My brother turned me onto a book called “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Orson Scott Card. Yes, the same Card that wrote “Ender’s Game”. It was released in 1990 but I have to say it stands up very well. I was primarily interested in the chapter concerning world building, as that is the state of my current novel (which I’m dubbing Complex for the time being). Most of the information in the book is more or less in line with what I am already doing. To a degree it was disappointing to not get some new revelation, but also nice to have some reaffirmation that I’m on the right track. However, what struck me the most was this…
The second thing you should learn from my examples is that ideas come from everywhere, provided that you’re thinking about everything that happens to you as a potential story. I like to think that the difference between storytellers and non-storytellers is that we storytellers, like fishermen, are constantly dragging an “idea net” along with us. Other people pass through their lives and never notice how many stories are going on all around them; we, however, think of everything as a potential story.
– Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
This particular passage (an even more specifically the portion I put in bold), struck a chord with me because it falls in line with a fundamental lesson I was taught in college as an animator. To observe. Always observe the people and actions around you. Store those memories because you never know when they may just be the character you were looking for. This lesson matches perfectly with the statement by Card. But some how, over the years, I had forgotten this very important lesson. And personally I think it shows. The number of times I’ve sat, trying to think of something to draw (during my animation days) or to write and unable to come up with anything speak to that.
So now everything, from news stories to a funny anecdote from a friend, should be seen through the prism of a storyteller. Mine the world around you for ideas. Forgetting this caused me to begin living within my own head. Swimming around it looking for those hidden passage that held something- anything. I was essentially casting my net in a very shallow pool. When all the while there is an ocean next door.
Sure, I can still come up with some interesting things given enough time. But since I’ve began to really pay attention to my surroundings, I’ve begun to pick up more ideas at a quicker pace. They may not all work for what I’m dealing with now, but you better believe that they’re being written down. Who knows when these things may become useful to me later.
So I encourage everyone who is having troubles with ideas, to pick up your notebook and head outside; listen to NPR or read a history book. Your next moment of inspiration is just around the corner.