I suppose I should mention where the ideas in my random encounter chart come from originally before they’re twisted and deformed into future ideas.  I mean… refined.  Yeah, refined like a chilled, vintage Boone’s Strawberry Hill.

The thing is… ideas come from everywhere.  Let me spell that out for the people resisting the notion.  E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.  Ideas can ignite from anything you hear, see, smell, touch, taste or exfoliate.  Take a look at a few samples of idea harvesting:

  • "Oh, look… I overheard a conversation between some people and their discussion bubbled with awesomesoap."  Uh-oh, Jeff’s eavesdropping again.  No stalking!  Bad Jeff!  Seriously though, imagine sitting someplace busy where dozens and dozens of widely varying conversations flitter about within earshot.  Your attentions gets pulled here-and-there and through it all, you might hear a jumble of words: "Pizza giganticus… his girlfriend’s girlfriend punched him out… backpacking across Greenland…"  Write all that down and let it percolate a touch.  There’s probably some idea forming right now (even if it’s an off-the-wall one).  When people converse in public, they exhibit this passion for exaggeration and not caring who hears them.  Don’t let their efforts be in vain!
  • "People!  Public!  Personal space persecution!  Aaarrrgh!"  For those of you exhibiting signs of social anxiety/awkwardness/apprehension, don’t worry.  A slightly less effective means exists for listening in on conversations… the Internet.  Twitter, message boards and chat rooms all provide eavesdropping opportunity but don’t expect it to be the same raw, unfiltered conversation you’d pick up out in the wild where humans dwell en masse.  Most of it gets edited for public consumption.  Just be sure to go where people talk about interesting things or follow people on Twitter discussing a wide variety of subjects.  With enough variety, your Twitter feed evolves into a stream of human-like consciousness and ideas.
  • "OMGageddon!  In one day, science made the universe its bitch with some new quantum discovery AND spent years of research figuring out which part of the brain controls the uber-dangerous ‘puppy dog look’."  I swear these science websites and magazines kick out story potential material all the time.  I call ’em virtual assembly lines of potential.  I sometimes use a swear word or four in there for emphasis. 
  • Oh, I hear you whiners out there, "But my story has nothing to do with science."  That doesn’t mean science can’t influence your story.  Science is more than math and physics and chemistry.  There’s psychology.  Struggling with a great villain?  That’s the science to keep an eye on.  There’s anthropology.  Need a well-developed world for your epic fantasy?  That’s the science to turn to.  Don’t expect a flood of ideas if you’re constantly damming off idea waterways whenever you don’t think they suit you or your writing.  "Oh, why doesn’t anyone like my fantasy genre story?  I’ve read everything related to fantasy and swords & sorcery.  Why, oh why?  Woe is me?"  Be brave… take a step away from some of the genre inbreeding and don’t be afraid to let ideas jump in from outside the norm of the genre.  Magic based on quantum theory?  Alien parasites turning people into  fantasy uber-champions?  Radiation forcing the evolution of animals in a human colony ship leading to a new race of primitive humanoids stepping onto a life-supporting plant after landing?
  • "Honey, guess what?  A group of people survived a blizzard by holing up in a freezer where it was warmer.  I’m so glad we live in Texas."  Ah, the joy of crazy news stories.  Whether heartwarming or horrifying, they provide such wonderful compost for my backyard idea garden.  Even if I don’t immediately "feel" a story has the potential for an idea, all I need is for it to generate some reaction in me to put it onto the list.  Any reaction… any emotion… any stray thought… if it gets me thinking or feeling anything, then it can be used to spark my imagination.  Sure, you might want to throw that little fish back… but you can always use it to catch a bigger fish.

See how all that works?  Now, repeat the mantra with me.  "Ideas come from everywhere."  Again… with feeling this time.  Better yet, write it down a hundred times to let it sink in.