Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend a one-day conference at a nearby university. Dan Wells was the keynote speaker and he talked about ideas.
He said that the worst question you could ever ask an author is where they get their ideas. I agree with that, but if you ask me where I get my ideas I can always pretty much tell you.
That's it. He said pretty much the same thing as far as teaching us where to get ideas from.
The first novel I ever set out to write grew from a spark of an idea based on the meaning of the main character's name.
The second novel I set out to write, which became the first completed novel, was my exploration of identity. I guess. I mean, the main character was a girl who lives life as herself but lives her author life under a carefully guarded pseudonym. It's totally implausible but it was a fun story to write.
Novel 3 was the inkling of an itch to write something in a paranormal vein. Reading the Wikipedia page on my chosen paranormal being sparked the entire mythology when I read a two-sentence paragraph at the very bottom of the page.
Novel 4 was an expansion of a story I'd written that was sparked by a TV series I caught in syndicated reruns. There was a storyline that was prominent in its final season and I asked myself how it would work if the characters were LDS and lived a different set of standards than the characters on the TV show.
Novel 5 (current WiP) was a combination of a love of fairy tales (more the Disney-fied tales rather than the more original versions) and an idea that struck me while playing a demo of a video game.
In all of these instances, though, I twisted the inspiration around so I wasn't copy-catting something that, frankly, was under copyright or some other protection. I mirrored elements but I shaped them until they really don't resemble the original idea by the time the story gets through its final iteration. (In some cases that final iteration is the first draft as they're more practice at aspects of the craft and not intended for publication.)
Ideas come from everywhere. Sometimes we don't even know where in our real lives they come from. I have two sticky notes on my desktop (I'm a Mac girl, what can I say?) whose contents are dreams I had two nights in a row that I plan on merging together to form another novel. It might become the project I work on for NaNo. But I might work on the YA adventure novel I've had on the backburner for ages. (Which was also sparked by a dream.)
Writers are notorious hermits. Or so most people seem to think. The truth is we're quiet observers of life. My mom gave me a t-shirt for Christmas one year that reads "Be careful or you will end up in my novel."
If people knew how true that is they'd all become hermits to avoid their characteristics ending up in books. (Not that smart authors pull people wholesale from real life. But if you know an author you can bet they've thought about taking a quirk or tic you've exhibited and putting it into a character.)