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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I’ve Figured Out Where My Ideas Come From! by James L. Rubart

Before we start our regularly scheduled programming, let me explain that the photo below is of a tree house my wife and I stayed in a week ago when she reserved it for my 39th birthday. It was awesome. (Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly my 39th.)

You've been asked the question, haven’t you? “Where do all your characters and twisty plots and conversations and settings in your books come from?”

My standard answer has been, “Too many comic books as a kid.” The reader usually offers a polite laugh and we move on to other things.

But after giving that somewhat lame answer hundreds of times, I started to wonder, where do they come from?  Since I’m a classic SOTP author (Seat Of The Pants for those new to this insane world called publishing) I typically start a novel with a one sentence premise then pick up my laptop and start transcribing the movie that starts playing in my head.

So where does the movie come from? Even if you’re an outliner, you have to get your ideas for the outline from somewhere.

We’re Different

I think novelists look at the world differently. They notice a great line during conversation, and remember intriguing personalities. They constantly ask, “What if?”. They daydream during dinner parties, and steal, uh, borrow ideas from movies, novels, TV shows, plays, songs, etc.

(Don’t worry. We’re in good company. John Lennon said the Beatles stole all the time from other artists. Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun.)

What I realized about myself is I've been doing all these things somewhat subconsciously. Yes, I know about Stephen King’s “Boys in the basement” analogy and on some level understand I've been collecting potential story material.

But what I didn't understand until recently is all this data surfaces involuntarily when I’m writing. I've forgotten most of it on a conscious level, but when I get in my secret room and start writing, it rises to the surface and pours out. Even though I've forgotten, the material has been there the whole time.

Is There A Point To This Post, Jim?

Yes. Stay with me a little longer. At the start of October I finished recording the audio version for my soon to release novel, Soul’s Gate. I’d been away from the novel long enough to be surprised at the abundance of interesting material that had happened to me or to friends, or that I’d read about during the time I wrote the manuscript.

Here’s the point: To have interesting material bubble up while you’re writing, you have to do interesting things. Not just go out and mill about in society and watch people. Not just read stories on the Internet. Not just catch a TV show every now and then. I’m talking things that are unusual:

  • Explore a part of town you've never been to.
  • Go on a hot air balloon ride.
  • Watch a movie you would never watch.
  • Go scuba diving at night.
  • Jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet.
  • Go to dinner with people with whom you would normally not ask out.
  • Go to the service of a religion different than yours.
  • Go dirt biking up in the hills of Idaho and walk deep into a 100 year old mine. (Yes, we kept a flame burning and when it went out, we got out. Fast.)
  • And of course, spend a night in a tree house.

Your turn. What would you add to the list?

James L. Rubart is the best-selling, award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, THE CHAIR, and SOUL’S GATE (Nov 2012). During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike, hike, golf, take photos, and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at


  1. This is all sorts of awesome.

    I would add camping in the forest, exploring a sleepy sea-side town, and attending some local festivals (Garlic! Greek! Car shows!) to get ideas flowing.

  2. I want to know where the treehouse is and how I can rent it! But besides that, yes, experiences are good! Get them. Absorb them. Analyze them. But for goodness sake, right about them!

  3. I'm with Michael, where's that treehouse? Hubby would LOVE that. It's good to get all different kinds of experiences--take a vacation somewhere you wouldn't normally go, do something every day that scares you, take up a new hobby that requires getting out with people doing something fun or unusual. Lots of opportunities.

  4. I love the encouragement to try new things. I'm kind of an oddball in my family because I do. But then again, I'm the only writer. :-)

  5. I'm in! These sound great. I love to visit new places and see new things. Uh ... you can keep the jumping out of airplanes. I could be talked into a hot air balloon ride, though. And the treehouse? I'm there, just not with Mike Ehret. I prefer the hubs. ;o)

  6. It reminds me of The Artist Way. Cameron insisted on "artist dates"--essentially doing those things you don't ordinarily do.

    Going to take myself on a date because ideas for my new wip have not panned out. If I'm bored at the beginning--I have no hope for the reader.

  7. M.E., here's the link:

    I love that idea, Ralene of doing something daily that scares you.

    Oddball-Writer. Same thing, right, Vonda? :)

    I think I see sky diving in your future, Ane!

    Artist dates? Wow, I like that. Sounds like I need to read her book. Thanks, Carol!

  8. I'm a serial enthusiast, so there's never a shortage of ideas. (Yes, I cycle through fifty hobbies, one at a time.) I'm also something of a method writer. When I decided to write a character who was a master swordsman, I took up fencing. Current character travels extensively and only cooks ethnic food--well, the family better get used to Indian and Lebanese for dinner! Amazing what you learn about yourself and your characters by stepping into their shoes. Plus, you get to expand your own abilities and knowledge in the process.

  9. In a phrase, stretch yourself, right? If we don't keep our brains stimulated, they're bound to stop working. LOL!

    My hubby and I have had RVs since we were first married ... mumble, mumble... years ago. New places, new things to see and do are invaluable. They refresh both body and creativity. I like four wheels on the ground, but that treehouse appeals, too. I'm going to check out the link.

    P.S. I also recommend Julia Cameron's ARTIST'S WAY for some creative stimulation.


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