So, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
When you’re at school, your English teacher gives you a writing prompt to get you started. Using a heading like “The Purple Dinosaur” you’re expected to write a story. When I was at school, I quite liked doing that, but I was a writer, even then. Most people aren’t. So what do you do when you have a blank piece of paper in front of you and someone expects you to come up with brilliant fiction in fifty minutes?
Thank heaven that doesn’t happen when you’re submitting to publishers!
If you’re submitting to a magazine, you’re on your own; the stories can be about anything. If it’s a theme anthology, it’s a bit easier and more like a writing prompt from school. For example, I have a story coming out soon in an anthology on the topic of “Myths and Legends”. I wrote a story inspired by Snow White, asking, “What if the seven dwarfs were more like the fighting Dwarves from Tolkien?”
“What if…?” is a good start to any story, whether you have a writing prompt or not. I get a lot of my ideas from reading, and from there, I ask “what if…?”
I had to write a chapter book once, on future science. In a magazine called New Scientist I read that it was actually possible to create food in a machine, like those “replicators” you see in science fiction films. You have to use a science called nanotechnology, which is about tiny things. We’re already using this science for quite a lot of things, including medicine. So, I asked, “What if you did have a food replicator and you made some dumb mistakes in programming it?” The result was a very silly story called Grey Goo, published a few years ago.
“What if that video game arcade down the road was run by a couple of guys from the future, on the run from their enemies?” led to a story which won the Mary Grant Bruce Award (see my post about that).
Sometimes you can start with, “What would this world be like if just one thing was different?” It might be anything – what if there was no electricity? No aeroplanes? What if nobody had invented the printing press?”
You can get ideas from the news or from history books. One of these days I’m going to try a novel based on a very big “what if..?” I read in a history of tourism.
Early in the 12th century, the son of King Henry I of England went over to France with a bunch of his friends. The night before they were due to come back, there was a big party. Unfortunately, a lot of booze was sent to the sailors of the ship due to take them home. It was wrecked on the rocks – talk about drink-driving! The Prince and all his friends drowned, leaving England without an heir. Henry made his daughter Matilda the heir to the throne. That led to a war between her and a cousin who thought he should be king. Her son Henry became king, the father of Richard the Lionheart and King John. Their family ruled England for a long time and led to the world we know now, because of the decisions those rulers made - all because a bunch of sailors got drunk one night.
What if the captain had stopped the wine from reaching them? What would the world be like now? I will, of course, have to do a lot of historical research to work that out.
It should be fun!
Now, guys, I’m only a few days away from the end of my residency in the Doghouse and I still have some prizes to give out for interesting comments. If you’d like to make one, just click on the post’s heading and a box labelled “Add a comment” will appear under the post for you to write in, whether it's a comment or a question.