The Birth of an Idea

A female firefigher lugs a fire hose over her right shoulder.Sometimes it doesn’t take much to exercise the creative muscles and get an idea.  The other day, I had walked down to a local restaurant, which was on the corner of a busy intersection.  As I waited for the light to change, I heard sirens scream.  DC drivers are not good about getting out of the way when they hear the sirens.  Some drivers will even make a dash through the intersection because of the DC sense of “me first.”  So I moved away from the curb.  Then suddenly, everyone was moving, trying to get out of the way.  They were like a bunch of ants that you’ve accidentally stepped on, scattering in all directions.  One driver turned towards the corner, towards me — I thought he was going to come up on the sidewalk.  There’s nothing like having a moving car pointed at you.

And then, my muse kicked in, imagining that the fire truck got into an accident in the intersection, with me as a witness.  What would I do?  And then I started playing out a scenario in my head.  I have no idea if it would be what I would really do — the reality of how we react in disaster versus what we imagine are two different things.

Writer always hate being asked where they get their ideas from, because it’s hard to define.  We can have a simple thing like the above — where nothing happened — and we start brainstorming out things that could happen.  The ‘What if.’  Like what if, as the fire truck reached the intersection, an earthquake hit?  What if a car blew up in the intersection?  Sorry, I can’t help myself. I like action.  Give me a explosion over a romance, and I’ll be a happy reader.

Or the idea could come from an experience that’s been gnawing at us for a long time.  Writing gives us the power to voice those experiences in the form of the story.  Ray Bradbury talked about having a childhood experience, and it would suddenly manifest as an idea for a story many years later.  Those are the kinds of ideas that are like wine — they have to sit and age for a while, to give us perspective and distance before they can become good stories.

The ideas, though, are the easy part.  Turning them into story — that’s hard.