Where Do You Get Ideas?

Burglar breaking into house


A lot of people ask writers where they get their ideas. Some writers say they don’t rightly know. Others look down at their shoes and mumble something incomprehensible.

Here’s what they don’t want to tell you: they steal them.

Lets say you are writing a Fantasy story with lots of political intrigue and murder. Fortunately there’s a great source for that sort of thing: History. You take an event from the past, file the serial numbers off, change the names and there you go. Tweak a detail here and there and it will fit your Fantasy world just fine.

Writing Science Fiction? Need a great space battle? Once again, steal from the past. Take ships or aircraft battles and swap them out with spaceships. Make sure you account for a few of the idiosyncrasies of space and you are good to go.

Story ideas are stolen from the news all the time. Sometimes the writer will even admit to it. It’s also common to steal ideas from other writers. If it wasn’t for Tolkien, probably 95% of the Fantasy genre would not even exist. Feel free to steal ideas from Shakespeare. You’d be surprised to learn how much of his stuff was a retelling of existing tales.

Now when I say they steal ideas, I don’t mean writers plagiarize. That’s criminal. Lifting whole lines of text is pretty lazy too. There’s a big difference between stealing a story and being inspired by one. “Inspired by” even sounds like a compliment.

Here, let me give you a hand with a story idea. Check out the “Winged Huzzars.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_hussars Between the 16th and 18th century they were mercenary Polish cavalry. They actually had wings on their horses. They were wooden frames covered in feathers made to look like wings. They theory is that they created a noise that made the army sound more numerous than they really were.

Okay, now you have a good historical source if inspiration. If you are writing fantasy, take the historical battles of the Winged Huzzars and plug in actual flying horses. S/F? How about fighter craft with “wings” that are actually antennas for confusing the enemy’s electronics? Steal as much as you need from History to flesh out your story.

Ta Da! Now you know where some writers get their ideas. Kinda like learning how a magic trick works. Almost takes some of the fun and mystery out of it, doesn’t it? Of course, writing isn’t as easy as all that. You might have a few ideas, but it’s up to the writer to craft an entertaining story. That’s the skill part.

Of course, not all good story ideas are stolen, but it’s a time honored place to start.

-Raymond M. Coulombe

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