Monday, April 4, 2016

On Ideas

'Where do you get your ideas?'

That's probably the most asked question of a writer. All of them seem to make reference to just how many times they get asked this question. There appears to be a wide variety of ways to handle it, although I get the feeling a lot of writers out there don't like answering it directly. Some have a funny joke that carefully sidesteps the question, some will give you a strange, long-winded runaround that sounds like something mystic and mythic, some will just shrug, some will get frustrated and some will give a straight answer, like Stephen King.

I prefer a straight answer.

So where do I get my ideas? I don't have one specific source. I can probably give you a fairly clear explanation for most of my ideas. Sometimes I have a goal in mind, sometimes things just happen.

Those seems to be the only two options.

For example, Ceaseless was kind of a coalescence of 'force of nature' antagonists. Jason Voorhees. The Terminator. The Meta from Red Vs Blue. RvB Season Six probably played the biggest role in laying the groundwork for Ceaseless. So there's a pretty straight answer.

But, for example, Snowblind? I had to construct that idea. I knew what I needed to happen but there wasn't really a clear, specific idea in mind. I had to piece it together.

Some ideas I've been sitting on for a while, like Deathless. I had that idea like seven years ago. Or Absolute Zero. The genesis for that was written in 2008. And I have a ton of ideas that I'm eager to get to, but books take time, even at the quick pace I release them at.

Still, there seems to be some common sources for ideas: news articles, other media (books, games, movies), personal experiences and, sometimes, dreams.

Sometimes ideas appear, fully formed, in your brain. Those are rare and wonderful. Other times, ideas have a long, slow fuse. Like, you get a cool idea for a scene, but nothing else. And, over the next few years, you kind of subconsciously build on that idea and more ideas grow from it.

Here's an example of how ridiculous this process of finding ideas can get.

Back in 2012, I was co-writing a book with my friend, M. Knepper. It's a very strange book, easily the weirdest one I've ever written. We took it down because we realized it needed a second draft and we had a lot of cool ideas for it, but anyway, in one scene, I had two protagonists playing an old game. It was called Darkest Night and in this side-scrolling shooter, a throwback to Contra basically, two men fought against an alien menace bent on apocalypse. And that was it. Just this cool little scene.

But I couldn't stop thinking about Darkest Night.

I ended up being compelled to write it out and in 2014, I plotted out what would be the first in a Sci-Fi/Action, dark apocalyptic series and wrote over half of the first novel. For several reasons, I took it down, but I definitely plan on writing this series.

So yeah, writing one tiny scene in a weird little novella with my friend spawned a series.

Now, let's talk about trying to sell people your ideas. I've come across a lot of people who say they have a really cool idea for a book or a video game and they want to somehow monetize the idea. Not the game or the book, the idea itself.

Here's why that will basically never work.

I have met not even a single person who didn't at least have some ideas. Not. One. The problem is never a lack of ideas, the problem is a lack of sitting down and turning that idea into a game or a movie or a book, which all take a lot of work, and the average person either doesn't have the time, the money, the know-how or the perseverance to do it.

Which is fine. I don't hold that against anyone. I, of all people, know how difficult time management is. I didn't get serious with my writing until I was lucky enough to not have to work a 'real' job anymore and I could stay home basically all I wanted.

So yeah, moral of the rant: if you have a kickass idea you want to see made into something, either pay a shitload of money to have it made for you (see: ghost writers) or do it yourself.

Now, there is one other thing I want to talk about.

I've been referring to ideas in a general sense, and when most people say that in reference to writing, they mean: the premise for the book.

But I want to talk about a different kind of idea. The little ideas, for individual scenes or plot twists or character development. Essentially, the little gears and the fuel that makes the story go. Now those can be in short supply sometimes. Writer's block can take many forms, but one of them is just not knowing what the hell comes next or how to deal with a particular situation.

I have a bit of advice on generating those kinds of ideas and for dissolving writer's block in general.

Experience media. All kinds. You will be amazed at what gets your creative juices flowing again. Read articles. Watch weird movies out of your comfort zone. Play indie horror games, or indie games in general. There's tons of free ones out there. Listen to random music. Basically, just try to experience things out of your comfort zone, this tends to spark creativity.

Also, give yourself time to process. Believe it or not, sitting there and trying to force the idea is not the best way to deal with it. In fact, it may be the worst way to handle it. If you're stuck, step away from the project and do something else for a couple hours.

Take a walk, take a shower, go to the gym or the movies. Play MineCraft or watch an old show again or read a book. Basically anything that disconnects you from actively thinking about the problem. Believe or not, your brain actually will continue to work on the problem without you knowing it, like a program running in the background. That's why you tend to have 'ah-ha!' moments when you're driving or taking a shower. Your brain had enough time to figure it out.

And that's all I've got.