Where do you get your ideas? That seems to be a question that every writer hates. Most don’t have an answer. It almost seems kind of magical how ideas come to them. But I don’t think it’s magic at all. I think I know how every writer and artist gets their ideas: data inputs to their consciousness.
What does that mean? Well, our minds are always receiving data (any information we see or hear) then filtering it to find connections between it all. An idea is essentially a connection between the data in our memory.
The data inputs can vary, obviously. It can be a movie you watch, or a book you read, or a podcast you listen to, or an experience in real life you had with a family member, friend, or coworker, or something you witnessed in public, or read in a newspaper, or online, or on TV. Some data sticks to our consciousness more than others. We find it interesting for whatever reason, so it stays in our mind—perhaps even subconsciously—then, when we input other data, it may spark an idea related to that previous data. And a new idea is born.
If you want to be a writer—if you want to find ideas for stories—then you need to constantly be inputting new data to your consciousness. Read, watch, and listen widely. Pay attention in real life. Observe people and their behavior. Then take the information from these various inputs and fuse them together into a story.
Of course, you’ll need to learn basic plot structure and three-act storytelling in order to learn how to do that. But once you have the framework of knowing how to tell a story, all you need to do for ideas is input data into your consciousness. While inputting, you should have in mind possible ideas for a story. If you always have that in the back of your mind, the story ideas will come naturally.
That’s what I do, though I don’t do it consciously. It’s a sort of subconscious psychological instinct I have where my mind automatically turns ideas into stories. When I learn about a new real-life scientific concept, I can’t help but think about how it could be turned into a fictional story.
If that doesn’t come naturally to you, I think it can be learned, at least to a degree. I always had a vivid imagination and would construct fake conversations and scenarios in my mind, but I never applied my imagination to story ideas until I took a screenwriting class in college, learned story structure, and actually needed to come up with story ideas. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.
Every day I read, watch, and listen to a ton of data, constantly filtering it through my subconscious wondering, “How could this be a story?” Now, I have more story ideas than I’ll ever have time to write.