Where Do Ideas Come From?

To write a story, you must first have an idea—a kernel of imagination that blooms from something simple into a whole tale. The real work, of course, comes after the idea, because ideas are abundant in most writers’ minds.

But where do they come from?

I’ve always found it fascinating to hear how other writers form ideas for their stories. Like learning styles, ideas are unique to their bearer; they can come from a visual source, a written source, or even an auditory one. Some will find them in the natural scenes around them, whether it be during a leisurely stroll or standing in the grocery store checkout lane. Others will discover them in the speech of friends, family, or children. A few will lock themselves in a room, letting the quiet that surrounds them swarm their thoughts until nothing becomes something and they’re typing away on the computer. I’ve known some to do random associations, picking words off a page and stringing them together in a theme for their next work. Still others are veritable idea machines, as if a running scroll of them simply churns through their minds.

Sometimes, ideas are past experiences, tweaked just enough to add some creative flair. Others are tales of what could have been instead of what really was. No matter what, though, each writer has his or her own way to light that clever spark and create a story from it.

While my ideas come to me in a variety of ways, I’ve noticed two methods are the most prevalent. The first is through dreams. I’ve been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with extremely vivid dreams for the majority of my life; often they are fantastical in nature and come to me in full color, and fortunately I am able to remember them upon waking. If they aren’t nightmares (that would be the cursed part), they usually provide me with images of creatures or scenes that I am inclined to jot down and save for a later piece.

More common, however, is the method I refer to as the “one liner.” It sparks from something I see or hear around me, a line that forms in my head that will not, for the life of me, go away. Each time it is one single line, whether it be a reaction to what I see, a sentence that will later serve as dialogue, or a clause of imagery. I’ll carry this line with me wherever I’m at—even if it means repeating it to myself the entirety of a gym workout—until I can get in front of a piece of paper or computer. There, I’ll write that one line and run wild with it. This method is the one that’s been the most effective, for me, something that comes blindly out of the air and smacks me with a whole run of a tale.

We all have ideas that we like to use in our writing, and usually we’ve been carrying around a bounty of them over the years. I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for how people form them, but I’m curious—where do your ideas come from? Please share! 🙂

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About Eva Rieder

Eva Rieder is a speculative and contemporary/mainstream fiction author. By day, she masquerades as a high school Math and English teacher. Though she adores teaching and her students very much, when Eva returns home she reglues her fingertips to the keyboard to pursue her alter ego’s destiny. She currently lives and writes in Northern California with her two keyboard-savvy cats. View all posts by Eva Rieder

10 responses to “Where Do Ideas Come From?

  • Harry Moonbeam

    Just in trying to formulate a response to your question I’ve had an idea and am now about to write it. Thank you.

    • Eva Rieder

      Wonderful! I’m delighted to hear it. So more of a “randomly plucked through the air” sort of idea former, I take it? 😉 Good for you. Good luck with the piece!

  • The Writer's Codex

    I could be one of those writers who sits in an empty room because, like you Eva,the ideas just come at me in single line text or one simple image (a car exploding) and then I can just run with it, that is why I don’t fear the blank page…it’s too easy to take something and run.

    • Eva Rieder

      I agree. Sometimes the blank page is intimidating at first, and it’s slow going, but then boom! Idea is rolling. Thanks for sharing your idea method, Nathan! It’s so fascinating to hear everyone’s method. 🙂

  • verasilver

    I generally try and come up with two things when I first think of a premise for a book. One is the idea of the main character, and what they hope to accomplish during the book, and two is something that will happen midway through that will change everything, that the reader wouldn’t have been expecting.

    The rest of the ideas just sorta seep into the gaps at that point.. sometime while I’m writing it, more often though I find myself getting loads of ideas for a much later chapter, so I quickly pen them all down.

    -Vera

  • benja1974

    Hi Eva. I think when I write I’m always projecting myself. It’s like a symbol with words of a piece of me. Doesn’t matter if I’m talking about an event is happening far from me, this event it’s expressed with my thoughs and feelings.

    • Eva Rieder

      Thanks for sharing, Benja! It truly is interesting how we weave ourselves into our work. I know I can see pieces of me in my characters or their actions, even if it’s a variation of some part of my soul. I love your description—”a symbol with words of a piece of me.” So thoughtful. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Benja. 🙂

  • Katherine Checkley

    Great question…my answer? I honestly don’t know. I can say for sure that I almost never simply wake up one morning with a fully formed notion for a book, shorty story, essay, etc. in my mind. For me it’s an evolution. Sometimes it’s a concept or an idea, or simply an image. I once was laying in my final shavasana in yoga and had a vision of those poisonous berries on the yew hedges that surrounded a park near my grandparents’ house I used to play in when I was little. For whatever reason, this sparked a whole idea for a short story in a span of minutes. Other times I have struggle to come up with an idea on my own. I’m rambling….such a hard question to answer. I’ll stick to my original…I don’t know!

    • Eva Rieder

      🙂 I don’t know is a great response, Katherine! I still don’t know either—a line “pops” into my head, but where on earth do they come from?! I imagine hanging onto that idea during shavasana was tricky, but I can totally picture it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stopping by. I wonder if ideas are really some form of static electricity that just sticks to our souls? Oooh! Story idea! 🙂

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