Thursday, March 24, 2011



People are always asking authors where they get their ideas. We are asked so
often some of us say we get them from a mail order house in Schenectady. We
can buy a small themed pack for $9.95, or the bigger random bundle, which ismore than twice the size, for $15.95. If we are near the end of the previous bundle, sometimes we can hang on until there is a two-for-one sale.

It's not true, of course, although many people believe it when told that.

People who wonder about the source of ideas imagine that an idea comes fully
formed, all the characters named, all the plot points laid out, all the
twists and surprises itemized. All we authors have to do is run some words
through the idea, and we're done.

Ideas are not like that at all. They arrive more like tiny fragments broken
off something bigger that has vanished. The fragment has a couple of nouns,
at most. Maybe the fragment contains a feeling or a snapshot of the interior
or a room. Maybe the idea just flashes past the car window.

It is up to the author to hang on to the idea before it escapes, and to
build it into something solid. It's not so much a building block as a chip
off the corner of a foundation stone with a tiny scrap of mortar clinging to

Dozens of ideas may flit by in the course of a day. Not all of them are good
ideas, so the author has to learn how to recognise the worthwhile ideas and
let the rest drift by. Two authors may catch the same idea fragment, but
when they are done with it, they'll have two entirely different structures.

After twenty-five years of writing daily, I woke up one day to realize I had
no ideas. Not a one. This situation was not unexpected. I was embroiled in a
Series of Unfortunate Events, and emotional upheaval seems to burn ideas on
contact. I figured I would just wait it out, deal with the SofUE, and ideas
would come flitting around again.

Sadly, the SofUE have refused to resolve themselves. It's been three years,
and I still do not have a single idea to work with. Not even a wounded one.

So I guess that's it for me. Start the music. Cue the swan. Fade to black.

Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, each of the 15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel, Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel, That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis.


  1. I love the visuals. Ideas flashing by the car window. A chip of stone from a larger foundation story. Great stuff, Vicki. May you soon be able to reach out and catch some idea fragments. I miss your stories!

  2. I do too but your life has been hectic so maybe that explains it. I hope the ideas start flowing again and you resume writing.

  3. Or Vicki perhaps you need to get yourself to that mail order house in Schenectady and demand to be let into the back room?

    I simply cannot believe that someone with a collection of stories such as yours based on wildly innovative ideas can be facing a dry well.

    I can accept that you choose not to write. I can accept that life (and health) can interfere with energy needed for creating. You out of ideas? Can't believe that's truly happened!