Without that special spark, we would not be able to write our novels and short stories. But sometimes, that spark is nowhere to be found. We imagine a scenario and then just as quickly it evaporates, leaving us frustrated and worried that the well has finally run dry.
Instead of searching for “new” ideas, it might be better to focus on what already exists. Everything we have seen, heard, read, or done is simmering in our brains, waiting to be prospected.
Here are some suggestions:
- Instead of trying to forget that blush-inspiring incident that still rankles, imagine even more dire consequences. Ask yourself: What scenario would have made this even worse? For example, an inappropriate comment could be transformed into a loud outburst that severs a long-standing relationship. While you wouldn’t wish that on anyone in your circle, why not let the protagonist of your next novel suffer that consequence.
- If you are bemoaning the present season in your life—termination of employment, retirement, dealing with rebellious adolescents, divorce, menopause—put those troublesome thoughts into words. Start by journaling and then create a storyline where imaginary characters must deal with the same issues. Taking a third-person approach to your issues can help you come up with creative solutions. Also, you will be able to better connect with the characters. Don’t be too surprised if you suddenly find yourself in first-person or deep third-person POV.
- Take note of any interesting anecdotes you hear at dinner parties or other events. Properly disguised, these accounts could become the basis for a new novel or short story. But be careful. If the incident is one that has traumatized a friend or family member, it might be a good idea to ask for permission before using it.
- Keep an eye out for odd stories that occasionally turn up as fillers in local newspapers and television broadcasts. These tidbits can be more inspiring than the over-hyped headlines in larger publications. Author Jody Picoult was intrigued by a news story from Flint Michigan. An African-American nurse with twenty years of labor and delivery experience helped deliver a baby. Afterward, the father called her supervisor into the room and asked that the nurse not touch his baby. He pulled up his sleeve to reveal a swastika tattoo. That news story inspired Picoult’s best-selling novel, Small Great Things.
- Reread fables, fairy tales, and other classic literature, paying close attention to universal themes and conflicts. And then come up with your own contemporary twist. Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Robber Bride, is a re-telling of The Robber Bridegroom. When a young girl betrothed to a rich suitor pays him an unexpected visit, she discovers that her groom-to-be is a cannibal. Atwood flips the genders, introduces metaphorical cannibalism, and updates the setting to Ontario in the 1980s.
- Pay attention to your dreams and nightmares. In 1974, Stephen King and his wife stayed at the Stanley Hotel, a hotel rumored to be haunted, in the Colorado Rockies. While there, King had a nightmare that left him with the inspiration for The Shining.
Any other sources of inspiration to share?
Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…