Inspiration, where does it come from? What makes an author write the story he or she writes? Where do the stories come from? I have heard many writers say they do not know. Before I started on my writing career, I always thought, “How in the hell can they not know where the stories come from?” Becoming an author myself, I now completely understand. But I’m not sure what I understand. I guess that I understand that they do not know where their ideas come from for some or all of their stories.
I have been asked that question by those that have read my novels and short stories. “How do you come up with this stuff?” and I reply, “I’m not really sure”, the same answer that used to drive me nuts when certain published authors would say that. But it’s the truth, I really have no idea. I have no idea how I write some of these stories, where the plots and characters come from. As I write, these things just pop into my head and come to life as I continue writing about them.
My process is that I have an idea and sit down to write. No outline, no pre-thought-out story from start to finish, just an idea for a story. Some of the ideas never flesh out into full-blown novels but are great for short stories. Other authors take a different approach and outline everything or need to have the story laid out before they put that first word to paper. Everyone is different so go with whatever works for you. I have found that my process has evolved over the years that I have been writing and believe it will continue to change.
As far as inspiration, I have to say that I do get inspiration for many of my short stories from everyday life. One such instance, which I think I mentioned in another post, had to do with a drop of rain I saw hanging from the end of a pine needle in a tree. The sun was shining through the drop, lighting it up and creating a window of sorts of the landscape behind. This gave me an idea of a small creature living in the drop of water, one that shows up in a photograph of the water drop, and then the story goes on from that discovery. Other short stories begin with something in my life that just happens to spark an idea, randomly, and gives me fuel to create some fictional story from that instance. It doesn’t always work out but I love when ideas spark from the things around me.
I never considered myself an overly creative person and that was one of the reasons I never sat down to write a novel. I never thought I could do it as it was such a monumental, creative task. Reading the books I have throughout my life, I never thought I could do what they did. Once I was pushed by my daughter to write my first novel, it was like the floodgates opened and stories kept coming to mind, one after the next. The creativity that gushed forth was not something I knew was in me but it has proven to be. I was surprised I was able to be as creative as I was with these stories. Didn’t think I had it in me. I could not wait to finish one story and begin the next.
Inspiration can come from everywhere but I think your mind must be open to it. Before I wrote my first novel or started writing my short stories, I would not look at things the way I do now that I write. It’s a different view of the world, one that allows me to see things and come up with a story instead of just seeing things as they are. It’s like seeing things in a whole new light. Not sure that makes sense but I hope so because it does to me and I am not sure how else to explain it.
Recall memories, pull from childhood experiences, and all of the many thousands of things that have taken place in your life to the point you are currently. There is so much in this world to create inspiration if you're looking for it. Not just experiences but listen to others' stories, from shows and movies, and from the things we read. I don’t mean to say copy what you see or hear but pick up on the details, look for things that are not the focal point and see where that takes you. Pay attention to the things in other people’s stories that you can relate to as this is what we all want to find in a story, relating to it.
If you are watching a story about a major robbery, there are a million different ways a very cool heist story can go (maybe not the best example as heist movies have been done to death). You have a basic idea now of a heist story, time to get creative and come up with something that is different than what is already out there. Some subjects have been done to death, in every fashion imaginable, but that is where your challenge comes into play. Give it a twist that no one has seen before. A different angle, use characters no one would expect to be the thief or a heist of something one would never imagine stealing because it would seem to be an impossibility. Nothing is impossible and the only limitations come from you, stifling your own imagination. Write it down and mold the story from there to see where it goes.
Open yourself up for inspiration. Look at everything and anything to see if you find any kind of story within, either a short one or one that could be a full-blown novel. I refer to Stephen King often as an example in these posts. His inspiration for The Shining, one of his greatest and most commercially successful novels, came from a hotel stay by him and his wife, Tabitha, back in the mid-1970s. Staying at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, they were the only guests in the hotel during their stay. If you have seen The Shining, one can understand the inspiration for the story from his and his wife’s story of their solitary stay. Even the room they stayed in was room 217, the famous room number from the novel (it was changed for the movie after being requested by the hotel that was used for the exterior shots).
An exercise that I do with family members is finding a picture on the internet, usually something old and strange but it doesn’t have to be. We will then all go our separate ways and write a story about the picture. We usually give 2 weeks or so to write it then we each get copies of all the stories and try to guess who’s is who’s. It’s interesting to see how each person perceives the photo and the vastly different stories that come from the individuals involved. This exercise helps to find inspiration from just a static image to see how far your mind can wander to come up with a complete story about the picture. It is an excellent exercise to get your brain working to come up with a story behind a random, previously unseen picture.
Inspiration can come from anywhere but you must be open to it and have fun with it. Ask yourself “what if” about a place you travel to or a scenario you find yourself in and give it different elements than the reality (supernatural, futuristic, prehistoric, etc.) and see where it can take you. There is so much around us every single day that can create inspiration if we are looking for it so keep yourself alert.
Happy reading, happy writing!