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)