The origin of ideas is hard to pin down. It is one of those wispy things that most writers can’t explain. I don’t claim I am any better, but I can explain the source of some of my ideas and explain how the idea developed. As to how I knew that was a good idea... that’s part of the wispiness.
The first story I wrote (that I’d still let anyone read) where I was the master of every aspect was set in 2000 in Nebraska. It is the story of a small town family. The father is a Vietnam Vet, the mother a Japanese woman he met in California. The father is dying and the story is how his youngest daughter deals with it. This may sound somewhat original, but the basic family setup is one from my own family history. That youngest daughter, if the year were 1900, would be my great-grandmother. But I’ve changed almost every aspect to fit with the setting I wanted. So that’s the secret of that story, a family story reset with the characters fleshed out to match the setting. I still get good remarks from people who read it, though I do warn them to have a box of kleenex handy.
My Science Fiction writing was born at a desk where I received deliveries. I have no doubt that the source of some of my SF universe that sprang up around my characters came from the drivers I encountered on an almost daily basis. While I know that some of my early scenes were inspired by Han Solo, that quickly dropped away and left a more real, gritty image in my head of the world of space traders that I’d begun writing about. Out went the glamour and in came the drudgery, the paperwork, the day to day hassle of such a job. I drew conflict from an idea that had been stirring in my head since I’d read a novel and not liked one part of it. My interest in history added texture by imagining a world that had been there for a long time and I did my best to convey that. My first foray into this future galactic civilization will remain in the dusty files, but since then I have voyaged with other characters and created an even broader picture of the world I created. It is pieced together from many ideas and it is the union of these different pieces that makes the setting unique and gives me ideas for the stories to tell. Oddly, that same job that inspired the first story and the setting, inspired my third novel.
I get many of my ideas from life, but sometimes the idea only comes with lots of thought. I have considered writing a Fantasy novel for a long time. Even before I truly started writing, I had a setting in mind, complete with characters and general plot, but I have yet to write a single paragraph. What finally drew me to fantasy I cannot quite pin down, other than I had an idea and it had to be written (most writers will know about such ideas that won’t stay in their head or remain merely notes on a page). It started with the question of what I could write about that would be different and unusual. So much of Fantasy is filled with European-based folklore and I didn’t want to do anything like that. Instead my mind turned to Asia. I drew on Japanese folklore and some Chinese as well. But that wasn’t unique enough. I had to have some other idea. Then I hit on it, something very unusual. One protagonist would be somewhat of a cliche, a Canadian farm boy. But the other would be the most unusual person to counter that cliche, an Asian Muslim girl. When I put those pieces together, I just had to start writing.
Another idea I have (but yet to be written) involves a cat, a dragon painting, a deck of cards, and a music video. Ideas can come from anywhere. I’m always on the lookout for them, but often all I get is a snippet, not enough to form the whole idea. But if you can match the pieces into something that inspires your imagination (and more importantly, engages your readers), than you have something. And the funny thing about being a writer is that no matter how experienced a writer is, they can still get an idea that fails to live up to what they see in it.