Where Do Writers Get their Ideas?
One of the most common questions any novelist gets is “where do you get your ideas?” I can’t speak for other people, but my hunch is that most writers have a mind that is always asking, ‘what if?’ As I go through the day, something will trigger that what if question, then my imagination takes over. Sometimes it can be a turn of phrase, a news story, an interesting picture, or even a piece of music.
Here is an example. I was reading a copy of the The New York Times from 1884 to get a sense of what people were talking about in the mid 1880’s, and I ran across a tiny news article at the bottom of the page about a group of Civil War soldiers who had all been hospitalized following the battle of Gettysburg. They bonded in the hospital, and vowed to meet exactly twenty-one years later at Niagara Falls. Amazingly, eight of the surviving ten members showed up on the appointed day. Now that is the basis for a good story!
There are lots of ways this story could be tweaked to turn it into an interesting novel or a short story. Perhaps instead of soldiers, it could be nurses. Or perhaps it is set during the American Revolution or World War I. Maybe they weren’t soldiers at all, but college students, or refugees from Nazi Germany.
I was moved by the story, but I know it is not something I am ever likely to use, so I’m throwing it out there to the world. Maybe someone will try to do some research on these amazing men and follow it up. Here is the story as it appeared on the front page of The New York Times on July 5, 1884.
Balloon photo coutesy of Diego da Silva