Saturday, June 13, 2009

Where do you get your inspiration?

by Ben Small



Not talking about church here. More the opposite. Like the spot where I like to dream of murder.

Hopefully, you the reader, are a writer or a reader, or you're probably dialing 911 about now.

But I'm talking about writing inspiration, where you drum up plot points, where you ask some of the more interesting What if? questions.

I get mine from many directions: watching interaction at the mall or at sporting events, or just sitting at the U of A campus, watching people. I'll jot a few notes about character traits I may want to infuse into someone later. Or I'll drift away sometimes while I'm writing, flowing on a gust of creative wind that may become a storm. Classical music puts me into a contemplative mood, which can often be intense enough I don't even hear my wife come in with amendments to the Honey Do list.

But the places I enjoy most for this are similar. The hammock off a back deck or a lounge chair by the pool, both at night, when the desert comes alive. Birds calling to mates or potential victims are sending messages, and I'm picking up their vibes. I often imagine what they're saying to each other. Or a big iguana may crawl out of a bush, stand a moment stock still, before scurrying away. The Gambel quail stir and squawk warnings. Is a bobcat about to saunter by?

It's amazing how the desert nights drive my creative spirit. I can come in after an hour in the desert night full of new ideas, ready to pound some keys on the keyboard always in my lap.

I come up with trigger words -- no, not something I aim at a troublesome neighbor -- words I can jot down when I come in that will take me back to my musings. Amazing how one little word can signal a major plot change. But it's the way I used to prepare for closing argument in trial, trigger words, shorthand, one note and a torrent is released. It works in writing, too, which is why I always keep a notebook next to my bed and why there's a stack of torn magazine pages next to me wherever I go.

But by far, the desert night, no traffic, just enjoying the peace and tranquility -- unless the coyotes have scored -- provides my best inspiration. Combine the desert night with Rachmaninoff when I return, and I'm off and riding the tide, pounding on the keyboard like an over-caffeinated court reporter.

But no Bach, please. Bach steers me toward murder. Oh wait...that's what I do: write about murder.

More Bach please. And more desert.

4 comments:

F. M. Meredith, author said...

I get my inspiration from newspaper stories, people around me--including those I know, talks at Sisters in Crime, stories from cops I know, articles I've read about real incidents--and yes, sometimes from my scary dreams and I have lots of those.

Misa Ramirez said...

I'm like Meredith... my inspiration comes from all around, then gets turned over and pieced together in new and interesting ways in my mind. News stories, conversations I hear, situations I find myself or others in all play into plot lines. I also do free writing using prompts and sometimes those turn into great scenes!

Dana Fredsti said...

Heh. My favorite inspirational moment came when I was driving to San Diego from L.A., recovering from a migraine. It was hot out, I was stuck in traffic on the I-5, and breathing in exhaust fumes. Out of this mess came a vision-like inspiration for my story A MAN'S GOTTA EAT WHAT A MAN'S GOTTA EAT, about a zombie detective who finds missing people. Live ones. Still my favorite thing I've ever written too.

Jean Henry Mead said...

My inspiration comes from my characters, whom I usually give free rein. I'm often amazed by how much they seem to know and the experiences they have to draw from, which seem to dovetail with my own. :)