Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

HOW TO GET AN IDEA

By Ernst-jan Heijnis

2002, Ernst-jan Heinjnis


So you've finished that last WIP, sat back and sighed in satisfaction, congratulated yourself, had a private toast to your success. Maybe you've even taken a little time off from writing. But at some point you're going to want to get to work again. So you sit down at your desk, boot up your computer, or put paper in your typewriter. Then it hits you. What are you going to work on?

This has happened to me more than once, and most often after finishing large projects. You've sort of gotten used to the idea of that project being there to work on. Now that it's finished, you have to start something new. That can be daunting, and sometimes the creative well just dries up. I've discovered a way that lets me come up with a new concept, pretty much at will.

First, get paper and a pen or pencil. You'll need them.

What you need is an image. A painting on the wall, maybe, or an old photo in your drawer. Maybe even a drawing from one of your children. Or you can go out and take a walk until you see a sight that interests you.

Next, look at it. And really look at it. Note the details. That little brown dog lying on the veranda. The stain on the swimsuit of that woman at the beach. The little kid running around on the grass with a stick in his hand. Look at everything. If you're outside, look around a bit, take in the sights, the smells, the sounds.

Then start asking yourself questions about what you see. What is the name of that little dog and why is it looking so sad? What is that stain on that woman's swimsuit and how did it get there? Why is that kid running around like that and what is that stick for? Find details, seemingly irrelevant, and start wondering about them. Ask any questions you can think of and write them down, because you need to remember them.  With a little luck, you're going to have a great many of them.

When you have a number of questions, start answering them. Oh, sure. You don't really know the dog's name, or what the kid is doing. But I bet you can guess. For instance:

The dog's name is Geronimo, because of the white fur stripes along his cheeks that look like Indian war paint. He's sad because he's been locked outside by his master's father. A beautiful vase had been knocked over and broken, and since everyone had been in bed when it happened, the dog had been blamed for it. The dog knows it was bad. But he'd been frightened. The Glowing Men with no scent had come again. The Glowing Men that had come before, a long time ago, when they had left the Glowing Disk. This time, they'd been looking for it. But the dog had taken it and buried it outside, thinking it was dangerous. They had moved around, and when they had come too close to the dog, he'd bolted and accidentally knocked over the vase.

Well, I could go on for a while. But there are a lot of questions answered here.

You get the idea. You can ask any questions you want, so long as you can come up with an answer. If you keep asking questions, you'll eventually end up with enough rough material to work with. If you're aiming for short story, a short session may give you all the material you need to write. Novel-length will require more.

In my experience, the imagination begins to take over rather soon and starts creating a story after only a few answers. Should this happen, no need to stick with the questions. By all means, let your imagination run free. You may end up with a concept completely unrelated to the picture you started with. This probably means your imagination just needed a bit of a jumpstart.

If that doesn't happen, though, no need to worry. Ask more questions, find more things to ask questions about. Eventually, you'll have enough material to start creating a new story.