I’m sure it’s not just me. I’m sure every author has been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” There is no one place, no Shopping Mall of Book Ideas where we can go and simply purchase the recipe or kit for our next book, characters, plot twists, and all. And sometimes there are multiple sources of inspiration for any one project.
Inspiration is the seed, the idea, the brainstorm, the whispers of the muse. Something makes us think “Oh, wouldn’t that be interested” and off we go. Sometimes inspiration sparks the birth of a character, a new setting, a plot or a twist, or a new detail of a project in the works.
Here are some of the places I’ve found inspiration:
Music is a blend of poetry and sound, creating an atmosphere and eliciting emotion – like a tiny story packed into 3 minutes. And my favourite songs are the ones that have complex, tricky, or engaging lyrics, songs that tell a story. (Okay, I have a fondness for instrumental as well and I’ll get to that). I hear these songs and my mind starts to build the story.
Sometimes it’s the mood of the song so it doesn’t matter if it has words or not. The mood of the music will inspire a scene or a setting or help me come to grips with the emotions a character is feeling in a particular scene.
Something I see, hear, do, or hear about in the real world will often inspire a snippet of conversation, a background character, a minor interaction, or a setting in a book I’m writing. Rarely do these events or stories appear as I saw them, lived them, or heard about them. They change to suit the new setting, to fit the fictional characters I’m writing, and of course, to make them more interesting. Though there is some truth to the old adage: truth is stranger than fiction.
My kids are amazing sources of inspiration – not only the things they say and do, but in the way they see the world. You look outside and see a blustery fall day, they look outside and see all these fine little details that we as adults just gloss over. But it is those details that make a setting rich and realistic.
So to do real places morph to become fictional settings. Shopping malls, coffee shops, billboards on street corners, quiet streets, busy intersections – the whole world is full of inspiration.
I think authors are on the fence on this one but for me, I’ve had some amazingly vivid dreams where I’ve been able to record entire sequences upon waking. I store these away and come back to them, much like personal anecdotes, to shift them and morph them to fit a story or scene I am working on.
Movies, Books, and Television
The creative endeavours of others provide a wealth of inspiration. Sometimes it’s for conversation-fodder when I’m writing a contemporary. My characters will discuss current politics, sure, but they also reference TV shows and movies. It adds immediacy, authenticity, and both a sense of time and place.
It is also fun to ask “what if” questions. What if that character was female? What if they didn’t fall in love? What if they were plumbers instead of soldiers? What if you killed that character in chapter 2?
This is a fine line to walk. Inspiration taken from these sources must be heavily edited and twisted into something truly unique.
I’m sure I’m missing things but I would love to know where you go for inspiration.