The other day a woman I know asked me, very innocently, “where do you get your ideas for your stories?” This is a question EVERY writer in history has probably been asked. The follow up to the question was, “I mean, you live a pretty sheltered life. You don’t travel much, you’re not famous, and you’re middle aged.” (See what I meant by innocently?!?) “Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?”
No, I didn’t deck her. Wanted to, but didn’t.
I realize that for people who don’t write, either for a living, or because to them – like me – writing is their oxygen, this is a valid question. I can only answer for myself and no other writer, so I will.
Inspiration for my stories usually starts with character for me. I read about someone, or see an interesting face on the street, and I start to wonder about them. Who they are, what job do they have, what tragedies have they suffered. Then I concoct a little life scenario in my head about them. If they’ve suffered a loss, how has it affected them? Did they just leave a long-term relationship, and if so, why? Do they have children, or do they even want them. What is interesting about them? What kinds of foods do they like and dislike? What would it take to make them happy? All these things run through my mind by just seeing someone with a thought-provoking face.
Once I have that person figured out, I look for their foil. If my main character likes Chinese food, this one may hate it, etc. Core values are very important to me because people basically don’t change. Behavior can change, but deep down we stay pretty much the same unless something so drastic happens in our lives that causes us to fundamentally change who we are. I’ve had people say to me, “wow, are you a cynic or what? People change everyday.” To that I usually respond, just because an alcoholic isn’t drinking, it doesn’t mean they’re not an alcoholic anymore. It means they are controlling their behavior, but deep down, they will always be an alcoholic. You can agree or disagree with me, but that’s what I believe, and it’s how I build my characters.
So, after I have the two main people in my mind I want to write about, I run plotlines in my head. This is where being a chronic insomniac is a good thing. I lay awake most nights, trying to sleep, but usually having it allude me. To pass the time, I think up scenarios to throw the two people I’ve imagined up into. Recently, I wrote a story about an Olympic figure skater. Guess where the inspiration for that came from? I love TOP CHEF and never miss a season. I wrote a story about a chef with the tagline Top Chef meets The Bodyguard.
Inspiration is all around us, every day, and everywhere. I guess I just hone in on the facets that mean the most to me, imagination-wise, and go from there.
So, that’s where the ideas for my stories come from. Where do yours come from? Let me know. I’m really interested in hearing about that.