Have you ever people watched? Maybe you noticed someone interesting or overheard a conversation on the subway or in a store or restaurant. Most times you'll forget about these people as soon as they're out of your sight. But every once in a while, you may find yourself wondering who these people are and what their lives are like.
It's the "what ifs" that usually lead writers to create their ideas. That person on the subway could become your next character. We find our ideas in all sorts of places. Once you have just that spark of an idea, then you can shape it into a story and make it your own. But what's the best place to find ideas? Do they come more from observations or from the depths of our brains?
There's no right or wrong answer to where you should get your ideas. You should get them wherever you can find them. Sometimes they might pop up out of nowhere, as if they were a vine growing out of your brain. More often, though, they will come from something--an observation, a question, a character whose story you have to tell. Chances are that you won't need to go searching for ideas. They'll find you instead.
One of the most interesting places to find ideas actually happens while you're sleeping. That's right, dreams. Sure, some dreams are going to be complete nonsense, but every once in a while there could be an idea that strikes you. I mean, there's at least one best-selling author who this has happened to (cough sparkly vampires cough). I had a dream once that my boyfriend and I were performing in a play, but the play itself seemed interesting enough that I actually wrote it. I've even had dreams that have led to plot twists in something I'm already writing. And I'm working on a short story that stemmed from a dream. So the possibilities are endless. Don't dismiss an idea just because it seems crazy; your subconscious might be on to something.
Perhaps my favorite and yet most shameful treasure trove of ideas comes from watching bad daytime television. I mean, it's just chock full of perversion. I got an idea for a play from watching an episode of Dr. Phil. Sometimes you just watch these crazy people spilling all of their horrible secrets and problems and your brain just keeps going with it. I often forget that the initial idea for my WIP came from watching an investigatory special on E! and thinking, what if I created characters in that situation?
Ideas can come from anywhere. It's what you do with them that ultimately matters. By the time you've crafted your story, that initial idea may seem even strange and foreign. Things change as you write, because you're going to know what is needed the more involved you get with it. But all stories start with an idea, even if it's a tiny, almost insignificant thought. So if you find yourself asking "what if," you just might have struck gold.