Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Idea Store

It's a common question for writers:

Where do you get your ideas?

I used to get my ideas from local, independent, mom-and-pop idea stores. Back in the day, it seemed like there was one on every lightbulb corner. You'd wander in, not quite sure what you were looking for, and some nice--and knowledgeable--idea clerk would come over, chat with you for a while, then walk you over to a certain shelf and select the perfect idea.

Why, that's it! How did you know I wanted something in an 80,000-word mystery with a twenty-nine-year-old male protagonist who works in a sandwich shop?

But the indies were overwhelmed by the big-box chain idea stores. Cavernous warehouses full of ideas. You could get lost for days, wandering the aisles looking for that hard-to-locate gem. But try to find someone who really knew ideas to help you? Fuggedaboudit! (Of course, the prices were appealing. Everyday Low Price: Ideas - Twelve for ten cents.)

Then the Internet arrived in a big way. You could go on-line, browse a catalog from the comfort of your own home, and order an idea (hey, order two--save on shipping!) to be delivered to your doorstep. But I never seemed satisfied with the quality of the ideas, and you couldn't hold the idea in your hands and give it a good squeeze to see if it was robust enough. After all, you were going to be with this idea for months, even years. You and that idea better be a good match.

So I was left with only one option. I had to think up my own ideas.

goldstars Once I started, I couldn't stop. Ideas flowed from my head like words from Joe Biden's mouth--nonstop, and some even made sense. I couldn't turn off the idea spigot. And it's still spouting ideas to this day.

The deluge of ideas presents a different challenge--trying to determine which ones are worth pursuing. (I can hear all the writers out there, saying in unison, "Ah, there's the rub.") Many, if not most, of them I talk to have tons (tons!) of ideas. It's time that's in short supply.

So how do you determine which ideas are worthy of your time and energy? Which ideas will make the best books?

Do you:

  • Write out the pros and cons of each idea, then do some kind of cost/benefit analysis?

  • Write a synopsis for each and see which comes easiest? palm

  • Make a visit to your palmist?

  • Go straight to the marketplace and ask your agent or editor what you should work on?

  • Throw the ten most intriguing ideas into a hat and pick one at random?

  • Pick whichever idea lends itself best to having a vampire protagonist? Or a boy wizard?

  • Choose the idea most similar to the last Michael Connelly book?

Any other ideas? I'd settle for a single good one.

This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot

Comment thread is here



Galen Kindley--Author said...

Hey, Alan. Ideas? Hmmm. What are those again? Last idea I had, Lincoln was in the White House.

So, what to do? I’ve come across and easy answer. I try to steal mine from other writers when possible...along with a query and, especially, a synopsis. After all, I can't be expected to actually flesh out the idea.

So, stealing is my preferred route. Which is why/how I developed my Bondian type skills.

Pistols on the plains of Weehawken, a la Alexander Hamilton and whatshizname???

Best Regards, Galen.

Alan Orloff said...


Idea theft! Of course!

BTW, I just got a great idea. It's the story of a girl from Kansas who goes an a fantastical journey with a scarecrow and a tin man and a lion.

What do you think?