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Novel Ideas And The Images That Spawn Them

24 June, 2008

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to write a post about ideas. Coincidentally, this post over at StorytellersUnplugged appeared yesterday, which very much sums up what I wanted to say. Individual, striking images and ‘what if’ questions tend to be what I base my fiction ideas on, or at least what I start with. Looking back through my notebook of ideas that I’ve written down and not found a use for yet, I find all sorts of sentences detailing single scenes/images:

A world of monumental architecture in which humans are tiny.

A city built on the shore of a lake.

A man so obsessed with his dead wife that he creates a personality construct of her so that they can always be together.

Some of those doesn’t sound like much in and of themselves, but in my mind each one is accompanied by a single image. Whilst the images themselves cannot be the basis on an entire world or plot, I do have a way of building them up, until I do have something that could be used for a novel.

The ‘what if’ questions come in once I’ve got one of those images firmly in my head. I start to ask questions. So, for the latter phrase about the man and his dead wife, I might ask myself, “What would happen if that computerized wife began to develop a new personality?” Or for the first sentence, “So who built that monumental architecture? What happened to them?”

From those questions, I quickly find many more developing. The first question soon starts to build a character or two: the wife and probably the husband too. The other questions supply a world and a non-human race, or at least in my mind they do. In turn, I ask yet more questions about these new creations, until with the answers I can fully flesh them out.

You can see how quickly a single scene in my head can spawn enough questions and ideas to base a story, perhaps even a novel, off. So, next time an image pops into your head and stays with you for longer than a few seconds, don’t just forget about it. Write it down and try asking yourself questions about that scene. You never know, just like the computerized wife, it could develop a life of its own!


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