I had the chance to talk to a reader recently who, when she had me pinned in a car, asked where the idea came from for The Mark of Oldra. She asked some really good questions about where I got the idea for many of the features of Essawood, including how they lived.
It is little things that trigger a bigger idea for me. Usually in conversation; or watching people in café’s when I should be listening to my friends.
Many writers will say that you need to be observant. To always be watching.
I think that is part of it. Paying attention certainly helps.
But it is asking questions about what you see that I think leads to exciting ideas.
‘What if the eggs in the nest didn’t contain baby birds?’
So what would they be? What could they be? What comes from eggs? What doesn’t come from eggs but in another world could?
So you see there are lots of ideas just from a nest with eggs.
One writer mentioned the installation of a telephone box outside his house, but no phone was ever connected. He used to look out his window and wonder what it could be. Another suggested taking the everyday and making it something else. Could it look like a house but it isn’t?
But everyone comes back to the “what if…?” idea. And I do this when drafting story ideas.
What if red riding hood ate the wolf?
What if the witch was good?
What if Dorothy never made it to Oz?
This can be particularly useful with fantasy as anything can happen. Any little thing you notice could, with the right question, lead into something magical.
What could lie behind the loose brick in the school wall?
Why do two socks go into the machine but only one ever comes out?
What do the animals do when we are at work?
I could list a whole range of ideas for all sorts of items or scenes that I come across every day.
Try it yourself:
Take a picture, or an item and think about the what if’s.
Could it be a different colour, size, shape?
Could it be used for something very different? What if it did the opposite of what it does now?
Who could use it and why?
Is it a secret?
Should it be a secret?
How did it get to where it is?
Find your item and write your questions or take something you know and think about how it could be different and what that would mean for your world.
More examples include:
What if the queen was voted in?
What if the government system was different?
What if there were five gods and you got to sit down with them and chat when you go to church?
For those of you that are curious, this was the beginning of an idea that would one day become The Mark of Oldra:
I was reading an article about a writer and his amazing view of a forest from his writing desk. I looked up from the magazine, out of the window by my writing desk and along my not very exciting street (at the time) and I was disappointed. I wanted to live in the forest he described and the changes he saw over the seasons.
I closed my eyes and imagined looking over the forest in winter, with deep snow and bare branches. And I was surprised by a man stepping out from behind a tree. He was cheeky enough to wave and then disappeared.
That was my first meeting with Pira.
Before I knew it Gerry was running from the house to see who he was.
Their story grew from there and changed a bit over the writing of it. But whenever I got stuck I always asked Why? And What if?