Behind “The Process”: Where DO Ideas Come From?

I’m not asking in the way that people who don’t write ask writers. I’m asking in a reflective way, because, well, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. I’ve had some story ideas but haven’t latched on to one that I want to ride out for my next novel. And it’s scary when stuff doesn’t work. Writers all worry that the water in creative well will turn to sand. I’m not losing more hair over it, but it’s created a baseline anxiety that is noticeable to the people around me. A few times I thought I had a good idea that had legs for a novel, but I kept writing to the same point, then…nothing.

But recently I had an idea that really excited me. Excited me the way my Switchers idea excited me. And then I had an idea for a character. A really interesting character. And these things are starting to melt together into a story stew, if you will.

It comes down to something I saw in an old interview on YouTube. Most people, I’m guessing, don’t sit around watching old author interviews on YouTube.

I do.

There’s one interview that I like more than just about any other. It’s a panel of horror writers from the 70s on The Dick Cavett Show. Ok, technically it was the 80s (1980 to be exact) but just look at these guys, long lapels, open shirts, smoking on air:

L to R: Stephen King (you know who he is), Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives), Peter Straub (Ghost Story), and George Romero (Night of the Living Dead)

I can’t remember for sure who said it, but when Cavett asked where they get ideas and inspiration, one of em said something to the idea of, A story usually comes together when 2 or 3 ideas merge into one.

I f***ed up the quote, but the idea is there. I’ve found that my first idea, the one I write on paper, is just the start of something.

When I first had the idea for what would become Switchers, it was going to be about a guy that commits suicide, then watches the lives of the people who were directly impacted by it in a purgatory of sorts. Switchers is nothing like that. Not even remotely. But all the main male characters came from that story. Then the parasite idea came to me later. It was originally a short story, and the parasite from Switchers was one of several parasites doing their nasty business at that time. And the time travel idea came from reading scientific trash: theoretical methods and implications of time travel, and whatnot. These three ideas came together to make a novel about kids trying not to get stuck in a different time where a parasite is ravaging the entire world and the only way to time travel is to switch bodies with the you from the time you want to go to.

Weird right? Three totally different stories came together to make, in my opinion, a hell of a novel. And that’s kind of where I am now. The story I have of the girl with supernatural abilities, but only in her sleep, is starting to merge into the story of the bullfighter (American, not Spanish. The guys who rescue downed bull riders, not kill bulls with a sword). And another story of a guy who is haunted by his half finished stories.

So where do ideas for stories come from? Unknown. Sometimes from something you read about. Or from something you see on a YouTube rabbit hole adventure. Or just out of nowhere. That’s not the important part. Ideas will come. They will.

Where does a really good story come from? The marriage of those strange ideas that won’t leave us alone–when they make friends, the really good stuff comes out.

So if you want to write a story, but you’re not sure what it’s about. Start a couple doodle stories. Don’t worry if they don’t turn out. Not all of them will. But when you have a few good ideas, start thinking, How could I merge these into a singular story?

The results might tickle you.

Happy writing!


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