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I once read a quote by John Steinbeck: "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen."
Thank you, Mr. Steinbeck (for whom I have great respect). This is very encouraging. If only it elaborated on the initial problem: get a couple.
One of the most-asked questions for writers is, "Where do you get your ideas?" I have great admiration for those writers who seem to burst at the seams with ideas, because they have obviously learned the second part of his equation: learn how to handle them. These are writers who have a dozen or more ideas bouncing around in their brains at any given time.
Me - not so much. While these lucky few seem to pluck their ideas from the very air they breathe, I must stalk, tackle and wrestle mine to the ground. Here are some places I look.
Newspapers. Before newspapers were online, I spent too much time reading, cutting and filing ideas away, accumulating a mountain of newsprint if I fell behind. Now, I can cruise online for current news stories or for my favorite, weird news. Here are a few I found recently:
- Two thieves called ahead to a bank stating they were going to rob it and wanted the teller to have a 'to go' bag of money ready. They were met by police in the parking lot.
- A pit bull mauled the fender of a police car and was sentenced to obedience training.
- A fugitive was found in a bar still wearing his hospital gown and with the intravenous needle stuck in his arm.
- and my favorite... A man was arrested for public drunkenness after trying to resuscitate a long-dead possum.
Magazines. Scientific and nature journals can provide the surprising tidbit that serves as a story metaphor (a white whale?) or a fact that can ignite a story, such as the discovery of the DNA of prehistoric insects preserved in amber.
If science or nature doesn't float your boat, how about entertainment magazines? In addition to celebrity gossip, they often print human interest stories. Sometimes characters step from the pages, tap you on the shoulder and whisper "I have something to say." This happened to me when I read a story about two babies switched at birth. I wondered what would happen if there was only one child old enough to have an opinion about it, and the wrong parent had to endure the illness and death of the other child? This led me to write Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon.
Remake an old idea. Romeo and Juliet became West Side Story. Pretty Woman is a new take on Cinderella and My Fair Lady. Some of my favorites start with a traditional story line and add a twist. Giselle in Enchanted steps out of her fairytale into New York, learns to own her feelings and not wait for Prince Charming to rescue her. In The Tenth Kingdom, Virginia steps from New York into a world of fairytale which enables her to deal with the childhood memories of abandonment by her mother. (Okay, I know some of these are movies, but they are screenplays, too!)
These are just a few places to get the ball rolling. Where do you get your ideas?