Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where do you get your ideas?

By Darvell Hunt

Last week in Las Vegas, I was propositioned by a prostitute in the parking lot of my hotel. This was the first time I have been offered the services of the oldest profession. It was a new experience for me and I’ve always been interested in new experiences.

One of the most common questions I hear writers being asked is: Where do you get your ideas?

I’ve heard lots of answers to this question over the years, but if I’m ever asked it, I have a simple one-word answer:


The job of a fiction writer is to write truths about life in the form of lies. We, as fiction writers, try to write stories that aren’t true, but sound true. But how can we do that? By writing about true things we observe from life.

My best stories have been inspired by true-life events, but enhanced by what could have, would have, or should have happened, in order to make the story more interesting or more powerful. In other words, we tell a tall tale, conjure up a fish story, or just simply exaggerate the facts, and pass it off as truth. Well, as fiction, anyway.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write a story about a character who gets propositioned by a prostitute in a hotel parking lot in Las Vegas, but at least I know the details of how it could happen. Since I promptly said, “No, thanks, I’m good!” I don’t know how the story would have gone from there, but as a fiction writer, I have lots of possibilities. This experience could be the first page of a mystery, a thriller, a comedy, and, yes, even a romance, depending on what other “true-life components” I decide to mix into the story (but most likely it will not become an LDS romance story, but, you know, given the right details, it could be).

If you tell the truth when you write, you have non-fiction. If you tell the truth, but lie about the details, you have fiction.

I hope you have weird experiences in your life, so your writing will be more interesting and more compelling. And, better yet, I hope you will have the insight to recognize those treasured moments for what they are: ideas for writing.


Dan Olsen said...

Truth is stranger than fiction.

I recently broke both of my elbows. After spending a week in the hospital I realized that I had a scene in a book I'm working on where a character breaks his arm. I re-read that portion and then changed most of it, based on what I had just experienced.

Maybe your story could start with a couple of missionaries that get propositioned by a prostitute. They pull out their Why Stay Morally Clean pamphlet and the story has a happy ending...

Darvell Hunt said...

I love it! Good suggestion!

Sorry about the elbows. Ouch. Hope you didn't break your funny bone.

One of my missionary companions had converted a prostitute and she drew resistence to join the church from her parents, because they were used to the money coming in from her illegal activities. Strange situation, but things like that do happen.

mrkhmusic said...

I have a similar response when people ask me where I get ideas for my songs. Again, as you, I say, "From Life." Sometimes I'll say, "Songwriting is Life!"

Then that leads to the question of if I have an advice for aspiring young songwriters: "Get a life!"



Tristi Pinkston said...

I'm good with having weird experiences, but I hope I'm never propositioned in a parking lot. :)

Darvell Hunt said...

Yeah, Tristi, THAT would be weird. 8-O

Mark, sounds like you got a life already. Kudos to you!


Anna Maria Junus said...

Sometimes life is wierder than fiction.

I used life when I had my humor column. The funniest columns were the ones that were absolutely, completely true, even down to the dialogue.

Someone said to me "you have a funny life,".

Not really, I just find the humor in life.

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