The Origin Of An Idea, Part 3: Research and Serendipity

So I got over the hump. Pity I got Noro virus. Just another hurdle that was going to put me out of action for a couple of days. There’s nothing quite so wretched as that span of time when you know you’re going to hurl but you just got to wait it out. It was taunting me, keeping me dangling on the verge, hour after hour…..

Anyhow, it’s thankfully in the past. I’m moving on with a nice solid couple of days aggressively editing part 2. Nearly there. Only five more parts to go!

Meanwhile, whilst reflecting on what I was trying to say last time, I remembered a prime example of something that had slipped into my subconscious and found expression years later. When I was a child I, at some point, saw some episodes of Ulysses 31 (a sci-fi/fantasy retelling of the Odyssey for those that missed it or are too young to remember). I can say with certainty that this took root in my imagination, and unconsciously I would replicate the little floating islands of the cosmic Olympus as a dumping ground for all the spare ideas that I couldn’t work into my main projects.

Thus did the idea itself became a recepticle, the cauldron into which I could throw ingredients. What came out has so far included one Nanowrimo project that’s waiting to be turned into a series, the project I’m working on now and also a little something else that’s waiting in the wings to be fully realised.

So, in this last part lets just talk a little about where else we might come across ideas that we can throw into our cauldron. I’ll present two: one is down to your own volition, the other not so much.

Research: This can be done at any time under your own steam. Even if you’re just looking things up on Wikipedia, it’s never wasted because it will give your voice more authority. Whatever fiction we’re writing, we’re bound to find books that can help, from psychology and cultural thinking to descriptions of equipment and practices. For fantasy I’ve found that there is a wealth of information to be had delving into anthropology. It doesn’t have to be heavy going either. One of the first books I ever read in the field was The Forest People (Colin Turnbull) about the pygmies he lived with, told in a very straight forward, narrative style. Other topics I found useful (and are common to fantasy) were theories about kingship, sorcery and myths, as well as attitudes towards life, destiny, marriage, death and children.

On the other hand you might be writing a Game of Throne’s clone and all you need is a text book about medieval clothes and weapons.

Serendipity: Some of the best ideas can come to you out of nowhere. Perhaps you were chilling with friends, eating cheese and biscuits when you noticed that one of the cheeses was called Brillat Savarin. Commenting on what a great name it would be for a villain you married it up with someone who had a mysterious reputation like Keyser Soze, a great criminal underlord.

Or maybe you were flicking through the channels of someone elses tv and came across a programme about paranormal activity that had a Russian music box in it and married up the cliche with the idea that perhaps the Russian psychic warfare division had manufactured hundreds of them and sent them to the USA as part of a systematic attempt to destablise the country.

Anything might trigger you off, and as always, my advise would to always, always make a note of it, even if you can’t use it straight away. Pop them all in a box and when you’re running dry or you want to start something new you could pull out three, four, maybe five ideas and see how you can connect them up. Do a bit of research off the back of it, see what else might come up. Roll it all together and keep turning that kaleidoscope.

And sometimes you come across little research projects randomly that can do great things for the imagination. The video below was just in the Youtube recommendations and the sheer scale of what it shows made my brain hurt, a little like doing mental weights.

The only limit, after all, is how much we can conceive, and that’s a boundary that we should always be trying to push.