One of the things I’m frequently asked as a creator is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ Writer Peter David has a great stock response for this (paraphrased); “You put three bucks in an envelope, and you send it off to a guy in Schenectady. Wait a few days, and you get three ideas back!”

What I want to do with this post isn’t merely to propagate the hilarity of that gag. Neither am I going to reveal the ‘source’ of my inspiration. Nope, what I’m going to do is to try and facilitate the development of ideas and promote creativity, because people so often focus on the technical aspects of the creative arts at the expense of the actual creative thought process.

There is a certain truth to the old phrase ‘There is nothing new under the sun”. If you want to develop something new, you’ve got to go back to what’s been done before, experience it and ruminate on what made it a classic. That means reading, watching or playing it not merely for appreciation’s sake, but also with a critical eye. You must dissect all parts of it; You must divide the work up into multiple discrete ideas, along lines of plot, characters, development, setting. You must take these elements and analyse them for reason, for theme, for the inner messages that they contain. You must see the logic of how these elements fit together, and what makes them gel. This is not something you can do once and consider it done; it must be practiced and refined as a process, and on as many sources as possible. Finally, you must be able to isolate the elements from each other, to allow them room to manouevre around your head.

You will undoubtedly have seeds of ideas, if you have a mind to create something, or you may have a problem to solve in an existing work. It’s very difficult to direct creativity; if you try to think about something specific, very often you’ll find that you’re trying fruitlessly to force incompatible ideas together, which will inevitably lead to frustration. What you want to do is to mull the seeds of ideas around and mix them with the elements you’ve taken from established works, and mix them around your mind. Try to find some free time in which to do this; On the bus listening music, on the exercise bike, during lunchtime at work. Any time that you can sit and zone out for a bit. You’ll know that this is working when one thought leads onto another thought, and you wind up with a chain of logic. Again, this is something that you need to do repeatedly, and you’ll find that it can be a slow process at first. Once you hit that winning combination, however, the process should speed up significantly.

Whenever you get that idea chain, NOTE IT DOWN STRAIGHT AWAY! Best done when you’re still doused with enthusiasm, and get it down in as much detail as possible. And then what you’re going to do is leave it for a while. Set it out and think about it, redoing the thought-mulling process using your notes. Eventually, you’ll find that some of these ideas will turn out to be dull over time; you can discard these. The ones that you want to keep are the ones that you’re still excited about several weeks down the line, that you’ve had plenty of time to think on. This filtering process is invaluable to coming up with more natural plots, characterisation and details.

Finally, you can start committing this to the work proper. Now that you’ve had ample opportunity to revise your notes, actually inputting it should be a cinch! And don’t be afraid to tweak things if they seem a little off; A work doesn’t necessarily have to be rigid in its rules, if it’s enjoyable and exciting for you and for the consumer!

Anyway, thus ends this lecture. Hopefully it’ll help somebody out there, somewhere! There’s plenty of other stuff to be covered as well, which I may well write about in the coming weeks!