It’s what I consider one of the strangest writer interview questions: where do you get your ideas? As more writers get interviewed on more blogs, I thought it was a question that was going to die, but it hasn’t. I’ve seen it asked in two different author interviews just this week, despite the fact that the answer is almost always the same. Writers get their story ideas from everywhere. Everything.
A newspaper article. An overheard conversation. A non-verbal interaction glimpsed. A random string of free associations. A dream.
I like getting the occasional story idea from dreams, because I always assume that it must be a powerful distillation of my subconscious mind. Something that has stewed for weeks, months, maybe years. Of course, it could just be the mental equivalent of random detritus vacuumed out of the couch cushions.
I had one this week, involving a set of conjoined triplets. I woke and scribbled down the details, some snatches of dialog, first impressions of narrator and characters. The next morning, it made sense and it still intrigued, so I set to writing a first draft.
As do a lot of writers I know, I like research. Even if I’ll never use the information gathered except as background, I like to learn more about the things I’m writing about. This story idea is no exception. The first thing I did was Google “conjoined triplets.” I was quickly reminded that the internet is full of ignorance. Places like Yahoo! Answers and Ask.com are just as likely to contain misinformation as they are to contain facts.
If you’re willing to rely on the guidance of random strangers, you’d leave your research into conjoined triplets fairly convinced that such a thing is unheard of and undocumented in medical history. From that, I might well assume that my story idea is likely to be fantastical in nature. One intrepid respondent to a question about conjoined triplets suggested that the odds were 1 in 11,000,000,000. No idea how that was arrived at, but as a former Freshman Composition instructor, I knew what I had to do next: actual research.
Now here’s where the internet is fabulous: online access to the University’s database of journals, including full articles from The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Just like that, the truth came out. In Greece, in this century, doctors prenatally diagnosed a case of conjoined triplets. Genetically identical females, well-developed, and sharing a single heart and liver, were diagnosed using three-dimensional ultrasound at 22 weeks gestation.
Although the fetuses were well-developed and might well have survived to birth, the pregnancy was terminated because of the mother’s health. I won’t post them here, because they are rather disturbing, but the photos make clear that conjoined triplets, no matter how rare, are not merely in the realm of fantasy or science fiction.
It was also a good reminder that no matter where a story idea comes from, it needs to go to factual resources to get its legs.