How do I come up with the ideas for my stories?
For those of you who haven’t been reading my every blog post with bated breath, I’m currently writing my seventh stand-alone (all with series potential) book.
My seventh book.
That’s a lot, and I’m not even published yet (agents, I’m currently querying Roadkill Kids, if you’re interested!).
In classical literature and mythology, there’s the concept of the muse. Sometimes this was a literal person, commonly a beautiful woman (or man, in the case of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), who lounged about and inspired countless works of prose and poetry and artwork that has survived in the public mind for centuries.
Frankly? I don’t have the disposable income to hire a gorgeous young woman to dress in silks and drape herself across my sofa while I gaze longingly and write sonnets about her beauty.
That would be great, but it’s simply not a realistic notion for a (struggling) middle-class person in this day and age that’s juggling my writing schedule and my day job.
I also don’t have the time to wait for inspiration to strike, so I do what I can to go searching for it.
It’s true, if you’ve wronged me there’s a definite chance you’ll show up in one of my stories.
Sorry not sorry.
But to be honest, I don’t put anyone I know on the page in their entirety. I might steal a last name from here, a hairstyle from there, and a personality quirk from over yonder.
This goes for enemies and friends, alike! But if you think you’ll read one of my stories and see yourself? That’s probably not going to happen.
So if I don’t just steal identities wholesale, how else do I come up with enough characters to fill seven books and then some?
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m a visual person. I enjoy scrolling through Pinterest and Tumblr and Instagram absorbing the beauty of the the pictures people post.
Oftentimes I’ll use the actors/models/social figures I find there as the general physical outlines of characters in my stories. I’m sometimes struck with inspiration by seeing the right hair and eye color, the wickedness of a grin, and other defining features.
But regardless of the choice, I always make sure I drag myself away from getting too caught up in the image/person I’m using and rebrand them with their new identity.
These are my characters, after all.
Visuals can inspire events as well; from hints of the abandoned theme park in Roadkill Kids (which will play a bigger role in book two...if/when there is a book two), to the gloriously ominous sunrise that marks the beginning pages of The Resurrectionists.
Several character or story ideas are inspired by podcasts I’ve listened to. The impetus for The Resurrectionists came from two podcast episodes, one on 1816, the year without summer, and the other about grave robbing.
I listen to a range of podcasts, including; The Dollop, This Podcast Will Kill You, Page Seven, My Favorite Murder, The Vanished, Small Town Murder, and The Last Podcast on the Left, among others.
I find that listening to someone else’s story, even if it’s just playful banter, can help fuel my own creativity in unanticipated ways. It’s enriched the lives of several of my characters, inspired odd occupational choices, and prompted more interesting conversational styles.
Yoga…or Something Like It
As I mentioned it in my previous blog post, the inspiration for an entire book came from two short stories I’d half-assedly written once upon a time that seemed to magically merge together while I was sweating my tush off during a hot yoga yin class.
But it isn’t just yoga that helped inspire me, then or now. It’s allowing my mind to loosen up, to make strange connections and have the space to ferret out ideas from the recesses of my consciousness.
At least that’s my excuse for embracing mid-day naps when I’m off work.
Seek what enriches your mind. Read a book, go for a walk, take a hot bath. Let your mind wander. Embrace boredom. But no matter what, feed your imagination in whatever way works best for you and the well of inspiration won’t dry up.
When in doubt? Write down whatever weird idea pops into your head. You’ll never know when your “cigar box” might yield surprising fruit.