Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Flow of Ideas

I’m starting off our CW blog chain this month. (Why did I sign up to be first?!!) Our topic this month is about where we get our ideas from. Ideas, of course, are all around us. I just have to pick up pen and write down my observations. The hard part is organizing them into a coherent story. The first book I wrote was fairly easy since it’s based on my mother’s life growing up during the depression. That’s where the events came from in Thundersnow

I am also inspired by other writers. Years ago I wrote what I consider my best poem after watching The Glass Menagerie on TV.  I don’t think I could have written it without the feeling of deep loneliness and longing being brought to the surface by Tennessee Williams.

Characters , too, come from a variety of sources. Many of my characters are based loosely on people I know. Or they might be a composite of several people. Since I’ve started writing more or less full time now, I’m more observant of people. The other day I met a lady with curly blonde hair walking a curly-haired blonde dog. The dog wore a dress—and we’re in the middle of an intense heat wave.  I was invited into her home, and,  just as the dog had been adorned with something useless, so was her house. Every corner. Every inch of space. Dolls dressed in frilly dresses. Ornate nick-nacks. Ruffled pillows on the couch (and lots of them). So much stuff that I felt smothered. Perhaps one day she will show up as a character in one of my books.

Sometimes its impossible to base a character on a real person, because they come across as unbelievable. An early critiquer for Thundersnow told me the mother was too mean. No mother would pull up  her daughter’s dress in public. Well, I beg to differ. I have seen it happen. Hello?? Do we not know some mothers abuse their children? Sad, but true.

Another example: a friend told me stories of his wife, if written as fiction, just wouldn’t fly. Just one example, she threw her husband through a glass coffee table. Who would believe that? But our job as writers is to make our fiction “true.” And that means making our fiction touch a universal chord that our readers see as being true. So, many times, I have to base my characters on toned-down versions of people I have known. In other words, to turn the real into fiction to make it more real. (Clear as mud, right?)

Also for character development, it has helped me to learn a little psychology. One light-bulb moment came when I discovered the four personality types known for thousands of years. Originally these four were called choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic. It’s amazing how well people fit into one of these personality types. This has really simplified the process for me and helped me see why we feel someone is acting “out of character.”

So it boils down to this: my ideas come from stories I’ve heard, books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen and people I’ve known. The source ultimately is God. He has given me my brain, my curiosity and my deep interest in people to use to observe his creation.  We often sing:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

And it would be equally true to say:

Praise God, from whom all ideas flow.

He created the universe and, by creating man in his image, gave us a measure of that creativeness!

(And, if you would like to read the first chapter, click here: Thundersnow)


  1. Great post, Sheila! I enjoyed reading about your process. That part about toning real life down to make the fictional version more "real" is especially noteworthy, and I like the idea of using the personality types in helping to create characters. Excellent job of setting the tone for this month's chain. :)

  2. Thanks, Traci! Tired and stressed--not sure how well my brain is working. Appreciate your comments.

  3. Thanks for post. I appreciate you letting us into your process a little. As an avid "people watcher" I understand the value of just observing reality.I look forward to reading more.

  4. P.S. Great website! That picture at the top is fantastic. Where did you get it?

  5. Great stories, Sheila. The one about the curly-haired lady and dog got me laughing. People are so much fun!

    This blog was beautifully written; it flowed very nicely. AND I am envious of your farm. What a treasure you have there, physically and in memories.

    Loved it, Sheila!

  6. A great post! Love the eccentric lady and this:

    "But our job as writers is to make our fiction “true.”

    Great advice.

  7. Thanks Chris, Kat and Sandra. Appreciate the comments! So tired when I wrote this so I'm glad it sounds okay.

    Kat, the picture just came from Microsoft Office clipart. Works very well with this template, I think. On mine the birds come up and then the picture so that looks cool to me! (I wonder sometimes why I'm playing around with how the blog looks--if it's just a waste of time so thanks for noticing!)

  8. This is a great start to our August 'Inspiration' chain, Sheila. Nice to get 'introduced' to you and your writing, so to speak. I'll be posting tomorrow so hopefully I'll see you there!

  9. Thanks Sheila, and well done in writing such a good post while under so much pressure.

    You make a very interesting point about observing people. I need to learn to start doing that. I'm not a very observant person so something to develop.

    I agree with what you say about our ideas ultimately coming from God in the sense that He has placed a spark of creativity in just, just as He is creative.

  10. Good post, Sheila. I agree with the idea you have to be an armchair psychologist to develop your characters and round them out. Good point!

  11. Thanks Tracy, Adam and Linda. Enjoyed reading your comments!

  12. I'm like you, Tracy -- an observer of life. Thanks for the bit about the four personality types.

  13. Hey Sheila, nice post! Can't wait to read everyone else's...

    Still working on my own. I better hurry...

  14. Thanks Janalyn and Mister Chris. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Wonderful! Thank you so much for the reminder of those four main personality types. :) I will need to make a poster for those and hang it on my wall across from my computer. Perhaps even put a visual example as well. See where the activity takes my mind, eh?

    Good job stepping outside your comfort zone and going first!

    By the way, where can I pick up Thundersnow?

  16. Thanks, Nona! Thundersnow has not been published (has been rejected several times by agents and publishers--I haven't counted the rejections, too depressing). I'm tucking it under my arm and taking it with me to the ACFW conference. We'll see if that leads anywhere.

    If all else fails, I'll probably self publish!

  17. Sounds interesting. I agree there are some family experiences and or situations if I included in a novel it would be surrealistic to people. That and if you have had any relative experience going back to that moment may not be advantageous.

  18. Thanks for the comment, Brian. Yes, some experiences I have are definitely surreal!

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