General Question

MindErrantry's avatar

How do you find inspiration for stories you write?

Asked by MindErrantry (818 points ) April 14th, 2009

This has probably been asked before, but I cannot dig up a question through the search feature, so I ask again (feel free to link). I’ve written lots of stuff in the past, short stories and two novels, but what with, well, life (i.e. school) interfering, that’s gotten put on the back burner. I’d like to start chewing on an idea again, for when I have time, but find that I am out of inspiration. What’s your method?

I’m particularly interested in those who write fantasy, since that’s my genre—where do you start? Character? Plot? Setting?

And, on a related note, how do you not rip off other authors? I don’t mean plagarism; that’s easy to avoid. But it can be difficult, I think, to find an idea that isn’t strongly based on someone else’s work that you’re familiar with…

Just a bunch of questions—have at whatever you like!

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17 Answers

live_rose's avatar

I start with characters I always start with characters they’re the most important part for me. but the ripping off thing is hard to judge though . . .I have trouble with that a lot.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Well, I don’t write fantasy, I write horror and humor. I get my inspiration from a variety of sources, conversations, dreams, other books, and even geography. Yes, geography. I am working on a short story about a journey two friends that make along a 700 kilometer gravel road and the trials and tribulations of their journey. If you’ve ever driven for a long time on gravel roads, you’ll understand how it can be the basis for a story.

Ideas and inspiration can be found anywhere. Ideas can be similar between writers and stories, but as long as you bring a new way of thinking to the tale, and don’t intentionally rip off someone else, you’ll be fine.

filmfann's avatar

I start with characters I always start with characters they’re the most import… Wait a minute… live rose plagarized me before I wrote it!

live_rose's avatar

@filmfann Im just that good. . . .at plagiarizing . . .its a gift and curse.

kenmc's avatar

I don’t. The inspiration finds me.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

I think I’m easily inspired by songs, images, people, random thoughts…anything, really. It just happens; it’s just as @boots says. My mind likes to make connections between all sorts of things, sometimes in the most abstract ways. (I just wish other aspects of writing came so easily to me…)

And I think the best way to know if you’ve “ripped off” someone is to share your ideas with other people to see what they say and read a lot. But even so, you can’t always be sure. And there are ways of re-using ideas that wouldn’t be considered plagiarism, like maybe changing the original context of the idea. But most things probably aren’t so original, when you really take a good look at them…Idk, maybe the best way to avoid ripping other people off is to just not worry about what other people are doing and focusing on what what comes naturally to you. Can’t hurt to cross-reference, though.

James17555's avatar

Inspiration can strike at every moment in life, and usually with creative people (ergo all people) it does all the time. The proper way of working with creative texts is to capture your inspiration constantly. As soon as I get an idea which I can develop a little, i.e. a storyline or a simple intriguing sentence, I send myself an email with it through my iPhone. Of course any way can be used to record single thoughts: Notebooks, mobile phones, a simple sheet of paper.

Then later on when you’re sitting at home looking for an idea, flip through your notes and see if there’s something which most interests you currently and which creates the best motivation for writing.

I’ve worked for 3 years now with this system and I have several notebooks full of ideas, so there’s always something usable in there somewhere…

SpatzieLover's avatar

real life!

I especially like silly things that happen to myself or family/friends out of the blue!

MindErrantry's avatar

@Introverted_Leo, I was wondering—could you clarify when you say ‘I think the best way to know if you’ve “ripped off” someone is to share your ideas with other people to see what they say and read a lot”? I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at there; do you mean they’ll point it out to you (solution A) or that you’ll be less likely to take one idea if you’re well-read (solution B)? I’m curious!

Ria777's avatar

>And, on a related note, how do you not rip off other authors?

who says you shouldn’t rip off other authors? many good ideas come from taking other people’s plots, characters, concepts, etc. and inverting them, changing them, twisting them, merging them with other ideas and so forth. you can take crap and make gold out of it that way. or make use of something good already.

crisedwards's avatar

I don’t seek inspiration. It either pops into my head or it doesn’t.

Pol_is_aware's avatar

If you find yourself with an idea that’s similar to something else you’ve read, the best thing to do is—after not panicking—dissect the idea: What about this particular plot or setting appeals to you? How does it do the work of filling the story with exciting scenes? What is the twist? What is the moral? What is the dilemma? and so on, until you find out what makes that story tick, then you can change the elements of your story to be completely different. Sometimes this is as simple as changing a major trait of the lead character (Though this doesn’t always work because sometimes the plot relies on the character to be a certain way), or just adding any kind of major twist.

I have two ways that I generally find inspiration. The first is a professional method: make lists. Just pick any aspect of anything story related and make lists upon lists upon lists. It really gets the imagination going, without too much sweat or heartache.

Another more natural way I find inspiration is to think about my mistakes, my flaws, my fears, in great depth until I start molding plots in which I would have to overcome these obstacles.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@MindErrantry: oh, sorry. That was a little vague.

What I mean is that other people will have read works that you might have not, so they may be able to point out things and say, “Hey, you know, that sounds a lot like such-n-such from so-n-so’s [input work here]...” Or, “That’s similar to such-n-such, but I like that angle you’re taking with it,” etc.

Also, by reading a lot, you’ll have a better idea of what’s been done before, how other authors were able to make their story ideas work, and all that good stuff. Of course, the downside to that is that you may be tempted to copy other people’s work or let other people’s opinions influence you in a nonconstructive or negative way.

But everything has its pros and cons. You just have to learn to know what works for you and what doesn’t.

Ria777's avatar

usually when I read a book or see a movie I mentally compare it to how I would have done it. I find that useful in terms of clarifying my own views. so rather than fearing to read or see a work about X, do so, and think about how you would have done it differently.

example: recently I read Coraline (having not seen the movie) with an eye to figuring out how I would have done it differently. I ended up mentally writing my own version of a live action screenplay version in my head. (some amateur writers do that and write fan fiction as a reult.)

it takes some practice, though.

TheKNYHT's avatar

anything can inspire me: even a TV commercial! Or a bill board.
Usually though its when I’m listening to music: either sound tracks from films, or any number of musical genres that I am prone to.
Seldom will I actually find inspiration for my own stories from novels, because I want to distance myself (as much as possible) from other peoples work.
What I can do however, is take something from a story (say sci fi or action or suspense, and take the over all structure and transplant it into a fantasy genre based story idea, but even that is tricky.
And I usually start out not with characters, or plot or setting, but with theme. I almost always start out by developing the theme of the story.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

Every song I have written tells a story. Sometimes it’s a character or persona who inspires a story, and sometimes it’s the story which inspires the character. All are inspired by my own personal experience, but the finished product ranges from purely biographical to having very little to do with the real me.

Although there is not much room for character development in a song, I have several songs that I sometimes string together as a cycle. (kind of like the “Ring of the Niebelungen, only much, much simpler)

Inspired_2write's avatar

Always carry a small blank notebook that fits easily in you pocket with a pencil or pen atttatched.
Jot down ideas, thoughts, things every day.Not a computer laptop etc…By the time you type in the idea it is lost and you lose your momentum.
When you have time later review these and circle or highlight the ideas that you might want to use later .
I also bring a camera wherever I go for that reason too.
I download them to my PC files and later use and reuse these in my creations.

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