Where do I get my ideas?
A vivid imagination? Check. Literary influences? Check. Favorite films or TV shows? Kinda, sorta. History and world events? Impossible to ignore them. Every fiction writer taps into all these areas, but no doubt to differing degrees.
Then there’s the biggest wildcard: Your own life experience. What was your childhood like? What type of education did you receive? Who were your mentors? What kind of folks do you hang around with? How jaded, optimistic, or cynical has life made you? Are you happy with your life, or have you become a professional complainer?
I could go on, of course. The bottom line is that most writers (let’s call them the really good ones) draw from a wellspring deep within, a voice that refuses to go away no matter how much you might want to suppress it.
That voice tells me to write the types of stories that will be entertaining and thought-provoking to me as a reader. I would never try to recapture the lightning found in the great classics I’ve read or watched on the big screen, but I can tap into elements that inspired me.
There are many writers in this business who say an author should “write to market,” which means to examine trends (i.e. formula) and follow that road in order to have success (defined as huge sales). OK, so that’s not a terrible strategy and definitely works for some. The idea is readers want familiarity. Even if the material is mediocre or redundant, readers will go back to what they know but struggle with stories which step away from the “formula.”
This is undoubtedly true for many readers, just as with moviegoers (how many Marvel movies does a human need, anyway?).
Not me. Can’t do it. Won’t do it.
I think there’s far too much “formula” being dumped on bookshelves. Series fiction is huge now - the best way to earn a loyal new audience on Amazon, for instance. I’ve learned that lesson and am writing a series, but I hope few people can look at mine and say, “Oh, those books are just like x, y, and z.”
Spaceship battles are fun … until the three-hundredth time. Alien invasions are fun … until the four-hundredth time. (Full disclosure: I’ve written a couple of brief spaceship battles and one alien invasion.)
My preference is to take a story with a big canvas and some mind-blowing ideas then toss a few ordinary folks or misfits into the center of it and see how their lives play out. Sagas, they’re called. I like a good blend of adventure, mystery, suspense, violence, humor, romantic tension, and tortured souls blended with some whizbangery, and characters struggling to navigate their way through the whole sordid mess.
I’m comfortable with what I write and how I go about it, but I’m by no means satisfied. I long ago stopped feeling inferior as a writer or putting myself on a tier above others. Frankly, the readers have to judge the work. As long as I’m having fun crafting these stories and building a satisfied audience, I’m good to go.
Just don't expect the same ol' stuff.