Wednesday, 7 November 2007


I foolishly undertook to write a new post every Wednesday so here goes.

Casting about for an idea, paradoxically gives me an idea, because I've been wondering l about this very subject lately: where do ideas come from? I mean the ideas that spark creative endeavour. Did Shakespeare have any problem, with his licence to use existing plots? We insist on originality in art. Encouraged by a tireless media assault to aspire to size zero figures, perfect teeth, etc. why should we yearn to be clones outwardly yet insist on originality in art? Is art the last refuge of the individual in our society?

I'll focus on characters. My publisher advised me to keep reading, for ideas, but I find my inspiration in life. No offence to the human race intended, but I can't sit long in any cafe, stand in a station, or walk along the street, before I realise that the peculiar characters I create as a writer, my odd little works of fiction, are no stranger than many real people. Life is bursting with possibilities.

Sometimes a character just pops into my head or develops on the page in front of me without intention on my part. I suppose I've had the idea unconsciously working iself out for a while, but it seems to just appear from nowhere, ready formed.

So my question this week is this: where do ideas come from? I wonder where other people find theirs .

40 comments:

Sarah Laurence Blog said...

Dear Leigh,
Thanks for commenting on my blog, and yes, I do find writing fun, especially inventing characters. I don't feel I form them but find them like a dream. Writing is so creative and free in contrast to the industry behind books. It’s interesting how different the publishing process is in the US. Big American publishing houses won’t even look at a work of fiction without an agent. I’m impressed by how you went from “scribbling” to a 3-book contract in under a year. Sounds like a fairytale.

Mima said...

The ideas are why I have so much admiration for creative writers, you have them and the rest of us don't! I am easily capable of writing down a process (eg how to do something), but for me taking something out of thin air is beyond me.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Sarah and thank you for visiting.
I'm not with one of the large publishing houses. I didn't submit my writing to them as I don't think they would consider an unknown writer who hasn't even got an agent. I sent my scribbles to three smaller publishers who have crime books on their lists, and just struck lucky. It feels unreal, to be honest. I still can't believe it and am now thinking "Oh goodness, people might actually READ what I've written!!" It's a weird feeling because I just wrote to entertain myself, really.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi MIMA, yes, I agree. All I need is an idea to 'inspire' me and then off I go. If the ideas dry up, I'll stop writing. It's the plots and characters that are the starting point for me; the writing seems to follow by itself.

F Scott Fitzgerald expressed it far better: "You don't write because you want to say something. You write because you've got something to say." I may have misquoted slightly from memory, but you get the gist.

Have a good day and thank you for visiting.

Kara Dunn said...

Leigh, that's sort of that nebulous question isn't it? It seems to be the first inquiry when authors speak to their readers. "Where do you get your inspiration?" LOL! "I'm not sure," is always my answer. Sometimes they're just there. Little nuggets of ideas that are triggered by an event or a person and then a what if moment. From there it blossoms into a story. I'm not one of those who plot out the story in writing, it unfolds in my head and is transferred to the page.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes KARA and thank you for your comment. All of my writing starts with the "what if" question.

Julie said...

Leigh - had to laugh at your reply - end of last post. I know a number of teachers who could do to write murder on that basis!

Re blog - What about 'there's no such thing as originality in art, but there are original combinations of existing ideas' (either subconscious or conscious)? You get the gist.

You must have a rich reservoir of people impressions that are feeding your writing - and have learned how to turn on the tap...

This is giving me the itch to try fiction again - I clamped it with overanalysing.

Julie

Leigh Russell said...

JULIE that's great to hear. Let me know how you get on with your writing. It's best not to think about it too much, in my view. After all, if you're not enjoying writing, why are you doing it? (I prefer not to try and analyse why I enjoy writing about murder....!!!)

Bill Clark said...

I suppose I've had the idea unconsciously working iself out for a while, but it seems to just appear from nowhere, ready formed.

That's one of the fun things about being a writer: wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever you see - it all becomes grist for the writer's mill.

And yes, the unconscious, or the subconscious, seems to play a big part in the writing process. Often I will begin a sentence, or a paragraph, without the slightest idea where it will wind up, and just let my fingers do the walking, so to speak. The low-level motor activity of typing is very conducive, in my case at least, to freeing up the subconscious and letting the ideas lurking therein come to the fore.

So where do ideas come from? In my experience, they come from our finely-tuned observations of daily life as it unfolds around us, after passing through the fermentation process of our subconscious. Which is just a bombastic way of saying, Keep your eyes open, and write what you see.

Leigh Russell said...

Right, Bill. All I need is an idea and off I go.
"You don't write because you want to say something. You write because you've got something to say." F Scott Fitzgerald.
I might have misquoted slightly from memory but you get the gist. If I stop having ideas, I'll stop writing, but the gritty little day to day trivia of life has suddenly become so inspiring. I'm sure I notice more now with my "writer's" eye because I'm always on the lookout for some detail that will set me off again - an odd looking character shuffling along the street (why is his pocket so bulky? What's he hiding in there?) an overflowing rubbish bin (what's concealed under the week's household detritus?) an abandonned car.... a deserted canal.... The possibilities are endless. I feel like a little spider, casting my web to see what human idiosyncracies I can dredge up today.... Yes, when the ideas stop, I'll stop writing, but I'm nowhere near done yet. Life's too enticing.

Leigh Russell said...

I want to see if I can use ItIit - can anyone tell me how to write in italics? IIIII ??? IIii There must be a way of doing this. woops - Oh I'm back. I was temporarily removed to another screen altogether.... I think I need some help!! (I'm trying to work out how to use italics...)

Bill Clark said...

Back again to say I just left a long response to your post on my blog.

Canterbury!! Whee!! Ave Mater Angliae!!

Life's too enticing.

Ain't it the truth!

Bill Clark said...

Oh, boy, you sneaked in another comment before I posted mine. The answer is to type "..." without the quotation marks (inverted commas) which I'm using solely in order to fool the system into letting me send you the hypertext language without actually bringing it into play.

Did you see my reply to your comment about not knowing who Erica is (previous blog)? You will not be surprised to hear that everything I know about italics I learned from her. :-)

Bill Clark said...

Shoot! I didn't fool the system after all.

Type < followed by i followed by >, then your text to be italicised, and then < followed by /i followed by >. There should be no spaces between the characters.

*Bill tries again*

Julie said...

Leigh - I've replied to your post on my blog. Helpful point.

Think I relied (too much?)on memory and imagination for characters rather than external models. Need to develop the writer's eye?

I can't work out how to do itals here either...

Julie

Emma said...

Hello,
Thanks for commenting on my blog. In answer to your questions, some of them I would laugh and want to get to know the guy and some of them I would slap him.

The Wisdom of Wislon said...

Ideas...mmm when you're in the shower....walking along some things pop in my head and others easily pop out!

I think if you can be creative it's a shame not to experiment with it. Everyone can do something but some don't realise it.

Middle Ditch said...

Hi Leigh,

I, like you listen to people around me. A word here, a sentence there, a funny story and I have a character. I also store situations in my memory and sometimes years later I can use that. I had a stroke of luck. I want to share this with you and all the others you are in touch with. Middle Ditch is going to be broadcast on cozy fun paris, an internet radio station. I will learn soon when exactly. you can find the site on www.worldradioparis.org
I am over the moon!

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

Leigh - I don't know if this is relevant, but I noticed you wanted to upload your cover pic to profile(?) Suspect in this case you need to convert the picture file at source to jpg format to reduce the size. Upload to blog, Then...

Try right clicking on it,select 'copy image location' and paste it into the pic url on edit profile.
Bin this if you've tried it already and it won't work!!

Leigh Russell said...

Thank you for all these comments. It's great to hear from all of you. I hope it's correct in blogetiquette to reply individually in one comment.

BILL - re italics. I tried but it doesn't work here. I spent ages (slight exaggeration) trying to follow your instructions, created an intriguing (I don't get out often) series of brackets and slashes interspersed with the letter I. It looked so odd I tried to publish it and the system refused to accept it. Hmmmmmm. I can't remember why I wanted to use italics now!

JULIE - I'm glad my comment was helpful and I'm looking forward to hearing how you get on with your writing. A word of warning - blogging is an invidious distraction!!!

EMMA - I hope all the fellahs are duly warned!

WISDOM - Absolutely. If some of our belligerent youth could find a creative outlet, they might find a positive way to channel their energy. I'm sure they'd be happier and we'd all benefit. Crime could move from the realm of fiction to fantasy!

MIDDLE DITCH - congratulations! That is very exciting news indeed. I'm absolutely delighted for you - but honestly not surprised. I just wonder why it's taken them so long.

Julie said...

(Leigh - if you follow my advice, you need to keep copies of the unedited original for the image clarity!)

Thanks - I've been laid up for a couple of months with a leg injury, (just recovering) so its been a real buzz being in contact. Hope to look in and out in future.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks Julie - no idea about url and can't find image location - aaagh! I'm a lost cause when it comes to IT I'm afraid! Yes, please do keep in touch.

FANCY said...

Hello again...I come back to you and that is just because you have an interesting site...and seems like a kind person. About the "jantelaw"
I don't mean that you was a person who thinks you are better then other. What I mean is that many people can have some difficulties to just be happy for others successes. I try to live after the opposite of that phenomena "jantelaw" is. (I'm sorry if my English give you some trubbel and misunderstanding)
And for your question in this post I have to think and come back to it.

*HUG*

Kara Dunn said...

Ohh, ohh, pick me! I just figured this out. Bill explained it wonderfully! Look just below your comment box and there's this HTML tag explanation. The only thing they don't mention is the frontslash / in the second set of sideways triangles.

So to italicize, put a < before a little i, then > after. Then the word or statement you want in italics, then < then a frontslash / then an i, then >.

To bold do the samething with a b in the sideways triangles.

That's as clear as mud... right?

Leigh Russell said...

Yes Kara, I pick you!! But those little instructions are for a post, not a comment. Does it work here in this 'Leave your comment' box?
Consider yourself picked anyway.

Leigh Russell said...

Oh I think I see it. (what does HTML mean?) Here goes. Attempt number 17a.3

bold
italics

I am so excited about this, I
I have to do it again. and again

italics stop

Lucky I picked you, Kara. Thanks to Bill too.

Tomorrow I'll try to be more interesting.... plus italics!!! how can I fail now? I feel like I can achieve anything!!!

Leigh Russell said...

Do I need to explain to my always welcome visitors that I've been trying to work out how to use italics here. It's so simple, you might wonder why it took me several days, many attempts, and ongoing detailed and patient advice from kindly fellow bloggers before I managed to hit the right two keys. What can I say? Can't be good at everything.... and yes, I'm a technological disaster. Yet here I am It just shows what we can achieve with a little help from our friends

That something apparently so insignificant can bring me such a feeling of triumph inspires me to try harder to help others. I hope I remember this tomorrow.

Thank you again, Bill and Kara.

Henrietta said...

Hello again Leigh and thank you for once again visiting my blog. I have responded to both your questions - a long answer on That Race, I'm afraid.

Electric Blue is on the agenda but not yet achieved due to my current obsession with words. I find the idea of working in chapters intriguing: I think of them as lurches. Not always in a forward direction either.

HTML stands for something like hypertext mmmmn language: it is all the bits of code that blogger tries to hide from you - anyone who ever used WordPerfect has a head start.

When you are next creating or editing one of your posts try playing around with the format options such as bold and italic and then switch from Compose to Edit HTML [little tabs top right of the box where you type your post] and you will see the version of what you've created with all the code showing.

Leigh Russell said...

Oh my goodness! Just when I thought I'd done it and knew all there was to know about computers, Henrietta has revealed there's more to computers than my new found expertise with italics. Another illusion shattered.
Seriously, though, Henrietta, thank you for that. I'll try it when I'm feeling bold !!!

Electric blue sounds good, but I do like the pink. Will you change your little picture (how do you DO that? No - don't try and explain!!) to show the new image?

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meg Harper said...

Hi Leigh,

Interested to see that old war horse, the 'where do you get your ideas from?' question appearing on your blog!!! It's appeared on a friend's blog too, also a new writer. You might like to visit her at http://hawkinsbizarre.blogspot.com/

iwillgetthere said...

You're absolutely right - I shouldn't feel shame and I will try hard not to. Thanks for that!

Lenora Bell said...

Hi Leigh, Congratulations on your book deal and your absolutely gorgeous cover. It's scary and literary and gripping all at once. I want to know more about DI Geraldine!

Thanks for commenting on my blog. Did you find me through NaNoWriMo? Your books sound intriguing. I don't read much crime fiction so you'll be the author who introduces me to a new genre. Thanks!

-Lenore

Leigh Russell said...

LENORA - Thank you for visiting my blog. I'm becoming very interested in Geraldine myself, which I wasn't at first. I found the criminals much more fun to write, but Geraldine's beginning to emerge as a character in her own right, not just a means to catch the bad guys (or some of them anyway...!)

Kara Dunn said...

Leigh,
You're very welcome! Before I became an author I was a teacher.

There's nothing better than beating the foolish computer. Have fun!
Kara

Leigh Russell said...

Oh Kara, don't write that! He might be watching. (There is a little man inside the computer isn't there? making everything work?)
Thanks again, blogbuddy!

Gladys Hobson said...

What an interesting blog.
The ideas for my first book came 'naturally'. I was writing the story of my life when a thought came to me..."What if?"
That "if" in question arose from my recalling my first real kiss — a kiss unexpected in its passion as well as surprise that it happened at all!
It shook me to my toes and made me tremble as my heart thumped in my chest. (I could feel his heart thumping too)
The ardent kisser? My friend's much older brother. I was a mere 15 — he was in his thirties. I was pinned to the wall as his lips came hard against mine. he quickly left as my friend returned. Nothing was said, I continued with my sewing. When I was alone, he came back — I was still trembling from the first kiss.
So began a secret but innocent romance, which came to a halt when it looked like it was about to be less 'innocent'. That I could not cope with.
Hence the "what if?"
My imagination took wings and the story came rolling out. I was up in the night writing. The characters became so real they were constant companions, and, at times, it was as if they were giving me the dialogue. I laughed with them and cried with them. When one died, I actually went through a period of grief! I loved the men I wrote about and did not want either to be hurt by rejection, and the dark sensual character lurking in the background drew me (as it did 'June') Like a moth to a flame!
A lot of the settings for the book were known to me from my youth, and that has been so for all my novels.
This story has only just been printed (Awakening Love, if anyone should be interested). There are two sequels to it. My first novels have pen names as they are completely different.
I have had three different careers in my lifetime and I guess this is a natural follow on. I am rarely stuck for ideas as they are bursting to come out.

But it is likely that my writing is not commercially viable for the big publishers (Awakening Love being set in late 1940's Britain, Blazing Embers being about a gran - to put it bluntly - in search of an orgasm, and my other in print, When Angels Lie about two gay Anglican priests.) So I turned to self-publishing with my own 'house' Magpies Nest Publishing. Not exactly successful (by worldly standards) as I don't work at marketing, but an outlet for my urge to write. And I do get uplifting comments and reviews.

Leigh, I wish you every success with your writing and will pop in from time to time.
Gladys Hobson

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Gladys and thanks for visiting my blog. I've reciprocated and left a message on yours. Keep in touch, joyful writer.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

When I first discovered that I loved people watching, I thought that it was a defect I'd somehow picked up during the course of my lifetime.

However, more and more, I'm begining to realise that I'm not the only one. People,and what they say, give me ideas to write about. Although I'm concentrating on non-fiction at the moment, I've got many ideas written down which I'll develop into stories later on.