this weekend i read Neil Gaiman's Stardust, because i want to go see the movie, and i couldn't do that without reading the book in advance. And reading it felt nice, because it's been quite some time since i've read a fairy tale. It set my imagination on fire, and it was at this point that i realized i hadn't set my imagination free in quite a long time. I've been thinking stupidly rational in the last weeks - like everything needs to be highly conceptual.
And i went to "3:10 to Yuma" and i kinda hated it cause it was long and predictable and generally bad, but a friend i deeply trust told me it was actually very good for a western. And that annoyed me even more because it seemed like i should have judged it in a particular category, and compare the experience of watching it with the experience of watching other westerns, not movies in general.
And there was this really nice project for a social campaign - a real brief, a real problem, for a real target. And i briefed, and things seemed to be ok, but then i received a mail from one of the creatives working on the project who told me that he had scanned the winning social campaigns in various festivals and that the methods generally used for those campaigns were metafore and absurd litteracy, starting from a message such as "call", "donate" or "sign". And he wanted me to give him a new brief that took these observations into consideration (although sadly enough for him, the project really wasn't about calling, donating or signing anything). Of course i smiled, then i laughed. I laughed because instead of trying to come up with something different, engaging and really cool, he was just concerned about fitting the already established advertising patterns.
These things crossed my mind this weekend and made me think a lot about ideas. Original, special ideas. Not the ones you get out of applying a certain pattern or recipe. Not the ones that strike you as being advertising. And i remembered this really nice Neil Gaiman essay entitled "Where do you get your ideas?", a piece in which the author gives some answers to this annoying question he gets so often. It's a beautiful piece about unleashing imagination. About trying to give something special to your audience. It's the type of "thinking outside the box" i'd like to see more in advertising as well. Here are some quotes, but do read the whole thing. It's really worth it.
"The Ideas aren't the hard bit. They're a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you're trying to build: making it interesting, making it new."
"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.
You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if...?
(What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse? What if you all found out that your teacher was planning to eat one of you at the end of term - but you didn't know who?)
Another important question is, If only...
(If only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals. If only I could shrink myself small as a button. If only a ghost would do my homework.)
And then there are the others: I wonder... ('I wonder what she does when she's alone...') and If This Goes On... ('If this goes on telephones are going to start talking to each other, and cut out the middleman...') and Wouldn't it be interesting if... ('Wouldn't it be interesting if the world used to be ruled by cats?')...
Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose ('Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don't they any more? And how do they feel about that?') are one of the places ideas come from.
An idea doesn't have to be a plot notion, just a place to begin creating. Plots often generate themselves when one begins to ask oneself questions about whatever the starting point is.
Sometimes an idea is a person ('There's a boy who wants to know about magic'). Sometimes it's a place ('There's a castle at the end of time, which is the only place there is...'). Sometimes it's an image ('A woman, sifting in a dark room filled with empty faces.')
Often ideas come from two things coming together that haven't come together before. ('If a person bitten by a werewolf turns into a wolf what would happen if a goldfish was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen if a chair was bitten by a werewolf?')"