Monday, June 15, 2015

Puzzle pieces & ideas

The stories I write are all a little weird. Okay, maybe a LOT weird.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been curious, always wanting to know how things work*. The result of this is hoards of random information crammed into the crooks of my brain. Sadly, details like how to tell if the slime coat on a freshwater fish is healthy or not has overwritten useful tidbits like... the basics of polite small talk. Or the 12x table. It's also embarrassing how many times I have to look up my own phone number/address/postal code**.

As an adult, it's a heck of a lot easier to feed this insatiable appetite for information (yeah internet!) and as a writer it's a lot easier to justify/rationalize when asked why I'm researching some obscure piece of information (see earlier paragraph on fresh water fish slime coats).

Because all these odd, unrelated bites of information hang around in my head like orphaned puzzle pieces, just waiting to be assembled into something amazing.

Documentaries are a significant jumping off point for me. I mostly watch ones on the natural world, animals, travel, archaeology, history, earthquakes, how the universe works, etc. These give me ideas, not only how existing or fantastical cultures might work, but also possible plot points, hobbies/interests/jobs for characters to obsess over, or spooky/scary/otherworldly things for characters to avoid. Yes, one day I WILL write a story that includes Pykrete. Or Ebu Gogo. Or Armenian brandy.

I also use Wiki a lot. Often I'll check something (like Pykrete) and follow the links until I'm on a different subject entirely. You never know when MSDS sheets for tattoo ink may be the perfect solution for a writing blockage/deadend. Wiki is a good place to start, but of course better/more detailed research is necessary.

People. I love talking to people, especially ones I don't know. I'm aways curious what their jobs are like, what their family/friends are like, etc, and especially what their hobbies/interests are. I have my own base of topics that I keep up to date on, but it's impossible to follow/know everything. Asking people to tell you about what they like is an amazing chance to hear the 'best of' something, to hear why someone likes that specific thing. It opens up so many new avenues to explore as possible writing/character ideas.

Like, I talked to a guy at the dog park the other day who is a ginormous Avengers fan. He's got every movie, binge-watched them all over 3 days before the latest movie came out. He's got comics, action figures, posters, etc. And hearing him talk about this with such passion, it makes me interested in going to see this movie, and maybe, maybe in the future, I'll want to write a character who is a passionate fan like this guy.

His passion sparked an interest in me, and isn't that the most important thing about characters/books?

Blog posts. Usually ones I have no background in, but they talk about really interesting ideas from an angle I never would have thought of before. Like this guy who writes on things like trust in 'things' versus trust in co-workers/people.

Reading. Yes, I do a lot of reading. I read everything from comic books to philosophy books to history books. I like books about art, culture, and mythology. I don't read as much as I'd like to, but again, I'll pick books up on topics that interest me and may ignite new ideas to play with. The only downside to reading books for information is the information can be out of date.

As for reading fiction, I seem to go through concentrated bursts of genre/etc. Sometimes I'll read 15 contemporary books in a row, sometimes it'll be a more diverse mix. Personally I love books translated from other languages. The voice of the author, how they put together words, what they choose to say, or not say, does survive the translation process. I find it fascinating how much you can pick up of another culture in how the stories are told.

For me, the more diverse the information, the more potential ideas can be generated. If all you do is read/research/etc within your narrow field of interest, you are limiting the reservoir of inspiration to pull from.

So, how about you guys? Do you have any favourite sources for generating ideas? I've heard many people use music as an inspiration, or movies, etc. How much non-fiction reading do you do, and do you prefer books or online sites?

* I electrocuted myself when I was 6 trying to dismantle an electrical outlet and have many, many scars from power tools, sharp objects, and am still surprised I have never poisoned myself.

...I also have not gotten any smarter. Two summers ago I hurt my knee trying to run on top of a fence, and just a couple months ago (if you follow me on twitter) I sortof-intentionally gave myself mild hypothermia by swimming in 14C lake water.

** Let's blame that one on the number of times I've moved in the past 12 years...


  1. It really is amazing how many sources there are for inspiration. I love music, or pictures, but most of my inspiration comes from the most random things or random moments. I've never been a non-fiction reader, but I'm thinking as I get older that it might be time to expand my horizons.

  2. I tend to find at least a couple of books about whatever I'm doing, and use those as a springboard. Also there's some websites I like that curate the odd and weird so I browse them more often than I usually do during the planning phase, looking for things that jump out at me.
    Article on how city's don't need to return people's brains ater autopsy leading to pondering whether cloned body parts could be kept as well.
    Abstract of an article on how straight men's cognitive functioning can be impaired by being around attractive women (but not vice verse) making me consider idea how how one could weaponize that in odd ways.
    How the brain shrinks over the course of the day [fluids]; no uses for it so far.
    And an article on how birth month affects lifetime disease risk (yet to read) might make for a fun fun astrology-in-the-future part for the story....

    The books I'm reading are about physics in the next 100 years and the future of the mind. The latter has already inspired some ideas for interesting weapons harnessing aphasia.

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