Unearthing Ideas


Where do ideas come from? Ambeth was inspired, as I’ve said before, by something that happened to me when I was a child. But it has grown and evolved, the characters telling me things and taking me down paths I didn’t realise were there, and I’ve learnt to sit back and let them tell the story, my fingers mere conduits on the keyboard for what they wish to say. I’ve a few other ideas floating around – a house full of leaks, a glimpse of something in the Thames, a porcelain cap for my tooth, a dead woman – they are all jumping off points for other stories that are still percolating in my brain, waiting to come out.

I’ve heard the feeling of finishing a story being described as ‘entering open water’ – heading out to sea. But for me the analogy that rang true immediately came from the great Stephen King. He described finding a story as ‘unearthing a fossil,’ and as soon as I read those words I could see mine. Can still see them, poking out from the forest floor, delicate carapaces of bone or polished wood, it’s hard to tell as I unearth even more of them. Three are now clear of the ground, the stories complete, just a bit of polishing required. The others are still offering up new discoveries, new aspects every time I look at them, whether it is a change of only a few words or a whole new idea. But the important thing is that I keep looking at them, keep exploring the angles, the nooks and crevices, until the job is done, the story told.

Perhaps it is something to do with the way a writer’s brain works. That we can take a single small event, or notice something strange while out for a walk and spin from them a story. Ideas are everywhere, if you care to look for them.

14 thoughts on “Unearthing Ideas

  1. That’s a really interesting idea – that a story is a kind of half unearthed thing, and it takes a writer to uncover it and make it presentable. I agree completely about fragments of things that lead on to generating ideas and stories – the only problem is finding time to write them down! This wasn’t always the case for me, though – ideas and initial concepts were the bit I struggled with, until FFTT came to me. Perhaps it’s like all exercise – the more you do, the easier it becomes. What was the childhood event that generated Ambeth, btw? x

    • Thanks Fay – it was an idea that spoke to me as soon as I heard it. I just started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and she also makes an interesting case for ideas being out there, waiting for us to get them. And the idea that sparked Ambeth? I actually did find a strange valley when I was a kid – I was with friends and we were about to run down into the trees when we heard a scream that scared us away. It was such an odd experience – now, as an adult, I wonder what it was we saw. It stayed with me and became the start of Oak and Mist.

  2. I love the way you’ve described this, and written about it so beautifully! When the writing is flowing, I feel like that, too—that I’m a mere conduit. And I love unearthing treasures and truths. When I was in Year Eight at school, we had to write down the top three jobs we’d like to be. Archaeologist was either first or second on my list (I can’t remember!), and maybe that’s what I more-or-less do know—unearth truths and treasures, using words and a pen.

    • Thanks Louise – oddly, Archaeologist was one of my top career choices too! I even tried to get into university for it, but I didn’t have a chemistry credit (though I was an honour student) so I couldn’t get in. So I like the idea that we are still discovering treasures, but in a different way 🙂

  3. Cracking post. Couldn’t agree more. I get overwhelmed by the number of ideas and sometimes they drift off whilst I scrabble for a pen, other times I let them pass by knowing they aren’t for me, they are just passing by whilst they look for the right author. But interestingly i probably describe it the other way – they fossilise over time in my mind, and once they are good and solid and ancient looking thats when i know they are ready to be written! rather than finding them fossilised I find them like a discarded bone, its too fresh, meat still hangs off it, it needs to age and ripen till its ready!

    • Thanks Sacha! I love your description of how ideas come to you and sometimes pass you by – I’m just reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and she talks about that too, the notion that ideas are out there looking for the right person, and we have to be ready to catch them when they come along 🙂

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