Generally speaking for me when it comes to generating story ideas, a character in a particular scene comes to mind. For instance at the moment I’d thinking a great deal about how the next series of Game of Thrones is going to pan out now that the television show has caught up and in places surpassed the books. For some reason my mind has fixated on the Iron Bank in Braavos and the debts the Iron Throne owe it. From that simple idea, I have created a character, known simply as the Debt Collector.
From this simple thought based on a pre-existing form of entertainment I have actually created a character that now I can remove from the context in which I originally created them, and build an entirely new story world and plot for that is entirely separate from Game of Thrones. While the ‘Debt Collector’ within the context of Game of Thrones at the moment is a vicious, bloodthirsty, and cunning character, at the minute they are very much just a fragment of the full potential they could be. They are just a wisp of an idea that needs to be developed further.
Some might argue that using pre-existing material is cheating and lacks original thought, but it is something that I entirely disagree with, as would the majority of people who have ever written fan-fiction. The act of writing fan-fiction and using pre-existing entertainment isn’t cheating, it is practice,. It is only questionable, not to mention very dishonest and illegal to use any of the copyrighted material to attempt to make profit for yourself.
One of the most famous examples of a developed fanfiction is ‘The Fifty Shades’ trilogy, which E.L. James says was originally a fanfiction of Twilight. Not commenting on the quality of either of those franchises though, using existing material to practice is something that I certainly advocate. A great deal of practice I developed as a teenager come from writing Harry Potter fanfiction; several of my characters that I created in my current work in progress came from that material originally, though they are now developed beyond recognition of what I original wrote within the wall of Hogwarts. I’d never be ashamed to admit though that J.K Rowling’s world was an inspiration to me, because I used her story world to practice creating characters and how they interact with the world and plot around them in order to practice writing.
Inspiration though does not just come from other works of fiction. As a Historian I’ve studied a great deal of material about the past that is also an ideal source of inspiration. Fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R. Martin are famous for using history as sources of inspirations. Living in the North East of England it wasn’t a surprise to me that Martin used Hadrian’s Wall as the inspiration for ‘The Wall’ in Westeros, because that has been the first thought I’d had on learning about the Night’s Watch and their geographical location. He also based the wars between the Houses on the ‘War of the Roses’. Neither though bare much relation to the original material because he has developed it further.
Modern day life can also be a fantastic source of inspiration for beginning to think about a story. Current events in the news and the gossip of the celebrity world are very good living examples that you can study about how characters and stories can develop. One of the few times as a teenager that wrote in the modern world (rather than a one I created for myself) I was writing about how a famous actor was running away from the marriage to another celebrity than she had seemingly found herself trapped into going through with. I can’t remember who it was that must have been in the gossip columns getting married at the time, but I know the idea hit me while I was reading one.
Another great source of inspiration I have also found to be entirely reliable is the thought processes your brain is going through just as you are attempting to fall asleep. An idea will strike you when you least expect it, and you will never be able to explain where you got it. Not all sources of inspiration are tangible, but everything can be a source of inspiration.