Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Spark

This has probably happened to you before: You hear about a new book—someone tells you the premise—and you think, why didn’t I think of that?

I remember reading Jurassic Park not long after the movie came out and thinking, that Michael Crichton has quite a brain. Mosquitoes carrying dinosaur blood? An amusement park of dinosaurs? Brilliant. The idea is only the beginning of a good novel—you still have to write the thing—but still, a good idea will take you far.

This past weekend, I was thinking a lot about ideas while sitting through two and half hours of Christopher Nolan’s new movie Inception. In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio is a dream thief—someone who steals valuable secrets hidden in the unconscious mind while his victims slumber. DiCaprio is given a task of embedding an idea in someone’s head while they dream and making them believe the idea is their own.

The movie is a beautiful maze. You see a city roll up like an old newspaper, you see the mysterious world of dreams, but what I really wanted to see was something you can never see: an idea forming in someone’s head.

Like a dream, a good idea develops on its own. It seems the best ideas for novels are the ones that come easiest. In fact, that’s how the idea for Inception came to Nolan while in college—lucid dreaming after a long night out.

J.K. Rowling was on a delayed train traveling from Manchester to London when the idea of a “black-haired, bespectacled boy named Harry Potter” popped in her head. For hours, she sat on the train as the story unraveled itself, a world floating around her head. And with no pen or paper, she just let the idea develop in her thoughts.

E.B. White was in his barn when he saw a spider spinning a giant web when the idea of Charlotte’s Web came to him.

It seems to have good ideas, you have to open your brain to outside inspirations. You have to be alert to the possiblity of getting a new idea.

Then, in other instances, it just seems a good idea is just a manifestation of sheer talent. Victor Hugo wrote that his inspiration for The Hunchback of Notre-Dame came from a carving of the word “fatality” in Greek that he had found in the cathedral. One word was enough.

1 comment:

  1. Hearing about these moments of inspiration is, well, inspiring. But it takes persistence, hard work, lots of talent and a degree of luck to turn that brilliant idea into the book (film, painting, whatever) worthy of that original spark.