I was always told by my English teacher that you couldn’t force inspiration: it would come to you in a dream, or a flash of genius. I have very vivid dreams so that was not a problem for me – both of my trilogies are based off of dreams I had when I was younger and had scribbled on a notepad in the middle of the night. But that type of inspiration only gets you so far. Have you ever tried to remember a dream? It’s like viewing an old movie through the thick cigarette smoke of those massive cigars your grandfather lights up every 5 minutes. You can remember the beginning, perhaps an exciting part in the middle and, you somehow miss the ‘real’ ending because you were rudely awoken by an alarm clock. On top of that the colours, if you are lucky enough to dream in colour, are faded, you can’t really remember what the characters faces look like and, you’re pretty sure half of the plot is from that movie you watched before you went to bed. So, if you are lucky enough to get a flash of genius, or come up with your best seller in a dream, you’re stuck with what can barely pass as a skeleton of a story. You need to pad it out, add the subplots, develop your characters further, think of the twist that will leave your readers wanting more.
But how do you get inspired? Inspiration doesn’t have to be something you wait around for: go out and find it. These are the ways through which I find myself itching to write:
Eavesdropping: Do you ever just look at someone and wonder what their story is? If so then this game is going to be perfect for you and all you have to do is sit in a coffee shop, park or somewhere you will be surrounded by different types of people. You can use your notebook or laptop, whichever you feel better with, and you can put in headphones (but obviously don’t play music), or go without. I prefer going without. So, what you do in your chosen location is simply sit and listen to the people around you. Don’t listen to their full conversation or anything like that, but try to catch a word, or a sentence and then write it down. Then, try and make a story that fits with what you have written down. So many things are going on around you in people’s lives, and you need to bear that in mind when you are writing your stories – even your background characters have lives and layers you may not have thought about. Watching people over coffee with a friend, or playing with their child in the park are precious and useful insights into a variety of different lives. Snippets which are useful for your character development.
Your Life: You have a WEALTH of experience that you can draw on in your writing. All that pain, all that happiness, all that love that lives inside of you should come out on your page. It doesn’t have to be something big like the death of a loved one, it can simply be how seeing your friend smile makes you feel. Your characters are people with dreams, who have friends, who may have had a family – how do you feel about your dreams, your friends and family, your hobbies even? I think one of the biggest influences on me has been re-enactment. One of my books is a medieval-esq fantasy and so doing historical re-enactment is perfect for me to see how it would feel to ride horses in armour, use a sword, and see a man with a daneaxe running towards you. There are so many hobbies and aspects of your life you should reflect on and draw upon for your work.
Do something new: If you don’t feel as though you have something exciting enough or appropriate enough for your stories find something that could help you that you could go and do. Is your character a reporter? Why not go and ask for some work experience at a local paper or join the one at your school/university? Is your character a doctor? Then why not go and do a first aid course? Does your character have magic powers and has to reveal them to someone? Tell someone a deep secret of yours – THINK about what experiences would help you and what you need to experience not just know to write your book.
History: History has the word ‘story’ in it and it is FULL of them. If you think of an interesting turn of events you can bet that it has almost definitely happened somewhere in the world at some point in time. G. R. R. Martin is a perfect example of how the use of history has helped pad out his books and give it that rich and believable quality the fans love so much. See how others reacted to something in the past. For instance – if you want your country to go through a revolution how about looking up the French, American and Haiti revolutions? They are three very different and very interesting situations which will give you an idea of how your characters might perhaps handle such an event and the challenges they would perhaps face.
Friends and Family: I guess it doesn’t have to be family and friends, but I think they are the people you know the best and thus will probably work the best for this exercise. Looking at your friends and family is a good way of finding qualities you want in your character. Everyone has flaws, and everyone has good parts of them. Thinking about what you like and dislike on a friend will help you make a well-rounded character. I really like to combine personality traits from different people and put them into one of my characters, then throw in a few traits I really despise. Even with the villains, I will combine the bad traits of people I know into one person and throw in a few good bits. Nobody is truly bad or good and characters that are completely good or bad get boring. You want your readers to hate that they love a villain, or doubt whether they really do like your main character. Plus I feel like a witch making some sort of potion when I do it!
Visiting Places: I’ve mostly discussed ways to get inspired about characters or events, but when trying to think of how you want a place to look the best thing I can advice is to go and visit places. Today I went to Bolton Castle which is a beautiful places in North Yorkshire. I know that Bolton isn’t perhaps the castle shape I would like but driving through the Dales has given me a few ideas for the geography of the Northern territories of my land – those loping hills look FANTASTIC for epic horse chases.
I hope these ideas help you find some inspiration when you’re stuck in a rut or are just tired of waiting for that famous flash of genius. Remember, writing isn’t just about sitting in front of a computer or reading lots of books – do things. The best way for you to write a story about someone’s life is to live your own.
As always, feel free to reply with your own best tips to getting inspired and keep writing Inkslingers!