by Fae Rowen
This one isn’t so much a throwdown as a mirror reflecting what keeps us writing. Usually Laura Drake draws the line in the sand first, but today I’m going to talk about inspiration and writing. On Wednesday, since she’s the queen of “bottom in the chair,” Laura’s going to follow-up with perspiration and the writer. (How lucky for me that, according to the old saying, I’m only writing about the 1% inspiration and Laura gets the hard work–the 99% perspiration!)
Without the inspiration of that first story I would never have attempted to write my own novel. But the characters kept adding scenes to the movie in my head and I felt my day-to-day life slipping more and more into their reality. A bit scary when the story is a medieval fantasy! An English-teacher friend told me to write the movie down and my first novel was born.
Typically my characters start to impinge on my consciousness to the point of me saying, “Okay, already! I’ll write your story!” so they’ll leave me alone when I’m not writing. I pretty much know the beginning scenes and the ending before I start writing. When they’re clear enough in my head, and the characters are three-dimensional complete with backstory, I start the book.
If you read our throwdown about Plot- vs Character-driven stories, you’ll know that I’m not much of a plotter. But when you’ve been a voracious reader all your life, you’ve pretty much got the drill down. Things start out bad and get worse and worse still. When your character is facing death–or worse–things get better fast and you’re done.
This writing style can be a problem after the first three or four chapters. Uh, what happens next? How do I get to that compelling ending? How do I weave my theme into non-existent scenes without getting that dreaded sagging middle? That’s where inspiration takes over for me. I can get inspiration from almost anything–and have. Take the time I was working on a contemporary (so out of my time zone!) about a female math professor who had been a star ballerina in her younger days. Because of an injury, she now tutored young ballet students in her spare time. Need a scene.
I was taking a belly dancing class in preparation for my Middle East trip. Now, I am not any kind of a dancer. As I was trying to figure out where the muscles were that made my stomach ripple (Did I have them?), I thought, “What if my heroine were a belly dancer?” What if her friend, a fellow student at Juilliard, danced in a belly dancing troupe? What if, after my heroine’s injury, she learned to belly dance? What if she rejoined the troupe for one night only as they toured the West Coast–and that was the night our hero saw what he thought was an uptight college professor belly dancing? Hmmmm. Yep, bump up the romance with a shimmy and a hip thrust.
My little sports car has been a jet fighter, a spaceship, and a race car, depending on the book. In fact, Laura calls the car the Athena-mobile, after the heroine of my first futuristic. My Siamese cat, Shogun, has spawned a tiger, a lion-like creature, and a sentient alien race.
Most recently, on a trip to Kauai, I was snorkeling as I usually do on vacation. While maneuvering through coral tunnels looking at eels, octopus and hundreds of brightly colored fish, I thought of the book I’m working on now. Of course, there must be an ocean on that end-of-the-universe planet. Since it’s a planet with crystals instead of trees and plants, it would make perfect sense that underwater there would be beautiful crystalline gardens with incredible hues and dangerous currents from the vibrations of the crystals.
Not only that, but this beach would work well to show the hero he isn’t infallible and that he can’t fix everything like he can on his home world. Later, a major scene with a competitive sporting event will have a a broader influence if it’s at two venues, one of which is that same beach. Made one scene into two like that! And ramped up the tension (thank you, Donald Maass!), because the heroine must compete at the location of her recent almost-deadly accident.
All that from a wonderful morning snorkeling the North Shore of Kauai.
Did I mention that this planet has no food source? The people must eat only protein bars and protein drinks packed with all the necessary supplements–and some nasty things they don’t know about! Guess what? When I came up with this idea I was on a diet, you guessed it, of protein bars and powders.
You could probably look at what you do the next two hours through a different lens and come up with at least one–I’m thinking more–story ideas for setting, character or scene. Just ask, “What if …?” and go with it. There is no wrong answer. You’re opening the door for inspiration from your everyday life. And, like it or not, we all write based on our own lives, because that’s what we know best. And great writing comes from what we know best.
So put on those glasses of a different color and be inspired by your world. Awaken to everything around you and see it in a new way, as if you’re seeing for the first time. And wonder what might happen if … .
Do you have a sure-fire way to get inspired to write? Do you have a routine to call in your personal muse? We’d love to hear from you. (Heck, I’m not above stealing a good routine!)
Unfortunately, you can’t finish a book on inspiration alone. You’ve got to do the work. On Wednesday Laura Drake will address writing from the “perspiration” angle. I can’t wait to read her blog–she’s incredibly dedicated to putting in the time.