A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: On How the Idea Strikes

Where do writers get their ideas from? Stephen King sums up what most writers think when asked the question:

“I can tell you about fifty percent of the time where I got the idea. And the rest of it is totally like getting an idea in a dream and I can’t really remember where they came from.”

As for the fifty percent of the time when I know exactly where the idea came from, I suspect that I am not different from many writers when I say that a simple image can spark new ideas practically instantly.

Yesterday I was in the backseat of a car, mindlessly scrolling through a science fiction discussion board when I stumbled upon this photo:

Instantly, I had about 75% of a short story in my head. I wrote it out using GoogleDocs in about twenty minutes while my wife slept on my shoulder. It needs a lot of revision but, feeling like a distant observer due to the fact that the story was practically handed to me from some hidden realm, I was quite impressed.

Other times, the idea precedes the image. In writing my novel “Teach Me to Number My Days,” I’ve found that it can be quite helpful to supplement a scene idea with images that I pull from the street view feature of google maps and other sources.

For instance, my protagonist, Ezra Hilthorpe, is a pastor in a semi-post-apocalyptic world. The initial scenes of the novel just didn’t seem to be working for me until I “found” his church on Google Maps.

Suddenly, I could see him there, could see him moving within his world. I could see him interacting with parishioners and could sense his emotions over the situations undergirding the plot.

So of course, us writers have a hard time knowing where ideas come from. But it seems that for me, and I suspect for others of all creative stripes, imagery plays a huge part.

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