Monday, 27 October 2014


My writing friend, Andrea, has posted a blog called “Ideas” on Fiction Southeast.  You can read it here.  It got me thinking about where I get my ideas, and how I develop a short piece of fiction from an idea.

Unlike Andrea, I don’t seem to have an overabundance of ideas. In fact, if I have one a month I’m doing really well*. My consolation is that very often that one idea is enough to generate a solid and reasonably good piece of fiction. As it happens I have just had an idea for a short piece of work. But first, some background: Sunline Press, based in Perth, sent out an invitation a few days ago for writing for a new online writing journal to be known as Cuttlefish.  You can read about it here. And I started thinking about a piece of work of only 1,200 words, which is not a lot of words. I spent, no, sorry wasted, a great deal of time last week trying to wrangle 700 words, which I already had, into this longer length of 1,200 but ultimately ditched my efforts. 

These guys could have done with some ideas.
Then I had a thought. Previously this year I was in hospital to have a portacath removed. (A portacath is a medical appliance inserted beneath the skin of your body whereby drugs and other fluids can be readily administered, rather than having a needle injected into your arm every time.) Anyway, there was a little incident with the surgeon that I thought was amusing, and I had always meant one day to write it down and see if I could make something of it. As any writer will know one little incident is not enough to form a basis for a short piece of fiction.

So I knew I couldn’t make a worthwhile story with just one incident, because a piece of short fiction should convey something meaningful, whether it be emotion or beauty or philosophy. Then I remembered that when I first had the portacath inserted, there were a couple of orderlies pushing my trolley-bed to the theatre, talking between themselves,  who had to tear themselves away from their conversation to ask my name and date of birth. (When you are in hospital, it seems to me that people ask you for your name and date of birth every five seconds. I can’t blame them; I would not like to be muddled up with Jane Doe who is having her appendix removed.) 

I still felt this wasn’t enough, but nevertheless I started bashing it out on the keyboard, and while I was writing the rest of it came to me. My point here is that very often you may think you don’t have sufficient material but once you get going you manage to draw what you need out of thin air, or so it seems. What happens is that you start inhabiting the world you’ve created, and because you’re immersed in it, you get more ideas. 

This little girl is desperate for an idea.
Something else I’ve noticed is that more often than not, there’s an autobiographical element to my ideas for short fiction. Sometimes I can start with the autobiographical element, but by the time the story is finished, that element has gone and been replaced by something more pertinent. 

Please feel free to leave your comments. It would be really interesting to hear from other writers on the subject.  

And, clearly, these seagulls all have the same idea.
*One way around a lack of ideas is a writing exercise you do with another friend, whereby they start a story and email it to you, then you add some sentences and return it for them to add a para or two, and so on. I blogged about it here.   

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