where do ideas come from?

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Every writer hears it. And really, everyone wants to know. How on earth did Tolkien dream up all that stuff? And what about the Harry Potter series? Holy cow, that is a lot of world to come out of one woman. Of course, those are both fantasy series, but the question applies to all genres. One of my favorite novels is Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, and there’s nothing particularly fantastical about it. But it’s a fascinating idea, and one I never would have come up with. So what’s my answer? Mine come from all over. The source varies by project, by my mood, by where I am in my life. Often I suffer from a drought of ideas, and then when they come, it’s an avalanche. An idealanche! Meh, I’m mixing weather metaphors. It’s weird and nebulous and sort of a non-answer anyway. I’m an asker of the question myself, because I’m always on the hunt for inspiration too. I often just brainstorm to get ideas, and some come from that. What if? questions are good for story ideas. But occasionally they do fall out of the ether and coldcock me. A couple of fun ones:

  • “Anna Maria’s Guide to Resurrection” was inspired by an image I saw in my head of a girl standing under a tree holding a can of tomato soup. I thought, “what the hell is she doing with a can of tomato soup?” And, well, the rest is history.
  • A story I’m currently working on was inspired by a sign I saw posted on the door when I walked into a pharmacy. It made me stop and read it several times, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how weird it was.

Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a little idea factory hidden in your closet? Man…that would be awesome.

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