On writing

Analysis of an idea

It’s the perennial question people ask of writers. “Where do you get your ideas?”

Everywhere. Anywhere. Ideas come from the strangest places, the most ordinary of places. They pop into your mind suddenly, or come back again and again, sometimes over a period of years.

They don’t all come the same way, they don’t even come when you have pen and paper handy. They just come, whether you’re ready for them or not.

Here’s an idea that popped into my head overnight.

It started with an image. The image of the two snow leopard cubs from Bronx Zoo that’s making its way around the internet right now.

This took me, via Twitter, to a site called ZooBorns—cute baby creatures born in zoos—where I read about a cheetah cub abandoned by its mother who had been paired with a puppy. The cub and the puppy will be raised together, and as they get older the dog’s body language lets the cheetah know that there is nothing to fear in new or strange surroundings. There are four such cheetah-dog pairings at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Cheetah and companion. Photo credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

This is part of a photo from the ZooBorns site. The picture was taken by Ken Bohn, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


My first thought—after the initial, “Aw, cute,”—was, “Do the cheetahs ever eat the dogs?” I mean, cheetahs are fast and can bring down a sizeable prey.

I didn’t seriously think they would or the zoo wouldn’t pair them, but it’s in the writer’s mind to always wonder what if …

What if a cheetah killed its companion?

What if it killed it in front of an audience of zoo patrons?

That’s when the imagination starts to go wild. What if the dog wanted to be killed and eaten, for it knew that its essence would be taken into the cat and they’d be companions forever?

What if the companion wasn’t a dog at all? What if the cat was alien, and the companion human? What if, in this universe, there were some races who thought of humans as no more than animals?

And then, what if this human had allowed himself to be captured because he needed to meld his soul into the cat’s so that he and the cat between them could overthrow the aliens who considered both races as non-sentient?

What if …

And so it goes? The idea morphs from what it originally was into something else altogether. The final story is likely to end up as something entirely different. Like, maybe an alien feline species who always pair their soul with another sentient species, and chance upon a strange, two-legged race (which they don’t realise is sentient), and one of them accidentally ingests a human soul.

For us, that’s where it stops for this particular idea. Neither of us are enamoured with it. It’s a dead-end. But it’s only one idea.

Ideas are everywhere.

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