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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guest Post: Where Ideas Gestate by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

By Benjamin Kane Ethridge

            It’s interesting many people want to know where an author’s ideas come from. Did they have a vivid dream and happen on something by chance? Did they find a secret book bursting with fresh new material? Or did they steal the idea from a friend who didn’t have the ambition to write?

            I suppose any of these notions could be viable. Well, the book bursting with concepts is probably a stretch—while I’d definitely recommend reading some great authors in lieu of finding a magic cookbook. Really though, the answer to this question is boring. Where do ideas come from?

            Your brain.

Everybody has ideas. Case closed. How you recognize good ideas is more valuable to this discussion. Crazy concepts enter our minds and sometimes manifest into scenarios. Writers tend to immediately frame these as a larger story. Richard Matheson, for instance, was almost run off the road by a semi truck on a trip once. The truck driver wasn’t homicidal and yet…  what-if. Matheson’s near-accident was literary intercourse for his mind, and his short novel Duel, the resulting baby. 

            Was it a good idea for a story though? I say yes. But how do you distinguish the good from the bad?  Without being too wishy-washy, I’ll say that one can never know the answer until the story has been consumed and the verdict is in. However, judging from all the stories you’ve read or heard or watched, it’s easy to determine if it’s worthwhile in comparison.

            I thought of Matheson for my example because today I was almost rear-ended by a mysterious looking figure in a white van. This person had some type of white and blue head-wrap, possibly a religious garment. My mind, as soon as I knew I was safe, started immediately playing off that garment. That person was a lunatic driver, and yet, what if that wasn’t the whole truth… that head-wrap was strange—vaguely middle eastern, but nothing like I’d seen any culture wear. If that was a psycho back there, perhaps he’d invented his own religion. Maybe he’s a maniac that has all sorts of strange rules he lives by and practices a religion that only manifested in his mind?

            Has a story with a character like this been done before? Honestly, I don’t know. Probably, is always my first reaction.  Now, I’ll go a bit further, with some Brian Keene philosophy here: who cares if it’s been done before; the real question is, has it been done by me? I’ve never written anything about a delusional psychopath who invented his own religion, and more importantly, I’ve never read anything like that by anyone else. You never want to embrace a cliché, but if you do attempt a story with a familiar idea to others, at least you’re going at it from your own perspective. 

So make it seem like your own idea, regardless if you know it’s been done before. It’s all about what story you wish to tell, after all. The great ideas are born from the desire to tell them. Your DNA will run all through it, from cover to cover, and by the time people are reading and asking how you came up with the concept, you’ll vaguely recall the genesis, like a drunken tryst, but that baby will be alive and bawling, ready for the world.

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