I’m told that one of the questions that comes up at cons repeatedly, and the one that authors dread the most is “Where do you get your ideas?”
Because they all want an easy answer. Take a piece of paper and write something in the middle, then write related ideas around it, and then make a story out of it. Use the snowflake method. Write prompts on slips of paper and draw them out of a hat. Sit at your computer and stare really hard at it like a scrying mirror, until the words magically appear.
And what the authors really want to tell the person is “Get a life.”
Literally. You don’t get ideas from staring at a blank screen. Stories come from life, characters come from real people, settings come from real places. Even in science fiction and fantasy, where the world is so vastly different from our own, this is true.
I have never, ever, once in my life got an idea for what to write while I was sitting typing a story. Maybe some people do, but my ideas come while I’m out in the world, and talking with people. Also, many get their start from dreams.
For example, the novel I’m currently revising is “The Eyelet Dove.” It started as a dream, but the dream only contained the characters Maddie and Etienne, without names, and their antagonists were vague, I originally imagined the city being occupied by a neighboring country.
But over the last few years, I’ve learned more about the state of economics, and the growing gap between the working class and the corporate aristocracy. It’s only getting worse, and I’m not part of the corporate aristocracy. The setting and conflict became no longer and occupation, but a civil war to overthrow the monarchy who’s holding the working class down to fund an expensive war that’s not progressing.
I’d originally imagined the story setting to be more steampunk with airship battles somewhat akin to tallships, but then our local aviation museum hosted one of the few (single digits) lancaster bombers that are still in flying order. My Dad wanted to take me to see it for my birthday, and when his girlfriend said, “Now Don, shouldn’t you ask Lindsay what *she* wants to do for her birthday?” my response was, “I kinda want to go see the plane…..” I am my father’s daughter, and I think these things are cool. This is a WWII plane, and I got to go inside and see it, and talk to the pilots and find out how many people would have been in the crew, how the plane was used tactically, and that it carried the biggest bombs dropped in WWII.
Suddenly now the story has bombers playing a major role in the story, along with WWII style aeroplanes.
So if you’re an aspiring writer sitting staring at a blank screen and whining to yourself “I don’t know what to write”, stop. Go to the museum. Go to the zoo. Go see a movie, or read a book. Read non-fiction. Click through wikipedia, follow links until you find stuff that intrigues you. Take a course. Take up a hobby. Learn to dance. Go on a trip. You don’t want characters sitting around the page feeling bored and sorry for themselves, why let yourself do it?