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#11: Ideas

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 issue.

Sometimes I’m asked where the ideas for writing Traveller material come from. The short confession is that I don’t know. But sometimes I’m able to spot the exact moment of inspiration and things just ‘flow’. This happened with “Into the Unknown” (spark of an idea in Africa, mulled in my head for 25 years, and then I sat down after TravCon11 and wrote 7,000 words), Estė Toivenen (inspired by a real person I met) and “Three Blind Mice” (Rouven Weinbach from 13Mann in Germany inviting me to write an adventure reminded me about a previous occasion when I’d helped someone translate an adventure out of German and I’d not known that a ‘blind passenger’ was a stowaway. Why not write about a blind stowaway?). The key thing I find with flashes of inspiration is to capture them at the time: in a notebook, on your phone, on a post-it. Whatever. Don’t rely on memory for more than a few moments. Or maybe that’s just me.

On other occasions it is more that ideas are bludgeoned out of my brain with a bat and each word seems a struggle. There’s an aphorism about writing being easy; just sit at a typewriter and open a vein.

However inspiration comes, I believe you can encourage them in a number of ways; I offer these, not as answers but as things that have helped me.

Read Traveller books. Soak yourself in the setting, but also in individual items of equipment, ships, vehicles or character write ups. As you inhabit the Traveller universe in your mind, you’ll more easily generate connections and be inspired. The adventure “Ashfall”* grew from two sentences in my write-up of a Darrian Special Arm Commando. I’m not certain I could find inspiration in a random page of Traveller material, but it’s a rich universe.

Read science fiction. It goes without saying but I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve thought ‘that would make a cool adventure/gadget/character’. Of course, if you’re writing for publication, beware of copyright issues. Most recently for me, Undertow by Elizabeth Bear suggested an amphibian, watery society and Robert Llewellyn’s News from… books suggested very interesting and very different futuristic cultures.

Read out of genre. Detective stories, romance (yes, really!), non-fiction. All these can give a breadth and depth to writing or trigger thoughts that lead into other ideas. Four from the Jungle grew out of reading some natural history and “Wooden Ships and Iron Men” came out of books about Nelson, Hornblower and the like – not to mention living near HMS Victory and having a father who took part in field gun running.

Watch the world around. It might be a news item, a URL on the Traveller Mailing List pointing to some new technology, a conversation at a bus stop, or even a chance encounter with someone like Estė above. All of these can be mined. My series of TL8 vehicles in these pages (a ferry, bus, catamaran, etc.) all came straight out of my daily commute to work.

Finally, when inspiration is flagging, try sub-creation. Traveller is great for mechanical systems such as UPPs, UWPs and more recently life events, QREBS and so on, which take no creativity at all – just dice rolls. I find that looking at these and beginning to interpret them can be a great source of ideas as I try to explain to myself what these numbers mean, or what a combination of numbers means. Plus when the creativity bug does return, you’ll have a great collection of worlds or characters to draw on.

* Not yet published but used twice at TravCon14.