Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | April 10, 2012


Interviews with authors often include the question “Where do you get your ideas?” I have seen near panic in some writer’s eyes at the thought of trying to formulate an answer. Specific ideas occasionally have a traceable origin, such as Diana Wynne Jones’ wonderful character Sophie Hatter from HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. Sophie is a shy and retiring eighteen year old stuck in an intensely boring job and life. One day a witch curses her and turns her into a very old woman. Sophie is a fantastic character and as far as I’m concerned everyone should read the book.

When asked how she came up with the character, Diana Wynne Jones said that when still a youngish woman she was suddenly crippled. She went from completely mobile to hobbling along with a cane. Later it was discovered that she had a milk allergy and, once treated, she no longer needed the cane.

This makes sense; a previously hale writer almost over night finds herself as a near invalid so thinks about it and turns it into a major plot point in a book. It also begins to answer the question, ‘where do ideas come from’.

The truthful answer to ‘where do you get your ideas’ is, frankly, everywhere.

Anywhere a writers goes, and doesn’t go, can inspire them. While I walk my dogs through the woods I have contemplated what would happen if someone walked out of a tree, what it means to beat the bounds and talking squirrels.

I have a writer friend whose mind churns so fast sometimes I swear I hear clicking. When he’s with sympathetic types (i.e. other writers) along with normal conversation, there may be thrown out the question “What would you do your water bottle began melting? Or glowing?”

The sensible part of my brain immediately answers “Stick my fingers down my throat.” Then the creative part fires up and wonders, what would I do? How would I react? What might glowing water do to me? Always fun questions to kick around though I tend to be careful eating or drinking out for a few weeks.

Another way my friend likes to brainstorm is by asking questions. Not only about glowing and possibly melting water bottles but also about cars, aliens, seismic activities, talking salt shakers and how to leave a room if you are pitted against a man with a gun and all you have is a pen, are some of the subjects we spoken about.

For me, motion helps. In other words, I take the dogs for a walk. Fortunately I live somewhat in the boonies and have a tolerant family so I walk through the wood talking to myself and no one asks me searching questions about my sanity.

When I am chasing down an idea, scene or image I will occasionally stop mid stride. It’s almost as though if I take one more step forward I will walk out of the idea and leave it behind. As the scene plays out in my head and I have to pause. Then I ask myself questions. Who is this person? What, if any, family do they have? Age? Gender? Motivations? When the idea is firmly in my brain then I can move forward and the idea comes with me.

How do you brainstorm? Do you walk? Pace? Listen to music? Ask questions?


  1. Where I’m at right now is taking a democratic poll. My last story, the longest one, came out a real beaut but with a let down of an ending. My editor and I talked about a way to fix it. However, I’m taking it to my writer’s group to get their thoughts also.
    A good night’s sleep usually helps, but the ending for this one was a bugger! I think I will be blogging about it later this week.


    • Good luck!


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