Thursday, July 19, 2007

So Where do Ideas Come From?

A common complaint from Cartoonists and the like is that fans and others invariably bug them with questions like "So where do you get your ideas?". Now, this seems like a reasonable question... until you've heard it a thousand times, I guess, and also, there really isn't a 10 second answer. For a creative individual, ideas are everywhere, show up at the wierdest times, and have their roots in the most mundane of tasks.

Now, unlike other Cartoonists who have come up with trite answers to the question, I am going to take a few moments to give those of you wondering an inkling of where some ideas may come from, and some of the thought processes involved in developing them.

So, let us begin:
Once upon a time I was walking through my neighborhood. I like doing this, except that at times it can be very noisy, and I do NOT like noise. Next to lawn mowers, the most annoying sound to me is that of dogs barking... especially big nasty dogs that act like they want to rip your arms off and chew on them.

Now, dog lovers don't get mad... I love animals, but this is how my brain works, okay?

So after having to cross the street for the umpteenth time because of this giant nasty dog that lives behind a little fence and acts like he wants to tear me limb from limb, AND after his barking was so loud I couldn't even hear my iPod, I started to think. (Take notes, here, kiddies.)

I won't tell you what my first thoughts were, because I'm normally not violent, but after several close calls with dog doo that ignorant dog owners left on the sidewalk, I thought: Do we really need dogs anymore?

Seriously. Once upon a time we domesticated dogs so that we could have a tough ally against the darkness, and the wild animals that roamed there. We gave dogs shelter and food, and they helped us to feel safe at night, and kept the beasties away. Over the years the relationship developed, and the dog changede his job description slightly to be body gaurd, night watchman, and hunting pal. These jobs continued until recently, to be replaced by high tech security systems, police and security, and well, hunting isn't the neccesity it once was. So as hunting becomes less and less about feeding people, and more of a dying sport, the jobs we need dogs for are fading away.

Like good job hunters, dogs keep adapting to fit our society. They have become pets, and even part of our families. Some people even dress them up, treat them like children, and include them in family portraits. We train them for shows, give them fancy haircuts, and basically rob many of the smaller dogs of whatever dignity they once had. However, no matter how much you dress them, and bathe them, and spend on their haircuts, they are still animals. They mess the yard, they bring fleas and ticks into the house, and sometimes get nasty. So who needs them?

Remember, please, that this is a blog about ideas, not dogs. All of these thoughts above raced through my mind as I walked around my neighborhood, in a space of about ten minutes. So... dogs: who needs them?

I sure don't. I love animals, but I hate when I have to smell dog doo at the playground where I play with my kids. I hate finding it in my yard, and I get ill when I enter people's houses who don't clean up enough to get rid of that doggy smell.

So... enough of that. The point is, story ideas started to develop. Imagine a society without dogs, or even pets. Where would YOU go from there?

I imagined a future society where animal lovers are trying to free pets from their slavery, but confused about what to do with them then. Domestic animals can't just be let loose in the woods. Meanwhile, other animal lovers are fighting against the first bunch, for the rights to keep their pets. Now, imagine some guy who really likes some girl, except she's a fanatic in one of the above groups, most likely the first one. So he finds himself at radical meetings, even though he really doesn't care about the issues, but then suddenly finds himself over his head... maybe in an animal rescue attempt, with the police or others involved.

Hey, it could happen.

Where else could this idea go?

The Planet of the Apes movies had Astronauts bring home a disease that wiped out the dogs and cats, making apes move to pets, and then to slaves, which started all that trouble that eventually created a society of apes.

Clifford Simak went the other way with his great novel City. He envisaged a society where people disappeared, and the dogs created a new society where they uplifted other animals and taught them how to get along peacefully.

There are other examples, but I think I've talked long enough. The point is, you get a thought, and it evolves into something else, and again. Then you start putting the thoughts into the context of a story, creating ideas that lead from a beginning to a climax. From there you rough out your main characters, creating a hero that goes through some life change, whether from internal or external sources. Show how that hero changes for the better, to rise above his problems, and bring the story to a successful conclusion.

So you see, there is no easy answer. Either your brain works this way, or it doesn't. For a creative person, the conscious and unconcious minds are always thinking, always looking at everything, and I mean everything, from different points of views, and finding the interesting angles. A good story usually has months of thinking go into it before the typing even begins.

It's a lot of work, but very rewarding.

Until you get asked "Where did you get that idea?". :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS To you dog lovers: Instead of writing me hate mail, go clean up after your dog, okay? Thanks.


Brian Hughes said...

We need more cats. They know how to keep dogs under control. A quick smack on the nose with a well-aimed paw and a filthy glare and dogs scupper off sharpish. Now a world without cats would really be unthinkable.

As for where ideas come from, in J. K. Rowling's case, other people's books. (Ahem...note to more whiskey before scribbling in comments boxes.)

A fascinating insight into how the Stephenson brain works.

John said...

Hey Brian,

Just how much whiskey did you have, or wre you hoping that my blog would give insights intot he brain of Robert Lewis Stephenson, who I once thought I was related to? I mean, considering how long I've known you, I wouldn't think that a few sips of the good stuff would make you forget my name :0)

As for cats, well, at least they're not noisy, messy, or stupid like other furry quadrapeds. (Dog lovers, just pretend I'm talking about squirrels here, although I LIKE squirrels)

Anyways, Brian, it's good to know that someone's reading, whether they're sober or not. Wish I wasn't. :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Sorry about that. I'd had waaaay too much to drink last night, obviously. The fact that I was watching Jessica Stephenson in an episode of Dr. Who just before I left the message probably explains the Freudian/Jack Daniels' slip. Now I'm off to watch a documentary about Steventon's Rocket.