if” question, an overheard conversation, etc.

Those are all fairly normal sources of inspiration.  Personally, I’ve been inspired by dreams, “what if”s, an 80’s music video, a mutation of another story, an X meets Y premise, and…spam.

If you’ve seen any of my recent blog posts, you know I’m referring not to the meat in a can but to a spam comment submitted to my blog.  Experiences like this make writers shake their heads when non-writer folk ask, “How do you come up with all your ideas?”  After all, if we can be inspired by something as mundane and ridiculous as spam, how can we not go through life without endless story ideas?

From Story Seed to Story

Story seeds often start small: a single line of dialogue, a single question, a single action.  And somehow our brain takes that nugget of information and turns it into a whole story.

It’s fascinating when we stop to think about it.  How stories grow from something so insignificant into a fully populated world with well-rounded characters and intricate plot events never ceases to amaze me.

My spam story seed started out small enough, just a dependent clause: While this is a low-class hornet’s snuggery.  That turned into the first line of the story.  Which turned into the character.  Which turned into her situation.  Which turned into the world she lived in.  Which turned into the plot events she had to deal with.

In other words, despite the fact it started as something utterly ridiculous, it turned into a real, full-blown story.  One of my favorite things about finishing a draft is seeing how far a story has grown.  It’s usually hard to believe it started from something so small.

How Does Our Garden Grow

The one thing all good story seeds have in common is a question.  When we ask a question, our muse has to come up with the answer.  With luck, that leads to another question, and another, and another.  Questions drive the story forward for both writers and readers.

My spam story seed was just eight words, and yet it immediately created three questions in my mind.  What’s a hornet?  What’s a snuggery?  And what makes this one low-class?

Pretty good for a random collection of words that were less than a complete sentence.  And that’s why this was such a potent story seed for me.  I instantly had questions about characters, settings, and world-building.  Just add muse to turn that into a story.

So far, I’ve received positive feedback from my alpha reader.  Now my critique partner and beta readers will take their turn while I figure out what I’m going to do with this short story.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a hint of the dystopian romance my story seed grew into.

*****

While this is a low-class hornet’s snuggery, I still have a shred of self-respect.

Like all female orphans in Downriver, Julia’s life follows a predictable path.  Work from the age of two.  Endure slavery at a snuggery from the age of eight.

And hope no one buys the key to her belt.

But when a powerful member of the ruling class pays a record amount for the right to strip her of her virginity, she’s going to lose her belt, the one thing protecting her from the rape gangs.  Julia’s days of relative safety will end—unless the secrets of Downriver can save her.

*****

Where do you get your ideas?  Do you have any unusual sources of inspiration?  What’s the most unique source you’ve had or have heard of?  If you’re a short story or flash fiction writer, do you still get more ideas than you can use?  What amazes you most about the story-seed-to-completed-story process?

P.S.  If my short story sounds interesting, make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter via the name/email widget on my sidebar.  No matter what I decide to do with it, I’ll try to offer it for free to my subscribers.

Picture of a dragon fruit by kennyteoh

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What do you think?

58 Comments on "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?"

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linda

Wow. So cool that you got your ideas from spam! The first line is so intriguing.

I tend to get story seeds from emotional experiences (my blog post on the topic is here) but I do grow it with ideas inspired by a ton of little everyday things. I love hearing about how writers find and develop their stories! 🙂

Marc Vun Kannon

That story sounds fascinating! I’ve never gotten an idea from spam before, but every other place on your list has worked for me.

Ava Jae

How we come up with stories is always an interesting topic, because it’s different for everyone. I’ve found that for me, it nearly always begins with character–I have an idea for a character and the rest just evolves organically around them. But that’s not always the case, I’ve started ideas over a single line like you did (except mine was significantly less ridiculous).

I think it’s fantastic that you got a story idea from that single sentence of spam. Who would’ve guessed?

Shain Brown

I have seen your comments on spam and I love them, but it does attest to how everyone’s brain works differently. My ideas start with a flash image, a mental picture if you will, often coming at the least predictable moment. Then the more difficult part. Can this nugget be a story or is it just an idea that gets filed away. I often cultivate the idea with music, looking at tattoo art, and my favorite is taking a road trip. From there its time to take out my 3′ x 6′ dry erase board and go to town.

Andrew Mocete

I tend to think in character arc, so my ideas start out with a lesson or issue I want to address. That usually sits in my head and throughout the day more ideas pop up. I let them stew until I’ve got enough to start working on an actual story. It’s funny where this stuff comes from.

Susan Sipal

OMG Jami! I can’t believe what you’ve done with that bit of spam. Just the hint you threw out there at the end is wildly intriguing!! It captured my interest right away.

I don’t know where ideas come from, but I get way too many to work with. I try to keep a file of them so that I feel like I’m not losing something, but the truth is I have way too many to ever be able to use. So, I let them sit and ponder them and the ones that keep pestering me are the ones that get written!

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Hi Jami, another great post and your story sounds fantastic. I can’t wait to be able to buy your work.

My Work-In-really-slow-Progress was inspired by a question a 16 year old online friend wanted me to ask TechWife. He was wondering if TechWife would consider a high tech birthing method were it available.

-TG
@jaytechdad

Raelyn Barclay

Love your blurb, the story sounds fascinating.

I try to maintain an idea diary, sometimes I’m better at it than others, and like Susan said there’s too many to work with. Ideas have come from a snippet of conversation, the way someone walks through a door, some bit from the news, one of the wee beasties’ homework assignments, a daydream, a what-if I’d done X instead of Y, and so many more. Can’t say I’ve gotten anything from spam yet but who knows, maybe you’ve opened the door to that one 🙂

Gene Lempp

Since your spam post I went and looked, 4821 spam or four times the number of legit comments. I have a landfill search planned for the near future.

Interesting story summary, can’t wait to see the whole thing and learn if Julia will find a way out. I know that snuggery, used on Twitter, generated an immediate egg n spam response, although they were link spam which I refuse to click (one shred of common sense left).

For inspiration, everywhere. I read papers for a living and news of the weird and police blotters are good points. History, science and archeology are other excellent sources for me, especially pre-history theories since they allow a great deal of leeway.

Twitter conversations (especially with Jami) are great brainstorming moments as well. So I guess, pretty much everything can be an inspiration for me. Just takes keeping the eyes and mind open to the possibilities.

Melinda Collins

Ah yes…the cauldron of ideas that every writer has! I really love how to you took a spam comment that makes you want to scratch your head and say “Huh?”, and turned it into a short story. That’s truly awesome, Jami!

Honestly, my ideas normally come from dreams and the “What if?” questions. But with my latest story, the main character just showed up when I finished reading a book. The first thing she said was, “I think me and that protagonist need to get together and have some coffee.” So that one was sort of a mutation of another story that’s already been published. It was my first experience with that source and I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed developing the story and getting to know the many characters through the protagonist. And she was right….she really needs to go out and have coffee with that protagonist. 🙂

Kerry Meacham

Love the beginning Jami. Based upon the opening, I guess there can actually be high-class hornet’s snuggeries too. Who knew?

Darcy Peal
Darcy Peal

Sometimes I get some amazing ideas for stories by actually paying attention to the things that come from kids. Kids are not embarresed by asking ANY question and sometimes they com up with strange ones.

I was sitting outside wearing nothing but cut-offs, I was leaning forward and my -ahem- *belly* was hiding most of my shorts. My four year old niece asked me why I was naked outside. She than asked if I put a shirt on when I go to work “cuz you can’t go work naked you know.”

Just her innocent comments got my muse in a frenzy as to how I could use that in a novel.

I also got ideas from George Carlin RIP.

JM Randolph

I super-love that you got a story out of a spam comment. Snuggery is a fantastic word! My ideas seemingly come out of nowhere but I have noticed this: there’s actually a lot of stuff floating around in my subconscious all the time, and if I am taking care of myself and feeding my soul, I can hear the ideas- usually while doing a repetitive task like driving, breathing heavily on the treadmill, washing dishes, or mixing my show at work. Great post.

Sarah Pearson

Jami, that story sounds exactly like something I want to read. I can only assume I’m already signed up as it keeps telling me there’s an error in resending the information 🙂

Jacquelyn Smith

I love that your spam inspired story is coming together! 🙂

I get my ideas from a few places. They can be triggered by a vivid dream, music, a particular phrase I overhear, or just a ‘what if’ concept that hits me out of nowhere (usually when I’m waiting for the bus or taking a shower it seems).

I write down every little nugget that comes to me. I may not use them right away, but they sit in the back of my mind, simmering until I can see how to build them into something more.

Nancy S. Thompson

This is exactly how my novel began, with a question inspired a song. What could make a truly good man do a terrible thing & could he find redemption afterwards? I was amazed where that question took me. Now I’m starting a new novel & the question isn’t as clear. It’s still a tiny seed. It’s sprouting, definitely, but it hasn’t burst through the soil quite yet. Can’t wait ’til it does!

Jeremy Duley

Hey Jami!!! That is a cool first line, love it!

I grew up in a household surrounded by people who could hit you with one-liners like it was nobody’s business. So from that respect I guess I’ve been “trained” to pull stuff from seems to be thin air but are actually just my brain’s attempt to throw together whatever raw material it has to work with at the time. Much like my mother had to work with next to nothing to make dinner sometimes when I was younger, yet she always came up with a meal out of what appeared to be an empty pantry.

August McLaughlin

Terrific post, Jami! Novel-gardens are the only things it seems my thumbs are capable of producing. 😉

I’m at Bouchercon, a crime fiction conference in St. Louis, right now and attended a panel on writers’ epiphanies — when/how particular authors gain their ideas. Many on the panel said that they came while they laid in bed, while their minds were drifting toward sleep. Not the case for me! I get my best ideas while daydreaming — which happens…A LOT. 😉

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[…] As writers and bloggers we are constantly looking for fresh ideas. Life, travel, surfing the net, television, newspapers and magazines, our children, our neighbor’s dog, all can inspire us to write. Jami Gold brings us an excellent post this week that inspired me, I hope it will you as well: Where Do You Get Your Ideas? […]

David
Wow, Jami. I am super impressed with you right now. You’ve turned the absolute ludicrous into something so incredibly interesting. They said it coudn’t be done. They thought she was crazy. They laughed her out of the business. But she found a way. AND SHE’S BACK. TO PROVE SHE HAD IT ALL ALONG. – Yes, this suddenly turned into a movie preview. I do really love your idea. My ideas come from everywhere, like you. Let’s see. My current story developed out of a superhero story I wanted to write, that spawned (no pun intended) from my wife shouting “super-sperm!” in an effort to get my muse going. No joke. The story’s not a superhero story anymore, but something a lot more genuine to me. Idea #2 on the list grew out of my own personal frustration with my past inability to finish projects. I wished I could travel back in time with all the popular movie scripts of today, and simply make them myself. Taking time-travel out of the equation, I created another story. Idea #3 came from a phrase. A colloquialism, one whose actual definition I’m still not completely sure of, but the story it created in my head from the literal translation is quite intriguing. “…like two ships passing in the night.” Eh? Idea #4 is my favorite. I molded this from a half-remembered dream. To this day, it’s my most developed and most mentally-realized world I’ve ever created. Just yesterday I started redoing some notes for… Read more »
L.S. Engler

What a great, intriguing little snippet to this inspired story! You definitely have my interest sparked with it, so well done there! I also really like the idea that a story has to answer a sort of question. Next time I’m struggling with a piece, I’ll have to pull myself aside for a moment and ask myself what question we’re trying to answer. I have a feeling it might help me get out of a rut in the future. Thanks for this great post!

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[…] Where Do You Get Your Ideas? | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author If you know Jami, you probably wonder how her mind works.  Or maybe it would scare you more if you did know.   Anyway, find out how she used a spam message to spark a short story.  Evidently there are low-class hornet’s snuggeries in the world.  Who knew? […]

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[…] my blog last week, I talked about how it’s fascinating to watch a story evolve from a story seed into a full-blown draft.  By the time we type “The End,” we often forget how […]

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[…] Writing Stuff Last week, we talked about how stories change from the initial story seed to the first draft.  Then it dawned on me that I’ve experienced that same evolution between a first draft and a […]

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[…] Gold walks us through an answer for Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (Or how SPAM can make you a better writer. Heh […]

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[…] in News My regular readers know I typically write novel-length stories.  However, during one crazy four-day stretch, I wrote a long-ish short story/short-ish novella (novelette?).  For those of you following along at home, I’m referring to my story inspired by spam. […]

Madeleine Miles
Madeleine Miles

Hooray for my first comment using my real name! After reading posts on platforms and being Google-able, I decided to forgo my regular title and just use my name. Scary! 🙁
I tend to get my ideas from songs. Not from the content of the song, but from the little music video that plays in my head when I listen to certain genres of music. It tends to be more of a tone, a mood, than a tangible idea, but I see a setting or something interesting when I hear certain songs, and then my little gears start turning the brainstorm wheels….

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[…] entertaining and educational.  *smile*  I blogged before about what we can learn from spam (one spam comment inspired the story I’m pitching!), and I translated another spam comment into Instructions for Zombie Apocalypse […]

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[…] I’ve talked about how it’s fascinating to watch a story evolve from a story seed into a full-blown draft.  By the time we type “The End,” we often forget how […]

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