SPARK OF INSPIRATION: Seven Tips For Writers On Finding Ideas
They say writing is half inspiration and half perspiration. Perhaps “they” are right, but where does the inspiration come from? At booksignings, someone in the audience usually asks, “Where do you get your ideas?” As a writer, I don’t understand why it isn’t obvious. Ideas are everywhere. But if you really want to know our secret, here’s where you might pluck an idea out of the air:
1. NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES
I am forever cutting pieces out of newspapers and magazines, whether they are celebrity photos for my character file, an analysis of the boa constrictor population in the Everglades, or a profile of a teacher accused of porn. When I’m looking for ideas, perhaps a crime, or a local issue, or a motive for murder, I’ll thumb through these clippings until something sparks my interest. Don’t forget to look in the freebie community newspapers, too. Or maybe your library has a book sale where gently used magazines are available for a good price. Some writers cut out photos and word phrases to make a collage, either as an inspirational tool or to represent their characters and/or story. The Internet doesn’t work for me in this regard. I need to feel the real paper, although printouts can be filed same as above.
2. TV SHOWS AND MOVIES
Maybe a show on TV will stimulate your train of thought. For example, you may like the premise of a particular episode, but if you wrote that story, how would it turn out differently? Or, a news report might score a hit against your emotional armor and make you want to write about the issue. Or perhaps a story on the daily newscast will inspire a new idea, like the kid who disappeared years ago. His body was found in a car in a canal. His best friend hid the secret of his death for years. Even though the boy hit his head accidentally during an argument and the friend panicked, covering up the incident could be the motive for murder in present day.
Do you dream in detail with color and sound? Write down the sequence of events as soon as you wake up before reality pushes away the cobwebs of sleep. Sometimes I get story dreams that are detailed enough for me to scribble down several pages. A dream inspired my first published novel. Recently, I had one that could kick off a new murder mystery. Let’s make use of this subconscious message to stimulate our wakeful plotting brain.
Do you ever get an idea for a story while reading someone else’s work? Or maybe their book stimulates a new plot thread for your work in progress. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. Say you’re using a familiar archetype. How you develop the characters and plot will be unique to your voice. If you find that you get inspired while reading someone else’s story, scribble down notes and then return to the book you’re reading.
5. WRITER’S TOOLS
If you’re totally stuck for ideas, there are various writing tools available to help. I like The Fiction Writer’s Silent Partner by Martin Roth. You’ll find each writer has their favorite how-to book or software program for generating plot ideas. I don’t generally use these tools, except if I’m stuck on a particular profession for a character or maybe a motive. The book I recommend above has lists in different categories that are easy to scan. Check out the reference section in your local bookstore or go online and ask other authors what they use. Software programs, books, plotting charts, decks of cards: you’ll get as many varied responses as there are subgenres.
Friends, relatives, and even strangers can provide inspiration. They might generate an idea for a plot twist or give you thoughts on character development. For example, I met a fan once at a booksigning who told me she used to own a boutique shop. A man would come in and try on lady’s clothing. This gave me an idea for a suspect who would be a transvestite in one of my books. My own aunt was the model for Aunt Polly in Dead Roots. So beware: if you befriend a writer, you become fodder for her story files.
7. LIFE EXPERIENCES
Our experiences influence our stories throughout life. For example, I overheard a woman sobbing in the hallway at a hotel when I attended a beauty trade show. That conversation became the premise for Perish by Pedicure. I’ve been on over twenty cruises. Marla, my sleuth, takes a cruise to the Caribbean with a killer on board. Whatever happens in our lives infuses our stories with reality.
So where do we writers find inspiration? It’s everywhere: in the air we breathe, in the people we meet, in our dreams, and in the stories we read or see on the big screen. It’s snippets of daily life, capsules of personalities, issues of gravity or humor. The problem isn’t finding ideas. The problem is having enough years in which to develop and write them.
Nancy J. Cohen is author of the popular Bad Hair Day Mysteries. KILLER KNOTS and PERISH BY PEDICURE are the latest titles in this humorous series. Visit Nancy at her website: http://nancyjcohen.com, her blog: http://mysterygal.bravejournal.com or on
Facebook. Nancy's books are available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.