9Oct

Where do ideas come from?

I found this bit of old footage where Rod Serling, screenwriter, novelist, television producer, known for The Twilight Zone, answers the perennial question of where ideas come from. He summarises:

… the easiest thing on Earth is to come up with an idea… the hardest thing on Earth is to put it down.

Sometimes I’m amazed that this question gets asked so much. It’s one of the old clichés that writers talk about over the years, yet again and again, the question pops up in conversation. Few authors are really able to give an answer other than a shrug, which is perhaps telling. Serling’s response, generally vague and apparently nonsensical, is as decent as any that can be given.

I think if writers out there are struggling to come up with ideas – or struggling to understand where ideas may come from – then writing probably isn’t going to be a good way to earn a living. Ideas are the easy bit, as Serling says. Nearly everyone I meet has an idea for a book. It seems to be the writing it down part where people slip up.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

11 comments

  1. It’s the first thing I work on with creative writing students. It’s one thing to have ideas, its another to understand how your imagination works and how to integrate it, or ‘get it down’ as Serling says.

  2. It must be very interesting to work at that front line of creative writing – where people who have the urge to write meet with the actual process of writing. I wonder how many people get put off at this stage?

  3. Somebody, I think it was Roald Dahl, said this was the only impossible question to answer, which was unfortunate since it was also the only question worth asking.

    For me, I’m a combinatorialist. I think if you squint hard enough everyone’s creations are just novel combinations of familiar elements, and we’re bombarded with familiar elements every day. (Eg Woman + Scarab Beetle = Khepri). The art of creation is deciding which combinations are interesting…

    …or I could be talking nonsense again.

  4. Yes, I think it’s useful to look back and see what could have inspired something in that way. Unless you’re really into trippy things (like Phil K. Dick etc was) then you’re exposed to generally the same kind of world as everyone else.

    Like that Dahl quote. 

  5. I absolutely agree. I have a million ideas, turning them into full fledged potted stories with robust characters and some semblence of meaning or point is the hard part. Ideas are never the problem. In fact an over abundance of ideas is often a hinderance because I am constantly distracted by shiny new thoughts. What I see in quite a lot of in recent genre fiction are ideas with not much story in between. Even though Sherri S. Tepper said that ‘science fiction is the genre of ideas’ Ideas are not enough.

  6. I wonder if a writer with a SF mind has a different perception of what ‘an idea’ is to that of a writer of mainstream fiction? 

  7. It’s usually the point where people fall in love with writing. It’s later, when people see how much hard work it really is, that people get put off. Or when they see how hard it is to make it pay as a career.

  8. You’ve inspired me, Mark: http://shadowsoftheapt.com/blog/466

  9. As I mentioned on Facebook, it’s remarkable that you can pinpoint so much within the RPG. Have you got any of the old notes from those days?