Sparks of Inspiration

Sometimes, people say to me, “I couldn’t write a book. I don’t know where you get your ideas.”

And I always reply, “Sure, you could. We make up stories all day long.The trick is to make up fifty little stories and string them together into a book!”

I am especially prone to making up stories about people in traffic who have earned my ire: cutting me off, driving too slow, driving too fast, weaving down the street or riding their bike on the wrong side, or walking in the street although there’s a perfectly good sidewalk available. (I seem to get mad a lot when I’m driving.)

If I pass someone driving too slow, the story I make up depends upon how that person appears as I stare at them when I’m passing. If it’s a little old lady, I think: she’s afraid of hurting someone. If it’s a sleazy-looking man driving slow, I think: he’s got drugs on him and doesn’t want to get pulled over.

If a well-heeled person in a nice car is driving too fast, either s/he is late too work or is a narcissist who believes everyone should get of their way – it all depends on how they struck me.

The inspiration for the books I’ve written and the ones beating around inside my skull are all some form of injustice.  Although I’m capable of making up a story about some slick-suited guy who jumped ahead of me in the dry cleaner line – and I might still use that – the injustice must be so egregious  that I am willing to commit to the research, drafting and endless editing and rewriting that a book or even a story demands, the ever-deepening self-examination that gives books their bass notes and that emotional roller-coaster we all know so well.

Sometimes I’m not clearly aware of what the story means to me until I’ve written it all or in part. Then as I scour through writing manuals, working the exercises specifically to my character and plot — which I am now doing in the middle of my first draft — the premise sharpens for me.  Needless to say, my daily word count is so dismal, it doesn’t merit notice. However, it’s my hope that this technique will eliminate most of the re-writes down the road.

So, Mysteristas, the question is: where do you get your inspiration?


17 thoughts on “Sparks of Inspiration”

  1. Like you, everywhere and anywhere – including that idiot who nearly drove me off a bridge into a canal, cut me off to get in front of me and then, when I sounded the horn, put his car in reverse and stopped millimeters from my front bumper! I’m gonna kill him someday, I just haven’t figured out a painful enough way. Or wait, maybe he could be a villain Nah, I’m gonna torture him.

    My cozies always revolve around relationships and one wrong choice. My traditionals definitely revolve around injustice. Something I’m passionate about and want to fix.


  2. The ideas come from sitting around, reading the paper, overheard conversations…and yes, I might use a road rage incident some day (you and I sound like we have similar driving experiences, Keenan). But the stories all seem to boil down to relationships and professional commitments – how the two interact and what happens when they are at odds.

    Kait, if you want to brainstorm ideas, let me know. I’m still thinking about how to eliminate people who turn one-lane streets into two lanes simply because they don’t want to wait their turn – and who often nearly cause chaos in the process. Grr.


  3. Good examples here, Keenan. I’m all the time making up stories in my head about people I pass by—but you’re right that the trick is which stories or character to follow further, which ones might make it on the page. Good stuff here!


  4. Great post!! I don’t know where I get inspiration. Every now and then, an idea pops into my head and makes me laugh. If I can twist into a bigger story, then I email it to myself with the subject line “Idea.” The NSA would think I was crazy if they searched my inbox.


  5. Loved this especially: “the ever-deepening self-examination that gives books their bass notes.”

    My inspiration can come from the weirdest places. An odd article about someone who died in prison, a strangely dressed person in a coffee shop, the young boy visiting neighbors whose laughter sounds desperate and forced.


  6. I get inspiration, like previous commenters, from everyone and everything I come in contact with. I love sitting in airports pretending to read my book but really “conversationally shoplifting,” in the words of a friend of mine. But not only their words, but their quirks, clothes, and speech patterns. I didn’t set out to do this, but the themes I seem to explore are normal people going about their mundane lives when — BLAMMO — something unusual happens to them. All they really want to do is hide under the covers, but I have to make them move one foot in front of the other to fix it. Whatever “it” is.

    The question “where do you get your ideas” always stymies me. They may as well ask “where do you get air?” So I go with the old standby and just say, “Cleveland.”


  7. Wonderful post, Keenan! I’m really enjoying reading through everyone’s comments. Becky, your answer made me LOL: Cleveland. Love it! It’s tough for me to pinpoint where my ideas come from–news articles, travel experiences, quirky people I’ve met, or just the mysterious ether. However, I was thinking yesterday how inspired I get when commuting, whether it be by foot, car, bus, or plane 🙂


  8. Love it! Most often, my ideas stem from a snippet of conversation, a story in the news, or a personal experience (yes, road rage incidents are well-represented), and then asking “what if?” People watching is another good source of inspiration.


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