One of the most useless pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is as follows, “inspiration can come from anywhere, it’s all around you”. Wonderful, tell me something I don’t know. It is a very obvious thing but the problem with it is that it doesn’t tell you how to use that inspiration, how to actually get inspired.
What are you talking about Ian?
Well I’m glad you asked…
“You see but you do not observe.”
The following words were spoken by the great literary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, to Dr. John Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia. To break down the statement, it means that Watson is seeing the facts, he just isn’t applying them in the correct way.
Many people say writing is a muscle and the more you work it, the stronger it gets. This is one hundred percent true. The same is said for critical evaluation but I’m yet to see someone who applies it to inspiration. Finding inspiration is basically critical evaluation for your creative side.
The reason some people can’t find inspiration or ideas is because they have given up dreaming and imagining regularly. It’s not that some people are wildly creative and some aren’t, it’s just that some people aren’t interested. It’s the same as any profession or interest.
What I’m aiming to do here is provide you with five different sources of inspiration but more importantly, I’m going to show you how you can harvest the useful parts to generate ideas.
If you live in a permanently hot region such as the Sahara or a permanently cold region like Antarctica then I’m not so sure how useful this point will be. And if you are from either of those two places, what WiFi are you using? Must be great.
I’m from Ireland, a place where the weather is constantly changing. One minute it’s beautiful, sunny and all you need are shorts and a t-shirt. The next minute, there’s a deluge so heavy it would make Noah’s Flood look like Noah’s Puddle. People’s clothes suddenly transform into long trousers and coats of al colours and sizes. Umbrellas everywhere.
Of course while it’s useful to see how people react to the weather, I’m more concerned with the weather itself. As an example I’m going to use fog. A thick, heavy, blanketing fog. We’ve actually had this exact same weather in Dublin over the past few days. Coincidence, eh?
So what is the first thought about fog. Probably that it affects visibility and thus meddles with your golf game and makes for particularly hazardous driving conditions. In fact, I’m sure if you asked someone to do something creative with fog they’d probably have a car accident. If that’s what you would do, stop. Actually, no. STOP. That’s better.
Fog will offer up opportunities that anyone looking for a story or inspiration should crave for. Why is it foggy? No, not because of atmospheric conditions, but because it heralds the arrival of something supernatural and terrible. Undead pirates, a massive hellhound, a Necromancer, those relatives that you hate talking to. That sort of stuff.
Or has the fog actually been created by something? Maybe it’s Sci-Fi and someone is tampering with the Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe they created a toxic fog. What does it do? Kills trees and plants but leaves your teeth lovely and white with a minty smell. Hey, I’ve no idea. Use your imagination.
Or what about the fog being an entity itself. What if it’s a creature? A deadly, vicious creature out to kill us all.
I’m sure you get the idea. The weather can provide great settings. It can also be a great way to introduce characters. The possibilities are endless.
So what’s the first thing you’re going to do after reading this sentence?
Read the next one of course.
I watch everything. EVERYTHING. Ok, maybe not everything. I do my best to keep my brain active and take in what is going on around me. Obviously that’s not possible 24/7 as the body gets tired but I still reckon I do a pretty good job of it.
And the beauty of it is that I don’t have to do anything. I just need to sit there. I don’t need to react, interact or do anything more strenuous than relax.
If I’m on a bus, I watch the people who get on board. I try and notice the difference between how people walk and how they interact with each other. Sometimes I’ll see a limp or something else odd in their gait. Other times I might see nothing at all. The main thing though is to watch.
Then I think up of identities for these people. I try to deduce (I suspect not very successfully…I’m no Sherlock Holmes!) where they’re going, what jobs they might do, what sort of personality they have and so on.
It’s a fun exercise in characterisation, should inspire you to write better characters and is a great way to pass time on boring bus rides.
Talk to anyone and everyone. Sure it’s great to hear other people’s stories but I like to do it for other reasons. If anyone has ever spoken to me and I’ve suddenly thrown a oddball statement out there, it’s likely I’m testing you. I find it quite interesting how different people react to different statements and of course it helps to judge people’s character.
Something else I do when talking to people is analyse the conversation while I’m in it. I try to pick up on people’s tells. Where they get angry and sad or any other emotion. Inflections in the voice, nervous tendencies with the hands. Again, if you can do this you should be well on the way to being inspired to write better characters.
Look at what is currently popular, take into consideration the things you like reading/viewing and maybe that will give you some ideas. Now, that doesn’t mean to say that you finished a certain young wizarding series and decide to create one of your own named Barry Blotter who just happens to be a wizard but doesn’t know it yet because surprise, surprise, his parents are dead! (a common technique for children’s and YA novels…the parents always get in the way so writers just, eh, kill them off. Hi mom and dad!)
Example: Anthony Horowitz is the father of the Teenage Spy genre with his Alex Rider series. He created essentially what was James Bond for kids and did a pretty kick-ass job while at it. But obviously others followed. Robert Muchamore, Joe Craig and Charlie Higson are just three names who have tried their hand at the genre since (for me none can top Horowitz…he’s just a fantastic story-teller and the books have a special feel to them).
So you can take a pre-existing idea and put your own twist on it. A lot of people get inspiration from already published work. All you have to do is identify what you like and then think about how you can improve it…simple.
Alternatively you can look for parts or scenes of a book or movie that you like. For instance, in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events there is a character called the ‘Great Unknown’. It presents itself in the sea as a Question Mark shaped object and we never figure out what it is. While unsolved, it leads to so many ideas and actually provides something to work a story around. Pick out a scene and fit the story around it.
Another could the Captain Jack Sparrow’s entrance in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. For me it’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, entrance of all time. It leads to so many ideas about where the character could go.
You can re-work a genre you’re interested in or you might just have a picture, an image you think is cool and you can work the story around that.
This is my favourite topic and the reason I left it until the end. There’s nothing quite like a song that captures you mind, body and soul. One that you have listened to a thousand times and will listen to a thousand times more without ever growing tired of it.
Unfortunately, a lot of what is being produced today is just total rubbish. You’ll be hard-pressed to extract even the tiniest speck of inspiration from the generic pop and dance singles released all sharing the exact same backing track.
Why? Well it won’t help. You can’t feel it. Actually most music with words in it isn’t useful for that very reason. The music I’m talking about is without words and I wouldn’t be one to suggest trying to find inspiration from Classical either though it is an option.
Soundtracks. In soundtracks you’ll find the key. Soundtracks are created to fit different scenes and arouse certain emotions and feelings. If it’s a chase, the music is fast-paced. If it’s a sad moment, the music will be soft. If you sit back and just listen to the soundtrack without the movie, it might give you a whole new raft of ideas.
Here are a couple of suggestions to try that out. If you want something with action and pace check out Ilan Eshkeri’s Septimus from the movie Stardust and Two Steps From Hell’s wonderful track The Strength of a Thousand Men (I’m actually playing around with the latter at the moment trying to get ideas to fit it). If you want courageous and brave take Two Steps From Hell’s Heart of Courage or Trevor Jones’ Promentory from The Last of the Mohicans or even Arrival to Earth by Steve Jablonsky from Transformers.
I’ll stop with the recommendations but I’m sure you all get my meaning. Stick one of them on and sit back with your eyes closed. At first let the music get you into the mood it is trying to evoke and then wonder about the types of events that would fit such a piece.
This is working backwards, choosing score before the movie.
I hope that in this article I have helped a couple of you locate sources of inspiration and then gave you the tools to locate the useful bits within. Sure inspiration does hit some people like a stampeding hippopotamus but usually it’s something that can be searched for. You can find inspiration in anything if you look hard enough.
Now, fly my pretties, go seek your inspiration,