creativity workshop: on idea making

Where do writers get their ideas from? I can’t say I have much difficulty in coming up with ideas, but I’ve never stopped to think about just how I do it.

In this past week’s Creativity Workshop, Merrilee Faber wrote an excellent, straight-forward post on coming up with ideas. I’d highly recommend the post to anyone who struggles to come up with something new to write about.

As part of her post, Merrilee included a rather fun exercise to get the creative juices flowing: look at three photos, and come up with three distinct ideas for each. I had a sit down with a pen and paper to see what I could come up with.


Creative commons via moriza

  • This is a pair of deaf aliens trying to disguise themselves as humans. They’re attempting to replicate human communication. Sadly, while they have mastered the non-verbal aspects of language, their impairment has meant they’ve missed out entirely on the verbal side of language.
  • The photograph is a fake; the images of the man and woman have been superimposed. Why? Because someone is trying to frame the man for the murder of the woman, in order to ruin his reputation in the run up to the general election.
  • The man is a modern-day NY genii. He’s telling the woman to make a wish before her wishes expire, and is counting down the seconds. She’s frowning, deep in thought; there’s so much she wishes she could have, it’s almost impossible to pick.


Creative commons via bslmmrs

  • This is the last island on Earth safe from the zombie invasion… or is it? The man in the far right of the picture, near the shoreline, is part of a new breed of zombies that knows how to swim.
  • To avoid temptation, the world has been drained of colour (notice the grey sea and clouds). These cottages are the last bastion of safety for the rebellion, who believe that living in colour should be a human right.
  • In this tiny fishing village, everyone knows everyone else’s business, which makes it that much harder to have an affair. But two neighbours insist on sleeping together, and when one of them gets pregnant, the village community is at risk of falling to pieces.


Creative commons via Cobalt123

  • From the outside, the button looked normal. But a quick scan revealed that inside the button was an energy source unlike any they had come across before. An energy source that could destroy the world if it were ever released….
  • New technology that tracks the flight of bees reveals that bees are in fact highly evolved beings, limited by their recursive syntax. The photo tracks the flight of one bee in particular, who is attempting to communicate with humans to stop the destruction of his hive.
  • If he built up momentum, the soul would be able to break free of the glass orb keeping him confined. He began to spin, slowly at first and then with increasing speed, until he could feel the edges of the orb ripple with the pressure. When he broke free, the property tycoon that had captured him was going down.

I’m a bit surprised by the randomness of my mind.

I found the the third image quite hard to work with. The fact that it was so abstract meant that I had more difficulty in creating associations which would lead me to a plot idea. And the image to me was so very sci-fi, that I also found it hard to think outside the genre! But the image I found hardest to work with was the second, because my thoughts kept running along the same lines: either the idyllic houses were hiding something monstrous, or they were the last bastion of safety. I am much stronger at creating stories around people and characters than around settings.

So what do you think of my ideas? And what do these images inspire in you?


About A.M. Harte

A.M. Harte writes twisted speculative fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic Above Ground and the zombie love anthology Hungry For You. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and is utterly addicted to chocolate.
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6 Responses to creativity workshop: on idea making

  1. MaryWitzl says:

    I’d have the easiest time making up a story for the first image — I like making up stories about people and how they relate to each other — but the last image would be tough for me too. This is an interesting exercise, though, and it’s a good example of how writers find material. We look at people or places or situations we can’t quite figure out and let our brains explore possibilities.

    • a.m.harte says:

      Yes — I think this is something most writers do subconsciously, but it was definitely interesting to take a more proactive approach and see what I could come up with. I’d recommend trying it for yourself!

  2. Merrilee says:

    You’ve got some lovely ideas there Anna. Glad you enjoyed the exercise!

    • a.m.harte says:

      Thanks! I made the conscious effort to try imagine plots for different genres — it helped me think outside the box. I’ve a short friday flash coming tomorrow inspired off of that second picture actually!

  3. MauiPotiki says:

    I KNEW they were aliens! Having said that I really like the idea that hes a genie too! I love this sorta writing exercise :)

    • a.m.harte says:

      Haha! I’m glad I’m not the only one to think ‘aliens’ when I see that picture! :-) It was my first time with this kind of exercise but I did enjoy it — worth repeating, definitely.

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