The last few posts have sent me cycling back to thinking about plots (as opposed to plotting, which involves ultra-secret societies and if I told you I'd have to... Oh, sorry. Wrong kind of plot): where they come from, how they grow, and of course, the question that makes every writer cringe, "Where do you get your ideas?"
Me, I get ideas and plots everywhere. The problem is keeping the beggars from metastasizing, not finding them. It helps that I read widely, all over the spectrum. One of my recent idea-fodder scores is Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku - who is a theoretical physicist and one of the founders of string theory. In this book, a whole range of science fictional staples including force-fields, teleportation, FTL travel and the like get the "Okay, so how would we do this?" treatment.
It turns out that everything needed to make a force field has been manufactured in some form. Some of the components are still very much experimental manufacture, while others are mature, but they all exist. As such, it's feasible that somewhere within 100 years you could be able go to the store and buy yourself a force field.
Levitation (yes, I want my flying car, damn it!) is in the same range.
Now, watch those neurons fizz at the thought of flying cars equipped with force fields to prevent collisions. Add a hot guy, preferably partially clothed, and we're in... ahem.
Leaving aside fond lewd imaginings, I take a whole bunch of ideas like this, mix and match to get some idea what my world looks like and what it's like to live there, and figure out the overarching motivations of all the major players in that world as they relate to my setting. I don't usually go for complex, intertwining skullduggery for the simple reason that my plots have a tendency to do that to me anyway while I'm working out what's going on.
Often all these ideas (did you know that the founders of the USA wanted to set a fixed-value currency that could never inflate or deflate? Imagine a world where someone did that...) don't go anywhere (Oh, and did you know that relativity is implicit in Thomas Young's equations related to light - and if he hadn't died at 55 it's possible the Theory of Relativity could have been proposed before 1850? Nuclear steampunk!), at least not at first. So I keep reading all sorts of stuff, fiction and non-fiction, and strange and occasionally wonderful things emerge.
After all, the seed of a plot is an idea, and good plots usually have several ideas lurking in the background fraternizing and mixing things up - and breeding - strong characters to drive them (often the disguised spawn of yet another idea), and lots of fertilization to make them grow. Yes, this does mean I throw a whole lot of crap at it and hope something works.
How do you feed your plots? What are your idea seeds, how widely do you cross-breed and how much control do you try to exert over them as they grow?