Where do ideas come from?

story tellingSummer was a fantastic time for me. I submitted lots of short stories and some of them were accepted into various anthologies and publications. I’ve been writing short stories for a long time now and have a lot in my personal back-catalogue that I could edit or work on.

Even so, I’ll still wake up one morning with a character, a situation and a location and sit down and write another story. So where do these ideas spring from? Do they magically appear out of imagination, or are they dredged up from memory?

I think that it’s a combination of the two. A through our lives we see, hear, touch, smell and feel things that are committed first to short-term memory and the to deeper memory systems. Over time these are connected up with similar concepts and grouped together in schemas. Most of our recall is based on this and triggers that remind us of things we have done.

Many people protest and say that their writing is made up, that it is not based on memory. But memory is much more complex than our direct experience. We also remember concepts and vicariously experienced feelings (for example, through films or music) and these serve to shape and fire our imagination. All the overarching narratives of society that we are often unaware of and the culture and history of our lives are involved in memory making and are included in the way our experiences make us unique and form our background memories.

So memories are not just what we did personally, but a personal recording of everything that we experience through our senses which includes what other people did, and the larger events of the world.

The shape of a story itself in a good example of this. Our inner and external lives are constructed with stories from an early age and no one needs to tell us what a story is as they are so prevalent in our everyday experiences. So we already have a container for our ideas. The schemas and concepts that we already have may then be retold as an inner stories in various combinations. So perhaps you never went to wild parties as a teen, but your knowledge of their existence and what went on there from the world has informed your imagination, (or knowledge of the concept) of those parties! You may have never met a detective in real life, but you may know enough about the concept of detectives from knowledge committed to memory over the years to write about them in crime stories.

So ideas come from everywhere. They’re all around us and in our memories, even our dreams, and anything can trigger them. I write them down in a notebook, but if possible I get writing as soon as I have the idea and capture the moment.

These are just my ideas about, erm, ideas. If yours are different I’d be fascinated to hear them.