If you were to take an ordinary apple, remove the dozen or so seeds and plant them, you’d get twelve completely different apple trees, not a single one would resemble the apple it come from. Growing an apple tree from seed is like playing the lottery or writing a bestseller, it’s a longshot that you’d get anything edible.
Ideas are like apple seeds, especially ideas for stories. They can come from any source, a song, a familiar smell, a random thought. But what happens from there is where the idea turns into its own. And like the wild apple trees, most wild ideas are not fit for human consumption.
Sometimes I think my idea for a story is dull or contrived, that it’s just a bad idea. I’ll put that idea in a dead end file, usually a few lines, sometimes just a title to a story that sounds great but I have nothing to put beneath it. Occasionally, I’ll need a good character to throw in a piece so I’ll sift through that dead end file. And often times I can graft that character onto the story with wonderful results. The same way they take a branch from a Golden Delicious tree and graft it onto the root of a wild tree.
The wild apple trees were cultivated in the early United States for making apple cider more than for eating. The tart juice was often fermented into hard cider or freeze distilled into applejack. What would normally be useless became indispensable. Wild ideas can sometimes yield the best stories.
The thing about wild ideas is that we have a tendency to try and rein them in, make them conform to expectations. I had an idea for my novel that involved an aqueduct. I worked on that concept for weeks, studying ancient and modern aqueducts, getting the details of my waterway down perfectly. As grand and complex as it was it still seemed no more than a municipal construct. Then a wild idea came and that open-aired pipeline became The Great Aqueduct, a thousand mile long waterway that fed a hundred cities and countless farms.
I abandoned the storyline in my novel, but I’ll never forget the moment I realized my concept was too small, too normal. Our worlds should be filled with great wonders and extreme heterozygotes. And maybe one day, in another novel, I can write about that captain who guides an ice-barge down the Great Aqueduct and his wild adventures.