One of the questions I am asked most often – particularly at various shows – is, “Where do you get your ideas?” The short answer is from somewhere inside my crusty brain, although the long answer is a bit more enlightening.
At my most recent event, a gentleman told me about odd triggers he has for dreams. Uncontrollably, my brain went straight to an idea of how that could become an excellent premise for a story. The only problem is, one kernel does not a cob make. Multiple ideas are needed to carry a plot and multiple subplots of a novel or screenplay. It’s precisely that little hitch that turned a story intended to be about sleepwalking into a story about dreams. Oh, I’m sure I could’ve thought of something that would have turned Dead Dreams into a sleepwalking story, but none of my ideas grabbed my fancy, so I gravitated to dreams, instead.
No, most of my ideas don’t come from events that happen around me or stories I hear, rather thoughts which sprout in my brain, get nourished by my unceasing imagination, then eventually reach the point that they must be written down somewhere (computer, a piece of paper) in order to survive. I’m convinced that I’ve forgotten far more ideas than the dozens and dozens I’ve written down.
I’m also not a “straight out of the headlines” guy. Certain news items strike me as useful for scenes, but not story ideas. For example, long ago I heard about a guy who fell over the railing of a bridge and a friend grabbed him and pulled him to safety. That caused me to think of a guy dangling over the side of a bridge and he gets into an argument with his best friend – an amusing scene with comedic dialogue. My mind doesn’t go to the serious when I hear about stories with happy endings: I think about what could either go wrong or would be funny.
So back to where I actually do get my ideas. A few ideas have come from dreams. I have really awesome dreams which cause me to wake up with my heart pounding – and sometimes I’m profusely sweating. Those are great dreams! But most of my ideas just either seem to leap into my brain or I take an idea and make change after change and mull over it for weeks and weeks, then I finally write (or type) something that will help me remember it later.
It’s not that interesting how it gets there, it’s just stuck in there somewhere in my grey matter and leaks out.
Sometimes multiple ideas have to come together, such as with Children of the Sun. That started as I rode with my parents as a 13-year-old, in the backseat of our Ford, as we drove across the barrenness of eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. I imagined a spaceship coming to destroy us, but before the aliens could do us in, another spaceship chased them off. The aliens then blocked my dad’s path; the aliens thanked my parents for raising me; my parents weren’t really my parents and thus willingly handed me over to the aliens, and I learned that I was from another planet.
It’s too late for psychological help. We’re way past that.
There isn’t much to look at in western Nebraska. Trust me on that. But anyway, the rest of the story for Children of the Sun came together later. It’s more than just spaceships returning to Earth – there have to be other storylines.
Some of my ideas are simply collections of thoughts which I recognize to be the seeds of an excellent story. Because the ending must be known when the writing begins, I don’t begin the project unless I have an ending in mind. This helps me to either transform the collection of thoughts into something useful, or I know to leave the idea alone – to save it for another day when those thoughts will rotate fast enough in my imagination to gain enough mass and momentum to become worthy of a solid ending.
To me, it all makes so much sense and sounds so easy. Then I read what I wrote (above) and realize my thought processes are as clear as a lecture on the elasticity of money.
You do realize that a lot of authors have sanity problems, right? Not that I’m stating that outright about me, it’s just, yeah, people do wonder about me after they read and hear some of my ideas. Strange things leak out of that grey matter.
Coming up with ideas is kinda like scooping up a thousand tiny shards of plastic, pressing them together really really hard, then opening your hand and seeing that you created a Rubik’s Cube. If that brief peek between my ears doesn’t frighten you, you’ve got an iron stomach.
Next time, I hope to be giving an inexact date of the publication of Wager of Death. My next thriller is about to go into editing as I write this.
For those of you who have read Children of the Sun and/or Dead Dreams and feel good about giving it at least four stars, please write a review on Amazon. That would be very beneficial for me; the more reviews the better for the sake of Amazon’s algorithms.
I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.
Brian W. Peterson
Somewhere on the edge of the Great Plains