In class last night, I ended up talking about... well, a lot of things, but one bit I thought amusing enough to share here is about where FANTASY ideas come from.
I've yakked on here at this blog a lot about where to get good science fictional ideas, but not so much about fantasy. One of the things I ended up writing on the chalkboard last night was: "notice weirdness."
I do think that's really fundamental to being a good speculative fiction writer. If you notice the weirdness of every day life, you begin to articulate ways you can describe that. I remember a class many years ago (or maybe it was the MarsCon panel on "plot" with Walter Hunt, in which Kelly McCullough and my alter ego got seriously wound up about how "every scene needs to be in SERVICE TO PLOT!!!" and I'd had so much coffee, Walter worried my head was going explode.) Anyway, the point is, that I remember explaining to someone that writing good exposition/narrative is like imagining that you (the character) are traveling with an invisible foreign exchange student (the reader) through you fantasy/science fictional landscape. When you stop to buy a soda, you might turn to him/her and explain, "In this country, we use credit cards for everything. Money isn't real here, it's just electrons, which represent debt...."
How this relates to "noticing weirdness" is that you can't really distill concepts like our economy into little, entertaining sound bytes unless you spend some time noticing just how absurd it all is, you dig?
And it doesn't have to be something so complex as our economy, it can be noticing other small, random weird bits that then mushroom into full-blown story ideas. The example I gave last night was from a real conversation I had with friend and fellow writer Sean M. Murphy on Tuesday night. He said, "Hey, I've got this great idea for you to steal!" and then proceeded to recount his drive over. Apparently, he was behind this truck that had one of those business decals on the back. It was for a tattoo parlor called "Monster Ink," which was cool enough in itself because it very easily lent itself to any number of urban fantasy ideas in which tattoos have magical/totemistic powers, but the best part, he said, was the phone number: (651) ***-DEAD, which automatically made him ask one of those central to story generating "what if" questions: What if a vampire ran a tattoo parlor??
So there you go.
My advice to all you writers out there: Notice Weirdness!