Hello all. My name is Michael Alan Nelson and, as John mentioned in an earlier post, I'm the writer of the comic series Fall of Cthulhu, the upcoming Hexed, and the online novel Dingo (it's free so go ahead and give it a look). He has been kind enough to let me play here in his dojo and share some of my thoughts on writing, tech, and anything else that may be of interest to my fellow monkeys.
I figured I'd start out by discussing one of the most common questions I'm asked at conventions, during interviews, and even from beginning writers looking for some inspiration.
Where do you get your ideas?
It's a damn good question. I even find myself asking me that question from time to time. Where DO I get my ideas? I just wish I had a damn good answer, or at least a better one. Unfortunately, the only answer I have is EVERYWHERE.
Not exactly a mystical pool of creative enlightenment, is it? Sorry. But it's true. Don't get me wrong, there are tiny hidden vaults filled with the seeds of ideas scattered about that can jump start my imagination when I'm facing a wall, but I prefer to grab my ideas from what I see around me.
For example, the idea for the scene at the end of Dominion came to me while I was walking through downtown LA. Across the street were two well dressed men having a heated argument. Nothing violent, but they were clearly angry with each other. They continued their argument as they walked through the front doors of a nearby office building, their arms and hands waving in angry gestures as they disappeared behind the glass. As I stood at an intersection waiting to cross the street, I kept glancing toward the upper floors of that office building half expecting to see them in one of the upper offices still shouting at one another. I remember thinking that it wouldn't surprise me if the two men came to blows and tackled each other through the window, so angry with each other that they'd still continue their fist fight as they plummeted down the side of the building.
Then the idea of two men fighting and falling, completely oblivious to their impending doom, got stuck in my head. It was then just a matter of finding a place to use it.
I've come to learn over the past few years what most writers probably already instinctively know; much of writing is about observation. Ideas usually don't come to us in a vacuum. However, writing can be a very solitary existence so it's very important to get out of the house, interact with people, see and experience new things. You have a much better chance of generating ideas when you aren't staring at the same four walls day after day.
This past week, I visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It is...interesting (and admittedly, a little horrifying). The first display I saw when I walked in was a stuffed fox head accompanied by a recording of its howl. In and of itself, this wasn't terribly creepy (your definition of creepy may vary). But underneath the howls, I heard another recording coming from the far side of the room. It was a woman's voice saying, over and over again...
"Little brownies, little brownies, your mistress is dead."
W. T. F.
I was unfamiliar with bee lore so I had never heard this before. And even now that I do know the origin of the saying, I still find it unsettling. Which makes it a perfect idea. It's a good bet that you'll be seeing some iteration of this in one of my future stories.
Usually, though, ideas don't come to me quite so dramatically. I also find that when I do think of an idea while I'm out and about, I often forget it by the time I get home. So I've started carrying a moleskine notebook with me everywhere I go. That might not work for everyone, but I highly recommend keeping some sort of writing device with you at all times: notebook, cellphone, blackberry, etc. Anything that you find interesting: a line of overheard conversation, a sketch of an eye-catching view, write it down. It's a good idea to build your own warehouse of wonderful things. You may not use everything you collect or use it in the way you had originally planned, but it's nice to have a resevoir of ideas at the ready when you need them.