by Bethany Maines
One of the most common question a writer gets asked is "Where do your ideas come from?"
Once my brother made me lay on his floor so he could tape outlines of me all over his bedroom carpet as though his room had been the site of a mass murder; we found it was surprisingly difficult to get just the right pose so that all the limbs were showing and you didn't just have weird potato shaped outlines. (Yes, I know that was an odd transition, but I'll circle back I promise.) When was 12, I told my Dad I had a stove box to make a Halloween costume out of he got out the black and white spray paint and turned my best friend and I into Two Fools in Pair-o-Dice; our heads came out the one dots - naturally. My mom's friend once had eye surgery and had a rather large bandage, so my mom painted on an eye over the bandage and added a great set of false lashes. Why did we do these things? Honestly, the question never occurred to us. Had you asked at the time we probably would have said, "Why not?" My family has a culture of creativity and odd projects from passing thoughts are the norm not the exception. And as is often the case with cultures, I didn't think to question it until someone from a different culture asked, "So why don't you put mayo on fries?" Or in the case of my writing, "How do you come up with your ideas?"
The people asking don't mean anything by the question, they are genuinely interested. The problem is that at any given time I'm vacillating between two of my personalities, Helpful Instructor Bethany and Diva Artiste Bethany. Helpful Instructor is usually nice, but Diva Artiste is kind of... well, I won't use the B-word as we are in a family friendly forum, but you get the idea, and sometimes it's a struggle to rein Diva Wench back in. Helpful Instructor realizes that the questioner was not raised in a culture of creativity and they are asking for help understanding the creative process. Diva Artiste imperiously demands how anyone cannot have ideas. Ideas are literally littered on the sidewalk, in the newspaper, on the radio, sleeting through the universe like a tiny meteorite looking for a receptive brain (Terry Pratchett, you are missed) and all you really have to do to have an idea is make your brain receptive. It's easy to do - read blogs by creative people (thanks), buy creative people presents (ok, maybe not really on that one, but I like books, you know, just in case), try new things. But the number one tip that Helpful Instructor or Diva Artiste both agree on, is to ask "What if?"
Any topic can work. Earlier this week there was a news story about a man who ran from the police and got stuck in mud. What if you had been that man - up to your knees in river mud, unable to move, sinking slowly? What would you do?
What if I... What if you... What if they... The story starts there and you can decide the ending - just answer the question.