Reader question – Where do you get your ideas from?

Writers are asked lots of questions, including, Where do you get your ideas from? and Do you model your characters on people you’ve met?

Our ideas come partly from life, yes, and the small anecdotes that for some reason we recall, even after ten, twenty or even forty years, because they had a sort of sticking quality. Once upon a time, they pierced the grey matter in our heads and have hung on – the incident of the sugar bowl on the terrace, the broken door, cross Mummy, the peculiar scent of those flowers… All that kind of detail finds its way into what we write, one way or another. Doubtless, we are not even aware we may be doing it: But given that we write about who and what we are, that is inevitable.

Do I model my characters on people I’ve met? Sometimes, though I try to only do that deliberately – I may write about my father and share memories of him; If I think of a motherly figure, someone who shares those qualities with me might surface to lend colouring to a short story.

Otherwise, no, I don’t lift people wholesale onto my pages. I am as likely to get my character leads from the world of fiction, and I would like to keep my friends and respect their privacy. In any case, there are as many possible characters and traits as there are atoms in the universe. We hardly need to plagiarise real people, do we?

Though as disciples of the written word we don’t typically end the day smeared in sticky smudges of violent colour and with turps in our hair, neither writing nor authorship are derivative, any more than photography is derivative of art. Writing has its peculiar pleasures, disciplines and creative outcomes. And my characters? Are totally themselves. Where they come from and what they will do, only they can tell me.

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