Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sean A. Lusher: Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

Something really weird happened to me recently and it led to a revelation that every other author has probably had, since I'm pretty far behind the times. Or, I might be somewhat unique and this doesn't happen to most people.

There's this drain in my laundry room that my washing machine drains into. It looks disgusting, the water stagnant and black, with some unknown green mossy substance growing in it. The sight has always creeped me out. The mossy stuff, though, is recent. And I found myself muttering, “What is that?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I had an intense burst of ideas. Almost like a vision. A scene painted itself in my head, and, just like that, I had the groundwork for a new novella. It was as if the idea was locked in a box inside my head, and I just happened to find the key that unlocked it.

And that really got me thinking. Because, while not all my ideas are born of this manner, enough are to make me realize that this has been happening to me for years. I just never questioned it before. Well, I began to question it.

See, I've noticed that a lot of bigger name authors always skirt the edge of questions pertaining to where their ideas come from. I've always found it weird, until I began to realize a lot more about the publishing industry, human nature and the world in general.

It seems obvious now that ideas are generated from inspiration. And inspiration comes from a huge variety of places, but usually from other media. Books, films, art, etc. Personally, much of my inspiration comes from video games.

I think that a lot of authors feel awkward about admitting just where exactly they get their ideas from because, well, if you're a good author then generally you read a lot of books and, in turn, the books inspire you.

But everyone seems to forget that old saying, the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. Combine that with the fact that in our age of instantaneous information transfer and it becomes nearly impossible to be truly original. All you can do is put your own spin on the idea and deliver the best piece of work you can.

Now, personally, I'm super paranoid about imitation. There are some projects, what other people have told me are great ideas, that I'm still stalling on because I think they too closely resemble other, more official, pieces. With how sue-happy America is currently, well, it just gives me that much more of a worry.

But I wonder, am I a minority or do lots of others share this fear? And, if so, how many great pieces of work are we losing out on because the author is worried about ridiculous copyright infringement laws? Since my wife assures me that I'm being crazy and overly paranoid, as I'm wont to do, I haven't scrapped those ideas and still plan on using them. Someday.

Another reason I think we're afraid of fully admitting where our ideas come from is because we feel we might lose credibility. I mean, there's already enough people out there who think that writing isn't a 'real job' and doesn't even deserve payment. Why give them more ammo by admitting your latest idea came from watching an old episode of Scooby Doo?

In his book of short stories, Smoke & Mirrors, Neil Gaiman, the best living author I've ever read, gave a short explanation of each story. In one of them, he admitted that the idea came when a fan mistakenly asked him if he had written the script for a Baywatch reboot. (Neil had actually worked on the recent release of Beowulf.) And it was a great piece, too, made greater by learning its hilarious origin story. But, even then, at the end of it, he states, “Look, I don't give you grief over where you get your ideas from.”

But I think it would be better to 'cite our sources', so to speak. It's a way to help people understand what they're getting into. For example, if you say, “Well, my latest book was inspired by Stephen King's Duma Key and the video game Alan Wake.” Right off the bat, anyone who read Duma Key and played Alan Wake will have an idea of what you're talking about and might be that much more interested in seeing what you've got to offer.

Ultimately, I think everyone needs to be more open and free with where they gather their inspiration. The writing world would be a better place.

Author Bio: Sean A. Lusher is a horror/mystery author planning on expanding into more genres. He lives in Columbia, Missouri with his wife, some roommates and a few cats.

His novella, Liberation Road, is available for sampling at Amazon. His blog is This Thing Called Writing.


Jon Olson said...

I have that imitation fear. I'll avoid reading something with a strong voice, because it seeps into my writing. So I know what you're saying.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

author Scott Nicholson said...

We can't help but be the sum of our influences, which is why I always say "Get LOTS of influences..."