This was originally run on Wired (with Bruce Sterling as the author, no less) so I’m not throwing anymore exposure to it than it already had, but it spurred some thoughts.
I’m not particularly a fan of horror, but even I know that Lovecraft is a master of the genre and it is interesting to see his notebook/idea list after all these years. I currently maintain a similar list, though I do not do it by hand (particularly not after the washing machine ate my last attempt to go analog).
Some of these are only a couple of words, a subset of which are just confusing and another portion evoking some really killer imagery from just a few words. Of course some of these read like cheesy tropes, but that is through the filter of time – it’s been over seventy years since the last entry in this notebook.
To my eye, this appears to be similar to the manner in which Stephen King indicated he wrote, in “On Writing”. He said that almost all of his stories began with nothing more than a situation, a what if, and he saw it as his job to excavate those what if’s until the full story could be seen. Lovecraft’s notes seem nothing more than the what if’s that King spoke of.
For me it is a similar process, everything beginning with an idea rather than a plot. Much of my writing stems from a desire to explore strange worlds that bubble up in my head when two ideas come together in a new way. In fact it is most often a situation, technology or magical concept, that leads to a world, which leads to characters that I’d like to populate that world with. Rarely does a plot spring to mind, and I am often left searching for it. What is the best story (most interesting) to tell with X circumstances? That is the difficult bit, for me anyway.