How do you come up with your ideas?

Where did that come from? (image source: jasminemjblogs.wordpress.com)

Where did that come from? (image source: jasminemjblogs.wordpress.com)

I’ve been asked lots of questions since my book Second Chance was published last week, but there is one theme that consistently comes up.

How did you think this up? Where did the idea come from? How do you come up with your ideas?

The simple answer is a lot of different places, but seeing as this vague answer is, unsurprisingly, not what people are looking for, I thought I’d take you through some of my thinking process behind Second Chance. There are no plot spoilers in the following piece.

Write what you are interested in

It’s an old adage in writing, write what you know. This doesn’t mean literally write only about the things you know, otherwise there would be no science-fiction, no fantasy, very little horror; detective stories would be filled with police procedure and murderers would be quickly captured because they were related or known to the victims and there would be a massive new genre of (non) Romance. Writers have to make things up. This is what we do. However, it is important that we are interested in the subject or theme behind what we are writing. I’ve always been interested in politics but have become concerned at how our democratic process is becoming less about deciding the type of world we want to live in, turning instead into a type of beauty contest; where career politicians, many of whom have little to no experience of life outside of politics, form policies based on what will get them elected, as opposed to what is necessarily the right thing to do.*  My biggest concern is whether we have politicians with the will to deal with the difficult issues at the detriment to their personal popularity. With the recent global recession there has been a distinct move away from policies designed to combat climate change, with many questioning the cost of these policies and a small but growing group questioning climate change as a phenomenon full stop. As a writer I wanted to see what the possible consequences of this trend continuing could be.

Write about what annoys you

I love science fiction and one of my favourite authors is Peter F Hamilton. His books are incredibly popular, regularly topping bestseller lists and has a wonderful style that is both easy to read despite dealing with stories huge in scale with many different strands. However, at one point in reading one of his stories I felt very frustrated, because a character that had died was brought back to life based on recorded memories.** I didn’t have a problem with the principle, or whether is was possible. What annoyed me was that the character was treated as the same person when they were not. They were a copy. And while from the outside they would appear the same, inside they were not the original person. Now this is a minor quibble within the confines of a fantastic book from a great writer, but it got me thinking as to how would it be possible to live forever where the body was cloned but the personality inside was a continuation of the original person. This was where the idea for Re-Life was born.

Write about what you believe

There is a reason why most science-fiction is either set way in the future, or at an indeterminate point some time in the near-ish future. This is because the future, and especially timescales, are very hard to predict. I’m a great believer that while technology can change at an extremely rapid pace, our behaviours do not change so quickly. For example, people have been drinking beer and wine for thousands of years. I believe that they will still be drinking beer and wine in another thousand years. How that product is delivered and the material the drinking receptacle is made from may change (though glass is another enduring material), but this aspect wouldn’t change. That is why many aspects of my envisioned future world seem familiar, even mundane. On the other hand, as our understanding of brain chemistry continues to grow, a side effect of that understanding is the emergence of a whole host of designer recreational drugs designed to mimic specific brain functions (usually related to the pleasure centres), so I felt it plausible that this is one area that would be very different in the near future. This was how I came up with dreamshaper.

It was only once I’d identified what I wanted to write about that I was able to start developing the characters allowing the basic storyline to come into being. I’m aware that other writers are different, needing to start with an intriguing character and then putting them into a situation to see how they react. In On Writing, Stephen King explains that most of his ideas come from ‘what if’ scenarios. There is no wrong or right answer, but this is how the process worked for me with Second Chance.

*Although, who decides what is the ‘right thing to do’ is another theme in its own right.

** I am not giving anything away here.

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10 thoughts on “How do you come up with your ideas?

  1. It’s always interesting to hear how others tackle the creative process. For me, I think of the ending first – so I know where I’m going with what ever character I choose as my protagonist. Next, I decide what the problem(s) he or she will face in order to get to the conclusion – then I think about the sort of character who would best suit this scenario. Once this framework is in place I ponder for ages, imagining how my character will react in certain situations, what they might say and how others might view them. Not until all this is straight in my head do I even start to write – and then I can manage a reasonable flow right away. My worst flaw is that I edit as I go – an absolute killer and one I am trying to avoid – without much success so far, I must admit. However, I have started to do the jotting thing – which is actually very helpful. So writing is an evolving process, too 🙂

    • This is the next step in my writing process. Once I know why I’m writing (or what I want to explore), I then like to loosely plan out what I’m writing. I use the term ‘loosely’ because my plan tends to change as I write (for example, the Second Chance wasn’t originally about Stephanie Vaughn, but the more I wrote, the more I realised it was her story.) Some people hate plotting – see Stephen King – but I only find it a problem if you try to force characters to conform to the plot, rather than the other way around.
      Next time you edit as you go, slap the back of your hand from me (but not too hard). I found writing without editing liberating, allowing my characters to take full control and for me to discover plot twists and situations I would never have otherwise thought of.

      • Yes I’m sure you’re right and I need to free that part of my obsessive streak up – it interferes with the creative flow but old habits die hard – however I don’t believe in not being able to teach old dogs new tricks, so watch this space…

  2. It’s fascinating to hear how other authors arrive at their subject matter and I’m going to blog a little on this one myself in due course – being as careful as you have been, to avoid any spoilers. Being part-way through Second Chance, I have to say, you create a fascinating world, a believable blend of the reassuringly familiar and the futuristic. What’s interesting about stories set within the unfamiliar realms of science fiction, dystopian futures or fantasy worlds – which I confess I don’t read very often – is that whatever the setting, the mechanics of a good story are still the same. It’s all about the characters and their needs and motivations, conflicts and challenges. Human nature is, and always will be, a fertile ground!

    • Hi Jools! First of all, thank you for your kind words. I think a lot of people are put off by genre fiction because they believe it’s all star wars, swords and sandals or werewolves and vampires. While this is often true, good genre fiction (and I was aspiring to produce good genre fiction) is about the world we live in and uses the trappings of the genre as a means to present the true meaning of the story more effectively, and yes, you are correct that the mechanics are all the same.
      I didn’t set out to write science fiction and don’t see myself as a science fiction writer (although I have no issues with being a science fiction writer). I see myself as a writer. The reason my book was set in the near future is because it enabled me to explore what is happening now and extrapolate it forward. The story beget the genre, not the other way around.

  3. Very interesting post Dylan, thanks so much for sharing how you come up with your ideas. I am always amazed at how writers of novels do indeed achieve this. I make the mistake of over-thinking things and I can see now where I’ve been going wrong. I need to look at what is going on right under my nose, and what is known within my own experiences. There is a wealth of writing ideas there. While my laptop was out of service I really pondered this and I decided to try writing down some ideas I have had for a novel (and for a writing assignment hanging over me) and I was amazed at the way my characters and ideas began to take form as I did so. So I really do mean it when I say thank you for this post! I hope your book sales are going well and yes, I will wait for a paperback so I look forward to further updates 🙂

    • Hi Sherri. I’m so glad my post inspired you. Any idea you have for a book has to interest you, as you’ll end up spending months, sometimes years bringing it to fruition. Whether it is a character you want to get to know or a “what if” scenario you want to play out, there has to be something that keeps you going.
      As for the book, well as expected the initial surge has died down and we’re into trickle mode. I expect things will pick up again once the paperback is out and I’m hoping I’ll have a few positive reviews to entice further readers.

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