Writer’s Den: Inspiration’s Inspiration
It’s the word I dread most, not simply because of what it stands for, but also because of how it is used. When interviewed, one of the hardest questions to answer is, “Where did you get the inspiration for your book?” or “What inspires your writing the most?”.
Writers everywhere lament the loss of inspiration, or the lack of inspiration. People are celebrated as inspirational, and events can be inspired by or serve as inspiration to others. Anything can serve as inspiration: a word, an object, a color, a feeling, a person or place, or even a state of mind. It’s one of the most complex subjects in writing, and yet, can be so simple.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My wife says this question is a lot like asking somebody with a cold where they caught it. They might be able to pinpoint exactly when and where they were exposed to the virus, but all that really matters to them is getting better. I can’t speak for all writers, but I don’t tend to keep track of where my inspiration comes from. It happens, like a bad cold. It invades my mind, usually causes one or more sleepless nights, and is gone again. I may never know where that inspiration came from, or I may just as easily know that it came from Aunt Martha’s sneeze at the family picnic. The point is, it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is the end result.
When inspiration strikes, most writers go into a frenzy. Not because they want to, but because they need to. It’s a carnal force that drives them. In most cases, the inspiration doesn’t go away. It just keeps eating away at them, churning and morphing in their mind and eating it away. But for those who lack inspiration, they seek out that driving force with an insatiable hunger.
Here are some ideas on how to light that spark.
A Mundane Object
There’s a pocket watch on my desk. It’s old, and was owned by my late father-in-law. But this can be the beginning of a story. Where did the watch come from? Who made it? Are there any distinguishing marks on the surface of the watch? Were they manufactured marks or incidental? What caused them if the latter? Who owns the watch? Is it a normal watch, or something extraordinary? My particular watch must be wound every day to keep it running, does something happen if the watch runs down?
The same kind of exercise could be done with almost any mundane object to light the spark for a new story.
Was it something I said?
Quotes are a great source of inspiration. Great people throughout history have said a great many things that could be used as the basis for a story.
“History is written by the victors.” – Winston Churchill
That was the driving line behind Legacy as I wrote it. I knew I had a story that needed to match up to what was told in Book I, but I also knew that, with such a limited knowledge base for present-day Findoor to go on, writing a story about the history of the Lyecian war could be a bit flexible.
This doesn’t have to be a specific place. The starting inspiration for my second book, Legacy, was a beach. You could pick a city, country, house, road, field, river, ocean, or even planet and build a story from that setting. I had a scene in my head of a man washed up on a beach, and knew I had to write that story. How did he get there? Why was he there? Where did he come from? What happens next?
Thus, the story is built on top of one small piece of inspiration.
If you’re really stuck, and none of this stuff works, you could do this:
Take a clean sheet of paper and draw lines and curves on it like you’re scribbling. Don’t think about it, just draw. Once you have a sheet filled with this, take a different color and outline some interesting shapes you find in your scribbling. Now, use all your senses. Write down what they look like, what sounds these shapes make, what they might feel, smell and taste like. Are they alive? Food? Mineral? Sentient? Animal?
The idea behind inspiration is not to write the story for you. Inspiration opens up the imagination and get’s things going. It takes something small and makes it magnificent. With the right inspiration, you can make a mountain out of a molehill.
And that’s perfectly okay.