Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ideas! Inspiration! Indignation! Other 'I' words!


Hey writers!

Ideas. Inspiration. Words. Where do they come from?

I generally tend to start with some strong images. A single visual, or chain of events unfolding at 24 frames a second. Maybe it's a set piece, an action scene, an exchange of dialogue pops into my brain that I really like. After that comes my theme or themes. Two of my three WIPs at the moment started as a genre (cyberpunk and western), and a thematic concept (social disconnection and blind faith). From there, things morph; characters are realized, unrealized and re-realized, blueprints are scribbled, and things sort of evolve from there.

To say that I'm not influenced by film or tv, or other books would be a lie, movies, in particular, are so ingrained in my genetic makeup that I tend to see things internally in a very cinematic fashion. This can sometimes make it harder on myself when it comes time to turn these mental images into words. Some images are indeed worth a thousand words. Some stark visions just do not work when you start trying to see them in vowels and consonants.

I try my hardest to avoid genre tropes or anything too obvious. outside of tongue in cheek references or intentional homage, I never knowingly inject a sequence or set piece I've seen somewhere before. And if something does seem too reminiscent, or someone points it out to me during 'the process', I'll gouge it out with an ice cream scoop.

I often find music to be more inspirational than anything else, and most ideas tend to float into the brainpan while I'm doing something else and my soundtrack for the day drags up some vivid imagery. Indeed most of my creativity is done when I'm AFK. The trick here is keeping it in your brain until you can stop the car and open up a note app, or get to your computer.

As I've said previously, I'm a bit of an idea guy, I love the thought of hinging a story on a profound or not so profound thematic question; What happens to a man when his blind faith is rewarded with ruin? Why does a thief feel so entitled as to take what's not his and yet not expect repercussions? What becomes of a world where the web and the real become one indistinguishable truth?

Maybe it's a character who inspires? A strong protagonist with a narrative hook. Going back to Sir Ridley Scott (whose work I have a great affection for); he made a great flick with Michael Douglas in the '80s called Black Rain. In the post-48 Hours/Lethal Weapon world, a million and one cop flicks hit cineplexes, most of them had some ragged edge cop shooting holes in bad people for 90-120 minutes. Black Rain, like Blade Runner before it, is a simple concept; partner cops from New York deliver a Yakuza boss to Japan, chaos ensues. What could have been a straight forward cop actioner becomes a morality play about redemption, clashing culture, and how said cultures can learn from each other to become more effective. Our hero cop is redeemed, and boards his flight back home knowing (and not really caring) that he's returning to likely face corruption charges. That's the sort of character arc that inspires me. Ideally, I would like my prose to have the reader pondering the protagonist's actions or motivations, and maybe inspire some creative thinking on their part.
I love it when a creator metaphorically asks me to contribute to the post-mortem as it were. That sort of two-way street storytelling (rife in existential sci-fi) inspires me that much more to concoct my own concepts. It makes me want to ask you some questions. In a perfect world, I could tell you an entertaining story with some modicum of success and you can then tell me what you think it's about. You can tell me a theory or two about what shit went down and why.

Another shade in the inspiration spectrum is the idea of telling a tale that's merely a small part of a much larger world; something like JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or Frank Herbert's Dune or even Star Wars. The author's present tapestries, fleshed out worlds, universes and histories,  lineages and legends, a veritable treasure trove of influence and inspiration. Maybe it inspires you to write some fan fiction like Brian Herbert did (sick burn!), Or maybe it inspires you to build your own lavish universe full of all sorts of tales to tell. I can't vouch for 50 Shades of Grey as a literary masterpiece or anything, but EL James created something by playing in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight sandbox, who, for her part built that sandbox in Anne Rice's backyard. Anne Rice clearly read Dracula, etc. Etc. Etc. Regardless of the end result, they felt inspired and they wrote something and even managed to get millions to read their stuff.

What motivates or influences you? Where do your ideas come from? Do you think in words? Pictures? Musical beats? Have you ever started a project with a question or a simple concept? Have you ever dumped a fleshed out or complex protagonist into a wide open space just to see what would happen?

Until next time,


Admin said...

I am definitely influenced by movies too; but only in terms of pacing. Fabel is deliberately constructed to be paced in a similar way to a film, ie includes ‘cuts’ between scenes much the way a movie does (and even some ‘fade to blacks’). I also don’t spend a great deal of time in my characters’ heads – I don’t do ‘internal monologues’ with my characters. I would much rather have my characters doing and saying things rather than thinking about them. I do this to a) keep a rapid pace, and b) because I want readers to project their own thoughts on the characters, and yes in some cases even have to guess what a character is thinking. My characters tend towards not wanting me in their heads anyway, in fact the strongest characters in my work have often actively rejected me being there, doing that character-equivalent of sitting on their asses with their arms crossed: “I’m not gonna do it like that, Mr High & Mighty Writer, you know full well I’m not gonna do it, now stop playing god with me, I can handle this on my own.” Characters are best left to their own devices – I often feel as though I’m simply chronicling things that would have happened whether I was there or not.

For me, the inspiration question is too big to answer. But I do begin with simple concepts. Through the writing process they usually evolve into other concepts. For example, Fabel began with a very simple idea: pitting ordinary people against a seemingly invincible enemy that wants nothing from them, it just wants to destroy everything, including, eventually, itself – how the heck do you fight that? And it evolved into a myriad of other concepts (venturing into spoiler territory to iterate what those are though…sorry!)

SteveTP said...

Yeah, It's tough for me to separate the cinematic language from my writing. My first real long-form writing was screenplays.

I kind of like trying to get into the heads of my characters, as it helps me get to know them. I'm struggling a little with one character as he seems a little "light" on personality. Maybe that's part of who he is? I dunno.

Admin said...

I meant that I don’t spend a great deal of time in their heads in the finished product. I get to know my characters intimately, but most of it doesn’t end up on the page, because it’s the *reader* I want to get to know my characters through their words and actions.

SteveTP said...

I can dig it.