Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Monday, August 15, 2005

Where ideas come from

The pleasure of writing fiction is that you are always spotting some new approach, an alternative way of telling a story and manipulating characters; the novel is such a wonderfully flexible form. Penelope Lively

This morning, on the train, several disperate thoughts came together, and from them an idea for a scene in the wip was formed. Often writers are asked, 'where do your ideas come from?' and I always thought I couldn't answer. (Or that the answer was 'my imagination.') I see now that this is only half the answer. The genesis of ideas come from things around you. Not necessarily things that happen to you personally, but from things you witness, or read about.

This is how:

Portraits. I've always been a fan of portraits but on Friday evening I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London. 'You notice things in portraits,' my friend said to me, ' that I've never noticed before.'

Details. And this got me thinking how these details can show just as much of the artist perhaps, or the zeitgeist, as the sitter.

In the wip there is now a portrait, and in this portrait is a significant detail.

Colour. There was a discussion last week on an email list I'm on about how some people visualise words in their heads in colour. It doesn't happen to me (actually I can't even visiualise words in my head - I have to write then down) but I started to think about the significance of colour.

A portrait with a detail that gives a clue. And the significance of the clue is in the colour.

Appearance and identity. It's an old question but one which came back at me as I tried on my costume for next weekend's Jane Austen Fayre where I'm reading extracts from The Lady Soldier. How far can the dress disguise the person. How far can I really become a 'Regency lady' by wearing a Regency lady's day dress?

A portrait with a detail that gives a clue, colour that confirms the clue, and dress that shows the sitter's alternative identity.


  • At 12:08 am, Blogger Donna Alward said…

    Coming up with ideas is hard for me. THat's why I love brainstorming with other writers so much. I think those powers of observation (like you seeing things in the painting) are developed by many and don't come naturally. Other times I think the ideas are in there and just waiting for a detail to come and unlock them.

  • At 7:28 am, Blogger Kate Allan said…

    Yes, brainstorming really works too because it provokes quick development of ideas.

  • At 8:37 pm, Blogger Diane said…

    One of my all time favourite exercises is Instant Writing - yes, really - because it helps you come up with ideas you might normally discard.


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