by Renee Miller
I think the number one question I’m asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Maybe it’s because some of my stories are fucked up, but I think most authors find this question pretty common. Anyway, it’s a hard question to answer, because inspiration is everywhere. There is no one place authors get their ideas from. So, we thought, let’s look at where we get our ideas, and try to answer this question in a series of posts. For me, a big source of inspiration is you. The Reader. Yes, I freely admit that I use ideas pitched to me by others, although what I end up writing isn’t usually what the pitcher had in mind.
For example, CATS LIKE CREAM, my horror novella that’s coming out in November via DarkFuse, is about a real estate agent who takes the process of buying and selling a home to a very dark place. The inspiration for the story came from a friend who was a real estate agent, but in his mind, it was a comedy. A caper, if you will. And it had huge potential as a comedy. I loved the idea. I mulled the idea over in my mind for a long time, almost a year, but every time I sat down to flesh it out, I wasn’t really thrilled with what I came up with. So, I set it aside. And then the friend passed away suddenly, and I thought about the conversation we had again. It was a good idea, and I wanted to use it somehow. Sort of a tribute. I sat down, thought about his sense of humor, which was fantastically warped, by the way, and using his many weird ideas as inspiration, I began writing. A few days later I had a draft, and now, we have the twisted nightmare you’ll get to read soon. It’s not what he pitched me, but I think he’d have loved it.
But that’s not the only time someone has suggested an idea I’ve used. Our very own, Christian Saunders once tossed an idea my way. Once I was sure he really didn’t want to use it, I wrote KILLERS. Now I think I owe him my soul or something. Whatever. Worth it.
Over the past ten years, when I started letting people read what I wrote, I’ve had more ideas pitched to me than I can count. These range from actual stories to just characters, settings or themes. Many are duds, or just something I haven’t been able to work with. A few are brilliant and I’m not sharing them with anyone. They’re locked away in a top secret idea file for future use. Christian might get one, but only because I think I want to keep my soul.
You might wonder if using someone else’s idea is plagiarism, or maybe you think it’s not very creative. To you I say, suck it. Just kidding. No, I’m not. It’s not plagiarism, because an idea isn’t a tangible thing. You have to take it and make it into something worth reading. You still have to iron out the plot, create characters, and build the world the idea is set in. If you’re not creative, you can’t do that. A dozen people can take a single idea and produce completely different stories from it. Writers toss ideas around all the time. We give, take, and add to what’s already written. We call it brainstorming and it’s wonderful.
In addition to my readers, my husband (he wishes that I wouldn’t call him that as it’s “not legal,” but I do what I want), Kurt, is the source of many ideas, as are my kids (although they have much more PG tales in mind). We toss ideas around now and then (by that I mean, I sit them down and force them to listen to me brainstorm until they help me make sense of what I’m thinking just to shut me up), and occasionally, we come up with gold. I’m lucky to live with extremely imaginative people. My Milo Smalls stories were inspired by my kids, and an upcoming project, EAT THE RICH, was inspired by a conversation I had with Kurt while I had him trapped in the car with me. He said two words: Hobo cannibals. I’m thinking he believed the idea was so ridiculous, I’d just shut up, but I said “What would it be called?” Then one of us said “Eat the rich?” (can’t remember if it was him or me that said it first) And I knew it was something worth pursuing. We laughed at the crazy shit we plotted, but the idea stuck. I couldn’t shake it. And now I’ve got 50,000 words of apocalyptic horror with a dash of funny sitting here waiting for me to polish it into submittable form.
Anyway, my point is if you’re a writer and people are coming at you with ideas, don’t brush them off. Don’t act like you’re the shit and only your ideas are worth considering. Listen. Make a note. You never know when something will click in your head. Sometimes their idea blends with one of your own and you discover gold. Writers aren’t the only people with imagination. Be open. Don’t be a cocky piece of shit.
And readers, if you feel like you want to pitch an idea to a favorite author, don’t be shy. Go for it. If he doesn’t use it, no big deal. Odds are, he is just mulling it over or saving it, because he’s not sure what to do with it. Or he could be offended you offered a suggestion, because his massive ego affects his common sense. Who knows. Maybe your favorite author’s a dick. Some of us are. You should read authors who aren’t dicks.
Don’t let it deter you, though, if an author doesn’t use an idea you pitch to her. Our biggest source of inspiration, ideas or no ideas, is our readers. We want to entertain and inform you. When we write, you’re constantly on our minds, so what you have to say about what we write should be the most important words we hear. I’m always open to ideas. Just saying. Creativity needs nourishment, and I find that my readers have lots of juicy morsels I’m happy to consume. (No, Kim. Jack doesn’t have a sequel yet.)
Anyway, now you know one of my sources of inspiration. Next time, I’m going to talk about murder, so stay tuned.