A common question asked of many writers is “Where do you get your ideas?” Inspiration, of course, comes from multiple sources. Sometimes, a dream inspires a new story. Seeing a movie or reading a book sparks an idea. Just seeing something in public might set something off in your noggin.
Many times, though, it’s just a matter of getting a hold of a friend or an expert and picking their brain.
See, sometimes, if an idea just isn’t coming to you or you’re struggling with a story, hashing it out with a friend will almost always create new ideas. I’ll throw as much information about the particular problem I’m having, whether it’s character creation or motivations, plot developments, plot twists, or anything else under the sun. It’s sort of like two-way free writing where no idea is shot down and questions are thrown out willy-nilly.
It could even go as far as sending the person what you’ve worked on so far, have them read it, and then get feedback for what they think so far. This is especially great if you’re stuck on a story and you don’t know where to go from here. Sometimes, the friend will even ask, “So is THIS what the main character is going to do next?” and suddenly, that’s exactly what was missing. It’s great to have a second pair of eyes on your work for a change because they’re approaching it from a different perspective. One of my best friends, Kyle Smith, considers himself my biggest fan. I’ve sent him many pieces of my work, sometimes even sending him work chapter-by-chapter. He’s given me some unforgettable reactions, including some all-capital letter shocked responses to plot twists. Those reactions have told me that I was doing things right, at least.
While working on writing more adventures for Dill, I contacted some experts on armadillos: Mariella Superina and William Loughry. Mariella shared a hilarious story about an intern who tried to take the temperature of an armadillo in the lab once. The armadillo reacted instinctively by leaping into the air, hitting the intern right in the jaw. It was such a hilarious story that I plan on using it for part of Dill’s origin some day.
Undoubtedly, one of the best people I’ve had to bounce ideas off is one of my oldest friends, Mitchell (who I’ve mentioned several times on the blog). Mitchell is a storyteller himself, working in the video game industry and also being the GM or head storyteller in many role-playing games (including being one of the lead storytellers for White Wolf’s Changeling in Toronto). We’ve spent many nights bouncing ideas around for several pieces of my work. In many ways, he’s helped flesh out my little superhero universe. He actually gave me the best advice when writing my first book: any situation Dill gets himself out of usually leads to even more trouble. I turned that advice into a particular rescue scene near the end of the book, where Dill’s “rescue” was just more people looking to kill him. That advice is also great for that ongoing pulp-like adventure feeling that I want for the books.
Sometimes, these idea bouncing doesn’t always work out. Some ideas from some friends are just too ridiculous or completely missing what I was trying to achieve in the writing. The worst time I had for idea bouncing was asking a very young classmate in university with some research. I was looking into religious iconography to use as protective symbols against bad magic. In this case, protective Jewish symbols. Like a Jewish version of the crucifix. It was honestly a minor part of the story; just extra description for a mostly action-based story. The friend did provide me with some good insight into protective symbols. However, immediately after helping me with the advice, he started begging me to for a co-writer credit, as if the one small detail (that would’ve been a sentence of description, at best) suddenly made him the co-writer of this story. I tried to explain to him that’s not how this idea bouncing works. I told him I would give him a small acknowledgement if I had the chance and even suggested naming a minor character after him. None of it appeased him. That was the last time I went to him for any kind of idea bouncing or research.
The thing is, when it comes to idea bouncing, it’s best to do it with fellow creative people who understand what the process is supposed to be. While Mitchell has certainly helped me much more than I have him (either he goes to others or does most of his creative process internally), I’ve openly welcomed the times he’s asked to pick my brain. It’s not about getting credit for ideas because the story is still your own baby. There’s nothing wrong with helping others freshen up those ideas. I’ve given credit to those people in the acknowledgements at the end of The City of Smoke & Mirrors. It’s the least that I can do for all the help they’ve given me. I’m absolutely grateful for all the people in my life that have taken the time to help me hone my stories.