The Source of My Ideas

I know where my ideas come from.

They come from the murky insides of my head, from the hole where I pour all the things I read and watch and think about. There are things that have been added recently, and things that have been fermenting for as long as I can recall. Many of these things have been in the soup so long all rememberance of where they came from before have eroded away, or become grossly distorted. Many of these things have combined with other things, becoming something else entirely.

They can see out of the hole. They know what’s going on, out in the Cartesian Theater where my illusion of consciousness and control hangs out, working the controls of the body. Sometimes, when something flashes across the stage, it draws these things. Makes them want to come out.

Other times, I have to reach in and haul them out, whether they’re done fermenting or not. The best bits are never quite ready for their showtimes… but I pull them out anyway. They come out in my words and my stories. In truth, they are also still in the hole, looking for new things to join to, to congeal with, and to ferment in.

That’s where my ideas come from. That’s why I read the strange things I love to read, knowing that even if I never consciously use what I read, it will still be down there, somewhere, becoming something else. Something that will one day come, willing or not, into words and light.

30 Days of Writing #9: How Do You Create Characters?

9) How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

Ah, the dreaded ‘where do you get your ideas for such-and-such’ question! For it, I have the no-doubt equally-dreaded answer: ‘they just sort of come to me.’ I don’t know that any writer has all that satisfactory an answer for questions like these. Generally, of course, it starts with the story. Now, the story idea can come to me in a flash, as in I see something on TV, or a friend talks about something odd, or I read something that intrigues me, and a ‘what if’ occurs to me. More often, I won’t be able to point to anything specific as a trigger, save a number of thoughts that have been fermenting in the back of my mind for who knows how long. (This is, of course, why people who want to be writers should be voracious readers — the more you pour down into that murky hole, the more you have down there that can connect and gel and transmute until they jump out of the hole and stomp around in your forebrain until you are forced to get them out through your fingers into a story.

Once I have the story, the characters tend to follow. Frequently, the story I want to tell will be central to at least one character, so that’s where I start. I generally sketch out some ‘facts’ about the main character, who they are as the story begins, and who I see them being at the story’s end. If interactions with other characters are important to the story, these other characters will get sketched out as well. I don’t load on the detail too much, just enough to gain a starting point.

More details of the characters emerge as I write the first draft. I try to note specifics (such as appearance, background, relations with other characters, etc.) as I progress, but in the main, the personality of the characters emerge through the telling of the story, and these get refined through rethinking and redrafting. Doesn’t sound pretty, I know, but in the end, it gets me there.