Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blog Chain - Where do my ideas come from?

I have recently joined a group of awesome writer friends in a Blog Chain. A topic is chosen and we all blog on that topic in, well, a chain :) The blogger before me can be found here, the entry after me can be found here, and then entry after that can be found here.

So, the topic for this round….where do I get my ideas?

I will try to keep this from rambling TOO much, but as I write several different genres, my inspiration obviously comes from vastly different sources. So, I’ll break it down for you.

Non-fiction – well, really, my ideas for this come mostly from what other people want me to write. I am working on a project for my brother and uncle who would like to write a book on their business ventures. I am their ghostwriter, so I take notes from recordings they do and write the material from that. My own project, a book examining the heroic couplet poetry of four women poets from the 17th, 18th , 19th, and 20th centuries is an expansion of a paper I did in graduate school.

So, non fiction….not so exciting :)

Children’s books – I get most of my inspiration from my own children and the stories I hear from other parents. Honestly, while my kids make me pull my hair out in abject frustration most days, they are completely hilarious little people. I just sit and watch them, listen to the things they say, how they play with each other, the crazy things they get into in their little make believe worlds. And when I am done cleaning up the mess, I write :) And then I test my stories out and them and if they like them, we are golden.

One of my stories came about one afternoon when we had a power outage. The kids were bored, it was dark and overcast so it was really too dark to play, so, we made up a story. They pretended they were race cars and told me what they would do, and they were dinosaurs, and sharks, and cowboys, and jungle people, and, of course, my daughter was a princess (so her brother was a dragon). And A Magical World was created.

Historical romances…..these are a bit more complicated. My inspiration comes from many sources. And, almost without exception, I get my ideas when I am either doing the dishes, in the shower, or in bed, either trying to sleep or through dreams (a cliché, I know, but I wake up a LOT and from what I’ve heard, that creates vivid dreams – it does for me anyways). I’m not sure why these moments work best for my creativity; probably because it is the only time I am holding still or unoccupied enough for my inner voices to break through. Even weirder, I mostly get ideas for storylines in the shower and in bed – and I hear dialogue and see specific scenes while doing the dishes (don’t worry, my straight jacket is already being measured.) However, I think this has something to do with the fact that I listen to music as I do the dishes….I discuss music inspiration a little farther down, so you’ll see what I mean.

As I write historical fiction, a lot of my ideas come from actual historical events; and I try to chose things that most people wouldn’t have heard of. I watch the history channel a lot :) For example, I have story ideas about the mother of Robert the Bruce (of Braveheart fame) who was, by the accounts I’ve seen, a total spitfire. And a story about an ancient British queen who deposed her husband and ran off with his chief of security. I mean, come on, this is really cool stuff!

The beginning of my current work in progress was inspired by the tale of a young woman in the early 12th century who escaped an arranged marriage (and also, apparently, the clutches of a powerful priest, who wanted her for less than holy reasons – he had first met her because she was the niece of one of his mistresses by the way). She climbed up her wall and clung to an iron spike to avoid her wedding night, and when everyone finally got tired of waiting for her to come down, she escaped to a convent and became a renowned holy woman who made underwear and slippers for the Pope. History is FULL of interesting stories, just waiting to be found.

Like several other wonderful writers in our chain, music inspires me a great deal. But usually not a whole book idea. I pick up on the general mood of a song and scenes pop into my head; it’s kind of like watching a movie with that song as the background music. And it’s never happy music or scenes. It’s usually music from groups like Evanescence, Apocalyptica, and Rob Dougan. I absolutely LOVE the music from these groups, but it usually isn’t happy-go-lucky stuff. I have gotten some really good, heart wrenching death/separation/despair type scenes from some of these songs. Sometimes, and please don’t have me committed (although I know I’m not alone here) :) I hear dialogue in my head. The characters arguing, discussing, crying, shouting. I see characters cradling their dying love in their arms, pulling the trigger and watching their enemy fall, stroking the face of their love as they say goodbye, as the music I am listening to swells in the background.

Romeo and Juliet type of love, the all consuming, burning, make-your-heart-jump-into- your-throat-every-time-you-see-him type love is just pumped into every note of these songs, and when I hear them, I can’t help but write about characters who feel the way the song feels and sounds. Listen to Apocalyptica’s Bittersweet (which has lyrics) or Romance (which does not) – or Evanescence’s My Immortal or Good Enough – or Sarah Brightman’s Deliver Me – or Rob Dougan’s Nothing at All or Furious Angels or I’m Not Driving Anymore…..these songs just stir something that I can’t shut off.

I also often use things that have happened in my own life….I have had an…interesting….past at times :) A lot of it has made it’s way into my stories. Of course, I change names, combine different people I’ve known to make one character, greatly embellish situations….but some of the more colorful parts of my own history have made it into my books. It’s therapeutic in a way, to write about my own life through other characters. I can make them do the things I wish I had done, or change things I wish I had not….I can finally requite that unrequited love :) or kill off the jerk that broke my heart. Really, some great real life situations make perfect fiction situations – it’s all in how you spin the tale :)

And like others in the chain, I am inspired by what I see around me every day. When watching the first National Treasure movie, I thought how fun it would be to add some sort of treasure hunt to my book, to make it more mysterious and give the story an added dimension. So my book went from being a broken-heart-then-finding-new-love story, to being a romantic suspense where the main characters are on the hunt of their lives.

When it comes right down to it, I suppose I’m inspired by life in general. Events of the past, my own life experiences, the experiences of others expressed through music, theater, art (a really great painting can get all kinds of creative juices flowing – the walls of my house are plastered with historical romance inspiring art), movies, books, etc, watching the world around me, experiencing that world, living in other worlds through vivid dreams….all of this combines to create the stories that run through my head at all hours of the day or night..


Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm right there with you on the music. I have Bittersweet playing on death loop these days because it captures the feelings of two of my characters (can we say love triangle?). You should check out Within Temptation. They're latest album has some great songs on it - kind of Evanescense-y.

You're right about history being full of great ideas. I've gotten ideas that way, but for some reason, I've never had the desire to write HF, so I'll take those ideas and twist them into a fantasy or SF novel.

I get ideas in the shower a lot too. I think I remember reading an article several years ago that showers have been scientifically proven to increase creativity. I wish I could find that article again...I'll try to look.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Ha ha! I am another one who gets lots of ideas in the shower! Maybe it's something in the water? Also, you totally described the exact way that music inspires me - with not specific lyrics, but as if it is the soundtrack to a movie in my head. I mostly go for upbeat stuff though - because usually I listen to music while working out. You would be amazed at the scenes Abba has brought me!

Anonymous said...

Great post Michelle! I almost called you something else there... :) Took me a minute to remember your "real" name. Anyway, great ideas. I only dream in the shower. It's the only time I allow myself to dream of what life would be like with an agent. Lame, I know, but it's ten minutes a day and then I can devote the rest of my time to more worthwhile things.

Archetype said...

Yep, I think in the shower, too. And while driving. And while vacuuming. Anytime brain power is not being used elsewhere, story stuff kicks in!

I've been looking at your blog some more, too, and you've just done such a beautiful job with yours. I know I told you that before, but I just loves it. Thought you should know that.

TerriRainer said...

A woman after my own heart! I could have written this post!

I have so many songs that are soundtracks to different scenes.

And I also hear voices, I argue with said voices, and sometimes I win, sometimes they get their way.

:) Terri