On Finding Story Ideas, by Kate Forsyth
All writers are asked the same question over and over again.
‘Where do you get your ideas?’ people want to know.
This is very difficult question to answer because the truth is ideas come to me all the time. Sometimes they just drift into my mind as I’m daydreaming out a window. Sometimes it’ll be an image, or a sequence of words, or I’ll start to wonder idly about something I’ve seen or read or heard, and suddenly I’ll get an idea like a flash of light, and I see how it could be a story.
I might be flicking through a magazine, reading a book, chatting to a friend, eavesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant, digging up weeds in my garden, doodling on the edge of the newspaper.
Many of my ideas come to me while I’m writing – they seem to rise up out of the deepest, most shadowy part of my brain and flow through my blood to my fingertips. It’s terribly exciting when this happens – I feel as if I am not writing the story, but merely being the conduit for it – as if the story already existed somewhere else and I am just doing my imperfect best to give it life.
Another reason why this is a difficult question to answer is that a novel is never just one idea. It’s hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands of them. Some come easily, without any conscious volition, others need to be searched out, blindly and dumbly, fumbling about in the darkness, not knowing what it is I need until I find it.
If I am ever asked this question, I generally pick just one of my books and then explain the story behind its writing.
For example, my first book for young readers, The Starthorn Tree, began as an image that came to me as I was hovering in that dim, secret place between being awake and falling asleep. I saw a high tower, and a girl climbing out the window and down the steep wall, on a thread no thicker than a cobweb. As she climbed down the thread, I climbed down into sleep, and the image was swallowed up by darkness. I remembered only that fragment in the morning, but I wondered about it every now and again. Who was the girl? Why was she running away?
Another dream image – or almost-dream image – was that of a boy rowing a heavily laden boat across a moonlit lake to an island. There was strange, eerie singing … and a sense of great danger … and also great anticipation …
The two images seemed to belong together – I felt a sort of magnetic charge between them, dragging them together. A boy, a girl, a tower, an island, a magical thread, dangerous singing … I began to imagine how they might be linked. Slowly a story grew out of these few stray images …
Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au
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