I’ve been thinking a little recently – thanks to my fellow Black Ink White Paper bloggers – about inspiration. Not exactly what inspires me on a global level – art, music, theater, books of all kinds – but rather what inspires me specifically. Story starters, you might call them.

For me, they’re very specific, and almost always visual.

That visual might include graffiti or a sign on the back of a car. It might be a couple walking down the street. Or something unusual or interesting, an odd juxtaposition. I have an image in my head, probably 15 years old, that I know one day I’ll use to write a story.

But it won’t be the story, it will be the first line of the story. And somehow, the way my creative brain works, I will take that image, the sentence that image spins for me, and the story will begin. It will unfold from that image though I know, even without writing the story, that the image won’t be anything more than a way to start the ball rolling. The specific image I’m thinking of is walking in New York late one evening (I think, though I can’t be certain, that I was going back to my hotel from a concert at Carnegie Hall) and there was a man rolling a grand piano down the street. The street was pretty much empty except for us and him and…

I’ve written a book of stories based on a piece of graffiti I spied on a temporary wall surrounding a construction site. Naked for Jesus. I know there was more to it than those three words, but those three words grabbed me and they stayed with me until I finished the stories, all of them linked by those three words.

My first book – Dragonflies and Dinosaurs – began with two separate images, years apart. A walk on the Seawall here in Vancouver, low tide, and, because I think of herons as good luck, I counted them. Lots of them. And then years later, I drove with my sister from Edmonton to the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum. There were dozens of red-tailed hawks sitting on fence-posts, on telephone wires.

But for me, that first sentence or phrase, that image, is everything. Because the way I write, as best as I can figure it, is that I try to capture a feeling. The trouble is that I never know (or can’t put into words) what that feeling is. It’s all very vague and ephemeral and it’s taken me almost 30 years to figure out even this much. The image, the feeling. The story.

There’s something about this bear, a spirit bear in the British Columbia rainforest surrounded by color, that tempts me. I don’t know what it’ll be about, partly because it seems to be mystical and whatever that means, it’s not clear enough for me yet. But it will stick in my head and I will, one day, write a story starting here.

This image, which I took because I’m a huge fan of Rafa Nadal, is another image I’ll remember. But despite his gorgeousness (a word? or not?), this image doesn’t only mean that for me. There’s something about the size of it, the person in front of it with the camera, that will some day, probably many years from now, turn into the start of a story.

And maybe that’s the trick of it. It takes years for the image to percolate in my creative brain and turn into something, whatever it will become.



7 responses to “Inspiration

  1. I to write from memory. Every character in my stories comes from my past or present. Every character is based on someone or someones (two or three combined sometimes). It’s these characters that drive the story, lead me on the winding path from start to finish. But my story lines seem to come from what I call what if moments. Those epiphanies seem to just drop out of the ether, while I’m lost in a dream, sometimes at night or during the day, or I hear a joke, or overhear a conversation (yes I have been known to eavesdrop). I guess we story weavers all need fule for our muse, and take it where we find it. Who knows your blog might someday wind up as a plot point or story starter in someones next novel or screenplay…

    What fun, Huh.

    Thanks for sharing that with us.

  2. Wally, I think you’re right. Some people have a sense of a story arc for a series of stories, some people have it all plotted out. Some people, like me, have absolutely no freakin’ idea what’s going to happen or where it’s going to come from.

    That’s the coolest thing about being part of a community of writers – you realize that your way is no weirder than anyone else’s.


    • I’d be the one with a sense of an arc for a series, but I can’t get too attached to any one idea because my darned characters are impossible and always run off with my stories. If I dare to try and stifle them, they become intractible and I lose.

      I usually type up a brief paragraph or two about any new story idea, then file it mentally and physically and let the story simmer until it’s ready to explode onto the page. (And that’s what it usually feels like for me; a wild, uncontrolled, fiery billowing of words that almost sears my brain.) It’s always funny to re-read those initial notes after the book is done, because the two are almost impossible to reconcile. πŸ™‚


  3. Weird? No such thing! I’m a pantser. As much of a planner as I can be, I cannot plot out my stories from beginning to end otherwise I’m afraid I would never start writing it.

    Getting an interesting prompt helps me as a jumping off point, but like you, Kate, I can be inspired by many things, and seldom is it what people may think for someone who writes romance/erotica.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of what inspires you.


  4. eden, I can’t plan either – I can have a very vague idea, no more than a sentence or two. but if I do any more than that, it doesn’t work for me.


  5. I was just at the house of the sensei of my local Buddhist sangha, Kate, and saw a magnificent cactus that looked like a miniature city. My brain immediately started spinning out a tale. πŸ˜€

    In fact I think most of my stories have started in exactly that way!


  6. Pingback: Where in the world is Josee Renard? | The World of Josee Renard

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