One question I get often is “Where do your ideas come from?” I am sure most if not all writers get that question. Probably often. I am also sure you get answers like, “from the world around us,” and “I do not know.” They probably never give a good answer in the eyes of the non-writer who think there is some magic formula or something.
So, let’s play a game here. Tell me when you see this picture, what is the very first thing you see? The very first thing, without cheating.
99.9999999% of people (and do not forget 83% of all statistics are made up on the spot) who see that will think “stick laying on the road,” or some variation there of first. Other thoughts might come later, but that is the very first thing they see. Furthermore, had they been walking down the road, they likely would not have noticed the stick at all. It is too mundane, below notice.
I was out for one of my runs when I saw it. When I saw it, the very first thing I thought was “man that is a big tooth” and the second “or maybe a tusk.” It was my fourth or fifth thought to think of it as a stick.
I am sure you can see it now, and some of you might have guessed that was where this was going before I said anything. Let’s try another one. What do you see here?
Most people (I really do not have any actual numbers) would see a river with litter in it. They might notice the rocks and plants. They might even mistake the garbage for rocks at first. Being this is the second picture you can probably guess where I am about to go.
My first thought, the very first thing I thought when I saw that was “Man, that must have been a big creature to have a jaw bone like that!” It actually took me several moments to realize it was not a jaw bone. Long after the serpentine neck was well formed in my mind.
Understand I did not look at it and think “That litter looks like it could be a jaw bone” – that is what normal people do. What I saw was actually a jaw bone, and later had to convince myself it was merely litter.
The world around us is a wonderous place if you can set aside your pre-conceived idea of reality and let your mind reach out. Even if you see litter first, let your mind wonder at what it could be and soon you will begin to understand that there is so much more to the world. Litter is bad of course, but when you see a flower in your yard, is it a weed or a home for a Who?
So next time a skilled novelist tells you they get their ideas from “the world around us,” or “I don’t know,” you can refer back to the jaw bone in the river and the fang on the road and perhaps understand.