Where do writers come up with their ideas? What fuels their creative inspiration?
We’ve all nodded with sympathetic understanding when someone reminds us: “10% Inspiration, 90% Perspiration”, but that doesn’t really address the question about the 10%, does it?
The answer could be as simple as: Think Weird.
Or, to be more accurate, get used to looking at normal, every-day situations, and then asking yourself: “What if?”
And once you start writing, keep asking the ‘what if’ question. It can open up all kinds of creative ideas, mid-draft.
For example—full disclosure but without spoilers—when I began writing Dissident (the second book in the Tracker trilogy), I wanted to provide readers with a thumbnail sketch of what the Enclave looked like. At the same time, I had committed myself to the “third person limited” approach.
And so, the character of Mateo was created, a shopkeeper who worked in the literal shadow of the Enclave’s heavily-guarded wall. Mateo’s role was to give Amos (the point-of-view protagonist) a guided tour of:
- the physical parameters/description of the Enclave,
- the ferocity of the guards protecting it, and
- the societal milieu that had evolved around its borders.
Here’s the ‘full disclosure’: I had already mapped out the majority of the book’s structure. Mateo was a character of convenience, allowing me to describe the Enclave and set the scene through the eyes of my point-of-view protagonist (Amos). Mateo was never intended to go much beyond that.
I had some vague notion of him possibly re-appearing in a minor scene later in the book, but that was it. Mateo was a one-chapter character. An important minor character for the purpose I had in mind, but nothing more.
Until I was about 400 words from concluding the first draft of the first chapter, sitting in a crowded coffeeshop, and I was suddenly ambushed by a ‘what-if?’
I promised there would be no spoilers, but suffice it to say that particular ‘what-if’ resulted in Mateo becoming a pivotal character in the second and third books of the Trilogy. (He really messed up my story outline in the process, but I’ve forgiven him.)
The past two summers in British Columbia have been dominated by record-breaking wildfires. A side-effect has been the dense smoke that has blanketed our city for weeks on end. The sun, when it breaks through, looks eerie, unnatural, almost . . .
What if there was another explanation for the climate crisis—one that was scientifically observable, but ultimately originating from a sinister intelligence from outside? What if the environmental disaster was a symptom of something far worse?
I went home and began typing: “The unnatural color of the sky caught Jaco’s eye the moment he stepped outside. The saffron-tinged sunlight threw everything–clouds, buildings, foliage–into sharp, brassy relief . . .”
That’s exactly how I got the idea. Nothing more profound than noticing the smoky sky, and asking a simple “what if”.
The caste-based society on another world, the forgotten prophecies of a religion based in Nature, the investigation by a local television reporter and her cameraman into a government coverup, and the sudden appearance of a terrified teenager fleeing from unspeakable Darkness—well, that all came later.
But it always begins with a simple ‘what if?’, combined with a willingness to get outside the mental box and “think weird”.