August 01, 2005

Thoughts on Ideas

I had this little mini-epiphany in the car the other day. (I often have mini-epiphanies in the car. I'm not sure why that is.) Anyway, I was thinking about another bit of advice I received as a beginning fiction writer, which was to NOT look to others' work for your ideas, or model something after an existing book or movie or TV show.

I think this is actually very good advice. At first, though, it irritated me. Why should I constrain any potential sources of inspiration? Surely, if I chose to model something after an existing work I really admired, I wouldn't really be copying what they did so much as "emulating," right? Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Can't a lot be learned from trying to emulate somebody's style or themes?

I still think these are good points. But during my little automobile moment, everything fell into perspective. There is a time and place for both points of view. In my opinion (which is not humble whatsoever), the strongest ideas come from something in your own life--something you personally experienced, or something a friend told you about, or even something you overheard that was really intriguing. These are the little nuggets that continually prod at your brain like a grain of sand inside an oyster, until a pearl of story forms around them and you're ready to write. They have the solidity to inspire a really strong story.

But once you've got that core idea, frankly, the details that flesh it out can come from anywhere and everywhere. Because that initial inspiration was your own, any details you add should mold themselves to the original idea like the layers of oyster secretions that eventually become that pearl. Only not as icky, probably. The result is a weird and wonderful hybrid whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There isn't anything new under the sun, but there are new ways of looking at things.

The other useful aspect of examining previously published works is to remind yourself what has already been done--you wouldn't want to find yourself reproducing something that's already out there, or inadvertently creating something that closely resembles another work. Looking at what's out there can not only help rekindle your inspiration, but it can help you make your work distinctive.

Okay, those are my thoughts for the day. I apologize for having been on a long hiatus, and I promise to come back with a full report after the upcoming SCBWI conference.

1 comment:

TadMack said...

...for this same reason I have restrained myself repeatedly from reading anything in the D&D/Lost Realms world since I've started my current story and since I've started toying with the idea of sending it to WOTWC, if they're still looking. It's a weird balance -- sincerest form of flattery and all of that, but I do want my work to be distinguisable from others...