Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where Ideas Come From

So, me and Sarah both agreed to tackle the same subject--namely, where we get our ideas for writing and how they're developed. I'm not sure what she's doing yet, but the idea was to approach this from our own individualistic ways. An exercise of sorts, I guess. So I suppose this is my shot.

My ideas, basically, come from nowhere and everywhere. I never sit down and think "So, I need an idea" because honestly anyone who can sit down and come up with something good like that is probably a genius. Or, in other words, it doesn't work for me.

My ideas tend to pop up like soap bubbles that materialize out of thin air. One minute, I'm going along, and the next minute things just gel together and my ideas are there. These are initial ideas, of course. An image here, a theme here, a character here. These are not cohesive stories.

To tell you the truth, I have a very extended visual metaphor to explain this. So bear with me, and we'll journey into how I perceive my ideas to work.

Imagine a small cottage workshop. Something not dissimilar to a fairy tale. A two-story thatched roof stone & mortar job situated on the outskirts of the village. The second story would probably just be living quarters, but the main floor would be the workshop. You could see the workbench, the tools hung on the wall (or more likely strewn about the room) and the cheerfully sardonic fellow who makes it all work.

What you wouldn't see is that door in the floor covered by the tasteful but easy-to-move rug that leads into the basement. And down in the basement there is the owner's roommates. These roommates showed up one day and demanded somewhere to stay, and the basement had always been empty (when it wasn't holding the odd cask of wine or bag of potatoes), so that's where they went. They were helpful enough fellows. They were small and dexterous and a little like elves or dwarves. And they offered, in exchange for room (they refused the board, for reason's unknown) to help the shopkeeper in his work, whatever it might be.

The shopkeeper agreed, explaining that he had high aspirations but he wasn't any good at coming up with the specifics. He could throw random things together but finding the things to mix into a completed work was beyond him. He just couldn't do the initial work to form the starting materials.

And so the guys in the basement agreed to help, and went to work. Soon they converted the basement into their own small workshop, piecing together things in their own unique way.

Initially, the shopkeeper was excited and offered to help oversee the work. He was led downstairs and watches as they worked. Yet, when he had ideas, or wanted to change things, he was too exuberant and put his hands on the work. The men in the basement, being much smaller than the shopkeeper, worked with delicate materials. This big fellow putting his fingers into their work was too much--he was tearing apart all of their work, ruining days of their careful skill in seconds.

Thus, he was kicked out and told not to come down anymore without an invitation. They would do the work, like he asked, and they would do it better than he obviously could. All he'd have to do is take the results of their work and put them together into the final product.

This he could do.

And so the shopkeeper and the men in the basement lived in harmony. They would develop what was needed, and whenever the shopkeeper asked for materials he was not wanting. They would provide odd pieces that he would try to separate and fit together, with the extras going in bins to be used when needed. Sometimes, rarely, they offered whole kits of complete materials, and all he had to do was follow the directions. Other times there would be the odd piece he could barely identify, and he would struggle to figure out what it was and where it went, and would just have to leave it until something else came along that made it make sense.

Inefficient? Perhaps. But the fact that the guys in the basement worked much better than the shopkeeper was not lost on him. While he would have preferred they offer everything up in little kits, he had to admit that their chaotic releases were still of higher quality than he could match, and that he was best working the final pieces without much input into their construction. And, secretly, he rather enjoyed the mystery when odd pieces he couldn't identify showed up on his rug in the morning.

So where do ideas come from? I'm not sure, to be honest. You'd have to ask the guys downstairs. I just put them together when I see them. Because, to be honest, I might not be all that imaginative, but I can string together good ideas into a solid story like nobody's business.

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