- If the plot was based on someone's dreams or nightmares, it belongs on Based on a Dream.
- If it's inspired by a real-life technical difficulty, it belongs on Serendipity Writes the Plot.
- If it's based on a real-life news story, it belongs on Ripped from the Headlines.
- If someone came up with the idea based on something already popular, it's Follow the Leader — however, if they came up with the idea on their own and merely had the popular work influence aspects of it, it still belongs here.
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Anime and Manga
- The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha anime was originally going to be a standard Magical Girl show much like the game it was based on until someone in the production crew commented that the main character's costume (specifically, her Giant Poofy Sleeves) made her look like a Gundam. They then decided to run with that idea, creating a Magical Girl show that greatly uses Humongous Mecha show tropes, a decision that proved successful enough to give birth to the Lyrical Nanoha franchise.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created after Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird stayed up late drinking and drawing cartoons. One of them drew a picture of a turtle on two feet with nunchaku strapped to his arms, and they decided to develop the idea further. The series also drew a lot of inspiration from Daredevil and a little from the X-Men, originating as a parody of Frank Miller's run on the former.
- Calvin and Hobbes came from a rejected strip from Bill Watterson, whose cast included a younger brother with a stuffed tiger. He was told these two were the strip's strongest characters and to develop them. Watterson thus cut the rest of the cast and reworked the strip to star those two.
Spaceman Spiff, Calvin's space man fantasy, came from an earlier comic idea by Watterson, where Spiff was an obnoxious space adventurer who traveled around space with his dumb assistant Fargle in a dirigible. That concept traced itself to an earlier two page comic he wrote while bored in college German class.
Films — Animation
- The writers of Megamind got the concept from the following question: What if Lex Luthor defeated Superman?
- Tim Burton got the idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas after seeing a local store put up Christmas decorations immediately after Halloween ended, which made him wonder what would happen if these two different holidays were mixed up.
Films — Live Action
- Little Miss Sunshine was apparently inspired by a speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he stated that the people he hates most in the world are losers. The screenwriter took offense to this comment, believing that everyone is a loser in some way, but that doesn't make them a bad person. He wrote the screenplay to refute that kind of black-and-white thinking.
- Speaking of Arnold, Predator came to be as the writers decided to follow a joke regarding how Rocky was receiving so many sequels he would soon be fighting an extraterrestrial.
- Tom Six claims that he got the idea for The Human Centipede from discussions with a friend on how to punish pedophiles. One of them came up with stapling the pedophile's mouth to the ass of a fat truck driver.
- Hal Roach came up with The Little Rascals when he looked upon the antics of a group of children from his office window and felt that a series of shorts about a motley group of moppets came make good comedy and have audience appeal.
- Paparazzi came about when a group of celebrities talked about their nightmares involving the paparazzi. One of them, Mel Gibson, thought that these stories had the making of a great revenge fantasy; he would become one of the film's producers.
- Scott Westerfeld came up with the idea for the Uglies series after a coworker moved to Los Angeles. The coworker sent an email discussing his trip to the dentist and how everyone in LA seems to have blindingly white teeth. Westerfeld began to wonder about a culture where modifications to beauty like that were the norm and those who didn't do it stood out.
- The Warrior Cats series began when HarperCollins told Vicky Holmes to create a story about cats. She wasn't thrilled because she doesn't like cats all that much, but she decided to add things that interested her, such as lots of action.
- The Nightshade Trilogy started with the invention of the main character, Calla. The author, Andrea Cremer, wondered what an Action Girl who could turn into a wolf would be afraid of, and built the rest of the story based on that.
- Kenneth Oppel has a friend very obsessed with bats, and whose enthusiasm began to rub off. Oppel saw potential for a unique story, especially since bats had never been written about before, and started writing the Silverwing trilogy.
- Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island began as a watercolor painting done in front of his nephews, who were enthralled and delighted by the appearance of exotic locales with absurdly poetic names.
- The Hunger Games developed when Suzanne Collins was watching TV one night and kept flipping between news coverage of war and a reality TV show involving young people; the two sort of blurred together in her minds until she came up with the series' premise.
- Orson Scott Card got the idea for Ender's Game as a kid, when he tried to theorize what the military of the future would use to train soldiers in space, thus imagining the Battle Room. That manifested into the original short story, but the full novel didn't emerge until he was trying to decide who would be the protagonist of Speaker for the Dead, until his wife suggested it could be Ender.
- Jim Butcher has told the story many times of how his Codex Alera came from a bet made in an online discussion board. There was a debate about which was more important, a good setting or a good plot. He bet that he could take even the worst idea for a setting and turn it into a good story, and invited his opponent to suggest one. He got back two: the Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon. After looking into the background of both, Butcher started writing, but was unable to post the resulting story to win the bet because he thought it was good enough to publish (and get paid for). It grew into a six book series, by which point he'd completely forgotten where the bet was made and with whom.
- Stephen King was said to have gotten the inspiration for Pet Sematary from his own daughter burying her cat in a pet cemetery and his own son nearly getting killed by running into a busy road. It's also been said that he may have been inspired by the 1902 short story by W.W. Jacobs "the Monkey's Paw".
- Several books began as stories authors told to children:
- Winnie-the-Pooh was originally a bedtime story for A. A. Milne's son Christopher (Christopher Robin, in fact.)
- As was Thomas the Tank Engine for the Rev. W. Awdry's son, also named Christopher. He grew up to become his father's literary executor, as well as writing new material.
- And so was The Hobbit for J. R. R. Tolkien's kids... the most famous of whom was named Christopher... He also became his father's literary executor, and while he didn't write anything new, he did edit his father's notebooks into something publishable. However, as Tolkien himself related, the original impetus came when he idly wrote down: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" on an empty page in an exam paper he was looking through in his capacity as an Oxford professor. And then wondered what hobbits were.
- Norman Bridwell wrote Clifford the Big Red Dog for his daughter, named Emily Elizabeth.
- Richard Adams made up the original version of Watership Down to entertain his two daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, on a long car journey, and only wrote the published version because they kept asking him to after they liked it so much.
- Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: T. S. Eliot had a bunch of cats, and wrote poems about their nightly singing and dancing as a gift for his niece.
- Rick Riordan made up Percy Jackson and the Olympians after he ran out of existing Greek myths to tell his sons at bedtime.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland began as an improvised story Lewis Carroll told to the Liddell Sisters. His second-most famous work, The Hunting of the Snark, was dedicated to Gertrude Chataway.
- The Wind in the Willows was originally conceived as a story that Grahame told children he knew.
- The Just So Stories began with some bed-time stories Rudyard Kipling told his children.
- Astrid Lindgren came up with the story of Pippi Longstocking when her daughter, who was sick with pneumonia at the time, wanted to hear a story about a character with that name.
- Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin was inspired by "For Good" from Wicked. According to the author, it's specifically the part that goes,
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
Because I knew you, I have been changed for good
- A bit of an aversion: As Giovanni Guareschi related in the introduction to the first Don Camillo collection, he wrote the first Don Camillo story very quickly because he was under a tight deadline and had to fill a page in his newspaper pronto.
- Steven Erikson cites Frank Herbert's Dune and Glen Cook's The Black Company as his main influences for the Malazan Book of the Fallen.
- The Mrs Hawking play series: The idea for the titular hero came from playwright's Phoebe Roberts's fascination with lone wolf warrior-detective characters of the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Batman, but being frustrated that these characters were never women. That, combined with a longtime collaboration with actor Frances Kimpel who served as the physical model, lead the the creation of Mrs. Hawking
- The Pokémon series is said to be inspired by Satoshi Tajiri's childhood hobby, bug collecting.
- Tajiri's mentor, Shigeru Miyamoto, based many of his games on things within his own life:
- Super Mario Bros. was inspired by a combination of Miyamoto exploring his neighborhood's countryside, and having an interest in Alice in Wonderland, during his childhood. The enemy called "Chain Chomp" ("Bow Wow" in the Japanese version) was even based off of Miyamoto having a bad run in with a neighbor's dog that was chained to a post.
- The Legend of Zelda was also based on Miyamoto's childhood, but more so from him exploring the caves he would find around his neighborhood, leading to the series' famous dungeon crawling.
- Miyamoto gained an interest in gardening sometime between making games in the 90s, and this is what led to the creation of his quirky real-time strategy series Pikmin.
- He then took an interest in dog breeding, and raising his own shetland sheepdog led to him creating the pet raising sim Nintendogs for the Nintendo DS (and his later interest in cats led to the Nintendo 3DS sequel Nintendogs+Cats to add felines into the mix). It's also worth mentioning that the name of his dog, Pikku, is what led to the aforementioned Pikmin to getting its name.
- Scott Cawthon, the creator of Five Nights at Freddy's, mentioned that the idea came from a review given to a previous game of his, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co., which mentioned the animation made characters look like creepy animatronics. He took the latter part and ran with it.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Tom Siddell was drawing pictures one day, and he decided to draw one using the unused colors from a recently-purchased pack of markers. The colors were pink, drab green, and tan, so Tom drew a pink-haired girl in a school uniform. She ended up with a bored expression on her face that intrigued Tom, so he started imagining what she must be like and what sort of school she must attend. He decided he could make a webcomic about this, and Gunnerkrigg Court was the result.
- The anonymous creator of Bad Lip Reading got the inspiration for it from his deaf mother, who had learned how to read lips. He started trying it by watching TV with the sound off, but what he thought was being said was so hilariously inaccurate that...
- Many of Red vs. Blue's classic jokes (like whether the Warthog looks more like a puma) came from conversations that series creator Burnie Burns had with his friends while screwing around on the Blood Gulch map in Halo: Combat Evolved. Burnie was inspired to actually film the series while recording gameplay and letter boxing without the HUD, realizing that doing so made it "kind of look like a movie."
- RWBY's creator Monty Oum came up with the map for the world of Remnant from the specific series of stains on a napkin, which led to the creation of the various regions and their cultures, which in turn led to the creation of the characters and the story.
- GiIvaSunner leader Chaze mentioned in a video that he was inspired by the countless imitators of LittleKuriboh when Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged was at its peak. Said imitators would claim to have uploaded the next YGOA episode, but it would usually turn out to be lazy clickbate. Chaze decided to take the idea, imitating popular video game soundtrack uploader GilvaSunner, but actually put effort into the video, and thus a channel was born.
- Seth MacFarlane came up with American Dad! when he and fellow Family Guy writer Mike Barker were frustrated following the results of the 2004 election and, rather than complain on end, vented their feelings into something funny. (Ironically, the show actually moved away from political humor after about a season.)
- Cow and Chicken came about from a bedtime story Dave Feiss told his daughter.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends began when creator Craig McCracken adopted a dog and wondered what its life had been like before that. The result was a world where corporeal Imaginary Friends can be adopted like pets.
- Several Futurama characters were based on Star Trek hypotheticals. Zoidberg was based on the question "What was it like for Spock seeing a doctor from a different species?" Zapp Brannigan is what the crew imagined William Shatner would actually be like as a starship captain, while Kif (who you'll recall was originally more of a Deadpan Snarker) was a version of Spock who hated Kirk.
- Alex Hirsch was inspired to make Gravity Falls by his own childhood experiences spending summer vacation with a great aunt. He's made it clear that Dipper and Mabel are basically just cartoon versions of himself and his twin sister.
- Many of the stories seen in Hey Arnold! are based on experiences Craig Bartlett and his crew had as children. Plus, several characters are inspired by real people Bartlett grew up with.
- Mike, Lu & Og came about when Cartoon Network executives saw Russian animator Mikhail Aldashin's short film Poumse, a satire on globalization about a salesman selling modern goods to a primitive people, and thought that the premise would be a good idea for a show. Aldashin would serve as supervising director on the series.
- Lauren Faust, creator of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic used to play with the old My Little Pony toys, but felt the animated shows had little conflict. So when Hasbro gave her the opportunity to develop G4, she based many of the show's settings and characters' personality traits on her own childhood imagination. In her words, she made Friendship is Magic for her 8-year-old self.
- John Kricfalusi came up with Ren and Stimpy through separate circumstances; Ren came about from a 1940s postcard with a picture of a chihuahua in a sweater, while Stimpy was inspired by the big-nosed cats from Bob Clampett's short A Gruesome Twosome. A friend suggested to him that he pair the two together and the rest is history.
- Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo got the idea for Rugrats by watching their antics of their infant son. Nearly ten years later, their son would again inspire them, this time for Rocket Power, based on his interests in boarding sports.
- Steven Universe's title character was based on Rebecca Sugar's younger brother Steven, who also works on the show. She found it interesting that, as the youngest, he both got the most attention but also always wanted to be more than just a Tagalong Kid. As for plot, she pretty much just threw in every disparate thing she liked, from Magical Girls to The Simpsons.
- According to Walter Lantz's press agent, the idea for Woody Woodpecker came from when Lantz and his wife were on a honeymoon in a cabin in California. A noisy woodpecker kept them up all night with its pecking, and, after a heavy rain started, the couple saw that the bird had pecked holes in the roof. There is some debate over whether this is true or an Urban Legend.