Every writer has a different approach to forming ideas which turn into scenes and serve as the nuts and bolts of a story. The ingredients of stories exist everywhere and it is the joyful responsibility of the writer to be a careful observer of life's ongoing events in order to ferret out these creative nuggets. Over the years, I've developed a habit of jotting ideas onto Post-It notes. I may write down a word, a phrase, or a mental image. The story idea in that moment may be in its infancy or it may appear spontaneously full grown, but in either case, I add that day's Post-It story note(s) to the ever-growing pile on my desk at home. Later, I use these Post-Its when I sit down to type out a scene. The pile of Post-Its gives me a continuous source of inspiration, because I don't have to start from scratch every time I plop down on my desk chair. There's an idea already waiting on a Post-It which I can expand from the moment my fingers land on the keyboard.
In terms of how story ideas actually arrive, I work with two overriding principles: 1) "What if?", and 2) "Yes, and." I make an effort to take life observations and continually ask “what if” about them, creating hypothetical character/plot situations out of everyday situations I see, hear about, or imagine. The “yes, and” rule which is often used in improvisational comedy (meaning whatever situation is presented must be accepted and added to without negating it's plausibility) takes it a step further. By using "yes, and," nothing is stifled, squelched, or stopped in the ideation process, because brainstorming implies that whatever kernel of an idea you are working with receives affirmation and creative extension.
Let's look at a real life example:
-I found myself experiencing a health episode which left me on a hospital bed, temporarily paralyzed and mute, trapped in my own thoughts. Then, while I was still in that situation, I asked myself...
-“What if” a character in a story was temporarily paralyzed and mute? How would that person react, what would that person be thinking?
-“Yes, and” “what if” that person had to undergo therapy because of the bizarre health episodes?
-“Yes, and” “what if” that person (let’s make her a female) was a therapist herself (wouldn’t that add layers of conflict and turmoil?)?
-“Yes, and” “what if” it is discovered that the episodes are occurring because of resurfacing memories of a childhood she has forgotten?
-And so on and so forth.
By using these “what if” and “yes, and” principles, we have the basic premise for Therapy for Ghosts. This is how some of the initial ideas for the book actually originated.
So, what about you? Do you have a writing process that works for you? Even if it's not writing-related, how do creative ideas come to you and how do you develop them? When you read a book that impacts you, how does it inspire you to be creative?