Where do those incredible ideas come from?

We all know that memoirs are based on the writer’s life experiences, and other narrative non-fiction is written because the author has an interest in the subject and usually has to do a great deal of research into what he or she is writing about.

But what about fiction?

Many people say they write about what they know, at least in their first novel.

I suspect a book like Room has a basis in real life events, although the point of view is totally fresh and the author’s talent is superb.  But what about others like The Hunger Games or our own Jacqueline Carey’s world creation in the Kushiel series? What about Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow? Where do those ideas come from?

There was a superb piece in this last weekend’s Wall Street Journal entitled “The Life Well-Read” by Eric Ormsby which discusses where writers’ inspirations come from.  Many rely on books they have read—especially as children.

The other very important point this piece makes, though, is that we all remember books by how they feel and look; will we remember them as well if all we have done is read them on an electronic monitor?  What a good question.

I wonder what books you remember, what you think inspired their authors, and whether you think you would remember these reading experiences in the same way if you had read them on an electronic device rather than in hard copy?

6 Responses to Where do those incredible ideas come from?

  1. Joelle says:

    I know everyone loves Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, but my experience with them is with the actual book, not the stories. My mother gave me a leather bound copy containing both books right after I graduated from university. I cannot remember (twenty years later) a thing about either story, which I know I read and believe I enjoyed, but I remember sitting on my bed, night after night, with that enormous, heavy, leather book, reading and waiting for the guy I liked to call me. I read and read and he finally called and we ended up married (and divorced, maybe shouldda stuck with books! Haha) and I always remember that time with that book, even though I really can’t remember the stories.

  2. Josin says:

    I think every idea for a story starts with two words “What if…”

    I remember something about J.R.R. Tolkein and how he came up with some of the races from The Lord of the Rings – the Ents, specifically. He said he’d seen a production of some of Shakespeare’s plays as a boy and one scene stuck with him because it hadn’t ended the way he wanted. The description was of trees moving, and, as a child, he expected that mean that the trees were actually walking around, not that an army with heavy armor was clomping through them. So, from that “what if the trees could march” thought as a child, he developed Treebeard and the Ents.

    Even if your ideas aren’t epic, they all start that same way.

    What if there was a magic school in Scotland? (Harry Potter)

    What if books became illegal to own or read? (Fahrenheit 451)

    What if that handsome, aloof guy was a vampire? (Twilight)

    What if society reveled in a lethal game of hide-and-seek between kids? (Hunger Games)

    What if a criminal was really a good man at heart? (Les Miserables)

    That’s how my own stories started out:

    What if the monsters you’ve been taught to fear aren’t monsters at all?

    What if the guy you blame for killing someone you love turns out to be the best thing in your life?

    What if Little Red Riding Hood became a hunter in retaliation for her grandmother’s death?

    What if your little sister’s imaginary friend turned out to be a not-so-imaginary dead girl?

  3. Suzi McGowen says:

    Patricia Brigg’s “Mercy Thompson” books are my go-to “comfort reads”. I’ve read and reread them over a dozen times. I’ve only ever owned them in electronic format.

    I don’t remember them based on the cover art, or they way they smell, or even how quickly they fall apart (as I have paper bound books in the past). I remember them based on the events, the story and the growth of the characters.

    I think the story matters. But I supposed when the fire light was our only light, and stories were told around the hearth, that those ancient story tellers bemoaned the loss of that when books came out.

  4. Kelly Klem says:

    Whether we experience movies, theater, tv, books or other story-telling genre we adapt ourselves in escape by suspending our disbelief. But I have to believe that the darkness of a theater, the coziness of day off to read all play into this experience. No matter where we are, whether it’s live or literally imagined – the absorption of ideas other than our own enrich our lives. It’s about sharing and partaking.

  5. Donna Hole says:

    Wow, that was an awesome article.

    What resonated with me though was: “perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep in flu ence on our lives.”

    I have to both agree and disagree. I’ve read some books as an adult that totally changed my perspective. I see where he’s going with everying about the future for children, and about the past for adults, and possibly that is why I so often return to the same books I’ve read over and over. Still, you never know what will hit home with a reader.

    I write a little about what I know – which falls under the general category of profiling I guess, given my social services employment. Personality traits, typical life circumstances, social/behavioral trends. But I also write about what strikes me as interesting. What if questions.

    One of my friends told me she called Amazon to complain that there isn’t a way to mark a book as read in her Kindle. I was a little shocked that the feature was needed. She said she reads so many books she can’t remember any of them clearly and doesn’t want to re-read something.

    She didn’t believe me that I’ve read – well, I’d say at least – about a thousand books in my lifetime (judging by my bookshelves in my front room) and pretty much remember them all. If not by title, by the first five or ten pages.

    Perhaps there is something to be said for holding that paper book in your hands as you read.


  6. Teri C. says:

    The first thing that comes to mind is reading, and re-reading, SOPHIE’S CHOICE. The first time I read it a few chapters at a time. My normal. The 2nd time I read it over about 3 days for the structure, and I kept flipping back to mark all the many choices Sophie made throughout the story and the varying degrees and layers of her lying (to herself and to Stingo).

    How in the world can you do this with an e-reader?

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