At meet-up for one of my writing groups, a lady who had joined us for the first time said she loved to read, and that her most cherished dream was to write a novel. Then she explained that she would have a problem doing this because nothing exciting had ever happened in her life, so she didn’t have experiences to write about. The group’s facilitator explained that a chronicle of happenings from one’s own life is a memoir, while works of fiction are imaginary tales, not things that actually happen. Her response was, “You mean all of those stories I’ve read were made up? Do people just get those things out of their heads? I couldn’t do that. I can’t write lies.”
Authors of the novels read by the aforementioned lady were apparently very convincing and, as she had just discovered, good “liars.” What I like about skillful writers is that they transport readers into their stories. Once there, readers might laugh, cry, experience fear, mourn, or even fall in love. While not liars, these writers do have great imaginations.
So, where do writers get ideas? My opinion is that authors’ experiences unite with imagination to create unique personalities and fancied environments.
Ideas for the characters and settings in Child of Desire came from a variety of sources. People watching, listening to conversations, family lore, magazines, newspapers, museums, libraries, personal experiences, and reading history provided ideas for characters, settings, and the story line. No single incident or observation, but rather a compilation of concepts from various sources served as the inspiration for creating characters, planning events, and developing the plot.
When I was quite young, an uncle told me the story of his baptism. It seems that he fell in love and wanted so much to marry the young lady that he agreed to be baptized. Because it was the dry season on the high plains of Colorado, and the water in the river was low, the minister baptized him in a horse tank. This account, but with a creative twist, served as the basis for an event in my story.
An incident my dad related about a young girl who fell into a flooded river, and his part in the attempted rescue, was the inspiration for a tragic account in Child of Desire. Without his account of the rescue efforts, I would not have understood the details of such an event or the emotions of the volunteers.
Because I had visited and also researched the history of the two major settings for my story, I hoped to integrate the settings and action in a realistic way. This was confirmed for me while my sister was reading Child of Desire aloud to a ninety-two-year-old blind lady. When things in the story were taking place in Southwest Virginia, the lady would say, “It seems like I’ve read this story before.” After she made this statement several times, my sister started to question her and discovered that she had traveled extensively in that area during her younger years. This would have been close to the time the story takes place.
Jotting down observations and events seems to be helpful for most writers. Some writers keep journals, some take notes on whatever happens to be handy, and some make lists. I had files of notes, and I reviewed them often when I was searching for new ideas.
If you don’t already do so, start to people watch and collect ideas.
Note: Personal experiences provide me with the information I use when posting about writing. I recognize that each writer has a different experience.
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