This is a question common to artists of every kind, and the answer tends to be universal: Anywhere!
There is no exact science to how or why one receives ideas. Obviously it varies significantly from person to person, but in essence, inspiration can strike at any time or place. For authors, this tends to be in the field of books, though visual or performance arts such as film or music can be likewise inspirational. It just depends.
For myself, books are definitely at the top of the list. Be they fiction or non, if I don’t have at least one stimulating reading selection on my agenda, my own writing tends to slow down or come off as a bit lackluster (at least, from my perspective). Movies are a big one too. It doesn’t really matter what kind of movie as long as the plot is solid and the acting not so horrible as to be distracting. And of course, as a member of the gamer generation, I won’t deny that I’ve had my share of brilliant streaks come to me while working furiously to reach the next level (Who says all those hours in front of the television screen are wasted?).
But the best stories, I think, receive their inspiration from several sources. I’ve always thought of my longest and oldest project as a combination of The Lord of the Rings movies, the Guardians of Ga’Hoole book series, and the semi-mythical realm of a PS2 game I grew up playing called Gladius.That said, as writers, our greatest inspiration undoubtedly comes from the written words of others. Reading great books is the key to writing great books. Which books are the best, one might ask? Any and all! Again, it is mostly a matter of personal taste as to what one reads, but if authors are advised to “Write what you know,” then my addendum to that would be simply to “Know a lot!”
It is sometimes suggested that authors should read opposite to what they write (i. e. if you write science fiction, read science fact; or if you write thrillers, read some introspective memoirs). While this concept has its merits, let’s be honest: most of us enjoy writing in our chosen genre because it is the genre we most enjoy reading. I write YA fantasy because until relatively recently I was a YA, and I still like fantasy. So while reading a lot of history and science may lend credibility to your story (a topic I will cover separately in a future blog post), if you are writing a mystery novel, you may want to actually read some mystery novels too.
One thing that is certain, is that you don’t want to let that epiphany slip by unnoticed. Nothing is worse than experiencing a moment of genius and then later trying to recall what happened, only to remember it imperfectly if at all. (Yes, it’s happened to me, and more than likely every other writer out there at least once.) Sometimes there’s a temptation to keep following an idea to see where it leads, but don’t until you’ve got the initial spark recorded, or you may never be able to find that perfect starting point again.