Friday, November 9, 2012

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Cynthia Ann Baldini

Readers ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Everyone has probably heard the saying, “write what you know.” If you’re an expert in a particular field you can probably attract others who want to develop that skill, but hat sounds like advice for non-fiction writers. What if you write fiction, and you aren’t an expert in any field?

You can focus on what you know even when you write fiction. In Immortal Venus my protagonist has many of my own characteristics: we both hail from Richmond, Virginia, both got our degrees in art from VCU, and both traveled to Italy. I use my familiarity with the locations and with art to give a foundation of realism to what becomes an adventure into my imagination.

Webster’s Dictionary offers three definitions of imagination.

Definition #1: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.

What are the sources of images not present to the senses? This is an area of immense fascination to me, and a prime example is daydreams. Everyone daydreams … to escape boredom, in anticipation of what may happen in the future, to weigh alternatives for past behaviors, even to take imaginary revenge on a rival. All are options for a storyline, either by putting the daydream into action within your story, or by letting your character become the daydreamer.

Most of us remember our nocturnal dreams. Dreams can be a powerful source of ideas. I use them in two ways. Sometimes a plot idea comes from a dream and I use the action exactly as it comes to me. At other times, it can become the dream of one of my characters—altered to fit the plotline. The character either struggles to understand the coded message, or struggles to reject its significance. In Immortal Venus, Megan’s husband, John, is haunted by nightmares.

Visions are another source of ideas. Visions may seem to already be in the realm of fantasy, but many us have experienced them. I’ve done yoga for years, and practice meditation—another characteristic I share with my protagonist. Sometimes images come during meditation that take on hyper-reality beyond mere daydreaming and put you into scenes and situations that feel real. These images can be powerful sparks that ignite the imagination when you return to conscious thinking.

Definition #2: a: creative ability; b: ability to confront and deal with a problem; c: the thinking or active mind:

A news article or a casual remark from an acquaintance can inspire an entire plot, or provide a scene that meshes perfectly with something you’re already writing. Taking reality and using it differently is creative ability.

Problems can be wonderful inspirations. We look at our many options, and the most impractical solution to our problem might be a wonderful mistake your character can make, one that plunges him into all kinds of trouble.

The thinking, active mind is one that observes what’s going on … in the world at large, and in the intimate details of our surroundings.

Definition #3: a: a creation of the mind; especially an idealized or poetic creationb: fanciful or empty assumption

Don’t dismiss any creation of the mind as being empty. Just because it isn’t real at that moment doesn’t mean it can’t become real – a prime example is the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Or, alternatively, holding a fanciful assumption can become a beloved characteristic of your wacky character.

So let your imagination roam free. It can lead you anywhere you want to go, and to places you never knew existed.

Cynthia Ann Baldini will be present on December 15th at the Celebrate With A Book Author Book Fair to sign her book; to learn more about her and her novel, Immortal Venus, please visit her website at

1 comment:

  1. A story can definitely be made more lifelike by a writer writing about what he or she knows, but it is also good to expand that knowledge. One way is to write about what the writer wants to know and to do the research to learn about that subject. Like, Cynthia said, dreams are a great starting place because they represent something the writer is connected to.


Thanks for commenting!