ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Are your story ideas a bolt from the blue? Some famous bolts from the blue from some literary giants...Tolkien et al...

Hi all!

Many authors say when they rock up for an author talk, then open up for questions, they always get the one - 'Where do you get your story ideas from?' Well, there are as many answers to that as there are ideas. For me, I have ideas all the time, it's reeling one in and seeing it through to its conclusion that's the problem! So my interest was piqued when I came across this book by Celia Johnson:  Dancing With Mrs Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature.

I'll share a few to inspire you:


  1. The Hobbit: J.R.R. Tolkien was grading college exam papers and came across a gloriously blank sheet. Tolkien wrote down the first thing that randomly popped into his mind: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' He had no idea what a hobbit was or why it lived underground, and so he set out to solve the mystery.
  2. Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson painted a map to pass the time during a dreary vacation in the Scottish Highlands. When he stepped back to admire his handiwork, a cast of imaginary pirates appeared. Stevenson recalled: 'They passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection.' He promptly traded his paintbrush for a quill and began to write.
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: On an otherwise ordinary day, C.S. Lewis was seized by a peculiar daydream. A frazzled creature, half-man and half-goat, hurried through snowy woods carrying an umbrella and a bundle of parcels. Lewis had no idea where the faun was heading, but the image was still with him when, at age 40, he finally put pen to paper to find out.
  4. Rip Van Winkle: Washington Irving was suffering writer's block. His brother in law, Henry Van Wart, was cheering him up by reminiscing about childhood adventures in the Hudson Highlands. In the middle of the conversation, Irving dashed out of the room. The next morning, he emerged with a new story inspired by the talk.
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude: Gabriel Garcia Marquez was driving his family to Acapulco for a vacation. As he gripped the steering wheel, the opening line to a novel popped into his head. He threw his foot on the brake, turned the car around, and cut the trip short to work on the rest of the story.
There are other great stories of how some great works of literature were created - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz came when the author L Frank Baum was telling his sons a story and got swept away to a land unlike any his imagination had ever conjured. Around the World in Eighty Days came from Jules Verne seeing an advertisement in a Paris newspaper for a chance to travel the world in 80 days. Animal Farm was the result when George Orwell was a young boy and was steering a massive cart horse along a narrow path and wondered - what if animals realized their own strength? Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy had a vision of an elbow, which expanded into a melancholy woman in a ball gown. She haunted him until he wrote the story.

Inspired? Looks like taking a vacation is a good idea, coupled with a little dreaming and 'what ifs'?...

  • Where do you get your ideas from? Please share with us...Do the planets have to be aligned or do you just go for it? 






39 comments:

  1. I'm with you, they come from everywhere, it's the hard work of developing that often eludes me. But yes, traveling to dodgy country towns (when you were promised an exciting city holiday by your loving, but obviously deceiving husband), museums, owning zombie dogs, basically living in a fantasy world :)

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    1. I want to read that story from the Aussie tin pot town! D.

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  2. I love hearing how people come to their ideas. Mine pop in at the weirdest times--usually the most inconvenient times. I try to keep a notebook close at hand just in case. Daydreaming is the resource.

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  3. I meant to say, daydreaming is the BEST resource... I think I was daydreaming.

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  4. They come from all over, but sometimes just in little bits so I have to wait a while for more to come :-)

    Hope you're well x

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  5. What great stories of inspiration.

    For me, all my stories are lightening bolts, which is why I'm plagued with writer's block - the lightening doesn't strike as often as I'd like :-(

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    1. Zing, zing, zing. Too often and you feel a bit numb!D.

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  6. I like the origins for the Hobbit.
    Mine will come from an image or single scene in a movie.

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    1. The Hobbit one is so cool. I guessed you got a lot of inspiration from movies. D,

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  7. These are very interesting! Mine come from real experiences or song lyrics that touch me usually

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    1. Song lyrics are amazing for getting story ideas. They also make good titles for stories. D,

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  8. It's amazing to learn where some story ideas come from. Mine come seeing a single action, hearing a sentence or a song, or just one random moment and my brains is like *ZING*, that's it! And then it just builds from there.

    ~JD

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    1. I often start a short story when I come across a sentence I like. Then I write the rest. Zing alright! D.

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  9. That's a great list Denise! There's also Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein on a dare/bet.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that one Deniz. I was hoping I'd hear more. D.,

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  10. Very cool.

    One inspiration I had came from walking on a brick path in the rain.

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  11. My main WIP came from a vivid dream. By the end of the day I knew the premise behind it. My SF triology, OTOH, is a loose retelling of the life of Blanche of Castille, born 1188, and destined to serve as her son's regent in France. How's that for a weird origin? ; )

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    1. Great to see you Zan. Never underestimate the power of dreams. Love 'em. D,

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  12. These were fabulous insights, Denise. The imagination is a wonderful, glorious treasure. Just being trumps just trying every time.

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    1. You're right, Kittie. I know you're inspired by history and stories...D,

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  13. Loved these. However, I think my family would kill me if I came up with a line on the way to vacation and then cut the trip short to write it.

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    1. Me too. Not to be sexist, lol, only a man could do some of these things and get away with them. D,

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  14. I can no longer recall how some of my stories came to be. Their origins are far too old now.
    But my latest popped up while playing on the PS3. While my gruesome game character was sucking souls outta people until they died, I was thinking "what if the bad guy wasn't simply the bad guy but is perceived as a bad guy by some while technically doing bad guy things?"
    Several months down the road and I'm halfway through Dark One's Mistress.

    Love the origins for Rip Van Winkle. Wonder what his brother-in-law was thinking when Irving rushed out like that.
    Can bet what Irving was thinking ... "Gotta get this down!" ^_^

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    1. Hi Aldrea! Love your story idea and how you got it. Everything is useful for inspiration. What i think about most of these examples - they put the story first before every other consideration - good manners, family...hmm. I couldn't do that so guess that's why I'll never be a 'giant' of literature, lol. D.

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  15. Hi, Denise,

    Like you, ideas pop into my head all the time. My second novel came to me in a dream. I took it from there.

    Most of my ideas come to me while I exercise. Walks on the beach, lifting heavy weights or just walking around between benching. My mind clears as the adrenaline and endorphins pump through my body.

    Thanks for the cool info. It's so amazing how ideas come to all of us.

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    1. Hey Michael, another way you've made keeping fit work for you! Nothing like those endorphins to inspire us! D.

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  16. What a fun post! I loved reading all those. Especially The Hobbit - my favorite childhood book, and a hilarious way that the inspiration struck.

    I'll get one little idea suddenly, which will sometimes grow and have other supporting ideas fall into line with it.

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    1. I loved reading about them too! I can't imagine turning the car around and going home. Bet the family wasn't happy! D.

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  17. I'm seriously heartened by these examples! Story ideas for me are few and far between, and they usually come as a sudden image or opening out of the blue that needs to be expanded. I have always been envious of those whose minds are brimming with ideas.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed reading Botanist! D.

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  18. Do you think we all have our own hobbits waiting to pop out of our imaginations? I was thinking about the blank page, yesterday -- how incredibly symbolic it is when you first open up the document and stare it down. I don't look at the white for more than a few seconds. I take dictation on that first sentence and just don't stop!

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  19. Charmaine is right: ideas come ... but it the watering and growing of them that can prove to be the challenge!! Truly fascinating post today, Roland

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  20. This looks so interesting. I'm going to print it out so I can read it later...

    Hope you're having an excellent week, dear sis.

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  21. Hi Denise,

    Your post on ideas, I admit, its the very first question I ask authors in interviews, is interesting!

    Thanks!

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  22. Hi Denise .. I can't seem to get away from ideas for the blog - constant rain of thoughts .. so I guess I'm very lucky ... one today, one I read on the train going up to the Exhibition .. Narnia related .. Summer food in the supermarket, Bailey bridges for the Olympics, and I haven't started .. no wonder it takes me 6 days to put up one post .. I will try and rectify that I think ..

    Cheers Hilary

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  23. Love this list! Wrote a longer comment, but on the wrong post. Silly me.

    Anna

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