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Expanding Avenues of Inspiration

By Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2009 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved

No matter what type of writing you are doing, it's good to break out of the usual shell and look at new things.  You never know what's going to inspire you to some fresh direction.  I know a lot of new writers have a primary source of inspiration and they turn to it when they run out of ideas.  Anime seems to be the predominant one these days.  There's nothing wrong with it -- but it can help expand your writing if you move beyond a single source of inspiration. 

And if you are writing something on a weekly basis (like web novels) it can be especially hard to keep from resorting to repetition or 'throw in a sex scene' material to keep up with the work load.  If you want to keep readers and draw new ones, you can't let that kind of filler happen too often.  If you have set goals even in regular writing (things that are not being posted for immediate reading), you can still find yourself stuck in circular storylines, adding things just to add them, and the inevitable sex scene when all else fails.  Even the most simple of all outlines can be your friend at times like this, with just a single line per chapter to keep ideas flowing.

However, sometimes it's hard to get even a single line in an outline when you can't see where to go next.  Maybe you've been using your favorite shows and books as inspiration, and they've stopped giving you new ideas.  You're stuck.  You don't want to tell the same story again, or repeat the same actions in the current story.

I've been finding inspiration in odd places for quite a while now.  I've read the thirteen volumes of Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia and had so many ideas for science fiction and fantasy from it that I couldn't begin to use them all.  Right now I'm reading the Grolier's Encyclopedia of Knowledge (working on the second volume) and finding very odd little things that trigger ideas. This is a really simple encyclopedia so there is nothing in depth.  It's like reading very short articles.  The longest has been about four pages with lots of pictures.  I've picked up odd bits of knowledge and much of it is already fitting into places in books.

But do you know what's working the best for me right now?

Britannica's Great Books of the Western World.

I know my mind works in odd ways.  I know I can get ideas almost anywhere, but for the last couple years I have been purposely using odd cues to direct me in new ways.  I deliberately started looking in new places because I wanted new ideas.  I have rarely been fond of classics in the past (with a few exceptions), but I found that having a reason for reading them that is just my own reason -- no pressure from anyone else -- and reading them as slowly or quickly as I please, has made a huge difference.

This is how it works:

I find a line or two from something I'm reading that resonates with me in some way.  I write it down and make a quick note of what it means within the context of the original material.  Then I let my imagination loose and see what it sparks within the frame of a new story I'm building.

(And if you are reading classics in school, and find them difficult to get through, do this same sort of exercise for your writing.  It might help you get through the work and give you a little something extra for yourself.)

Right now I'm reading the plays of Sophocles -- the Oedipus trilogy first.  I know I read them eons ago in school, but (as is often the case) there was no hope of actually appreciating the work back then.  Now, reading at my own rate and without a fear of a test and failing class, I've found that I like Greek plays far better than I thought I would.  They are not ever going to be my reading material of choice, but I can devote half an hour or so a day to them without any trouble.

Last year, I used the readings (Iliad, Odyssey, plays of Aeschylus) to inspire the new science fiction book I'm writing this year.  It went very well, even though the plot of the story has nothing whatsoever to do with anything in those works.  This year I'm starting with the plays of Sophocles to work out the story of a new fantasy book.    Here is how the first note went.  I do one quote a day and 'free think' from there.

Like this:

 Quote 1:

For even if the matter had not been urged on us by a god, it was not meet that ye should leave the guilt thus unpurged, when one so noble, and he your king, had perished....

Sophocles/Oedipus the King, Page 101, column 2


It's interesting to see the set up on this.  Of course, it's obvious to all of us that he is talking to the man who had killed the king, though the killer was unaware of what he had done.  It was obvious to the first people who saw the play, too -- after all, this was well-known story, wasn't it? 

So, what do we have here?  This makes good background for a fantasy story.  A noble's death gone un-avenged... and change it, though, so it's not a curse from the Gods this time.  I'm not writing the Oedipus mythology, only using it to spur other things.

A curse, though -- that sounds like a good place to start.  The noble's dying curse, and it's fallen on the ruling family, most especially on his son?  Did he feel that they let him die?  Had they?  Maybe it was the wise thing to do, but if the man had power they didn't expect... why man?  Why not the former Queen?  Change things around a little, and get this to move into new directions. 

A queen's curse falls on her family after they let her die.

There.  I now have the very basic idea for a new story.  I somewhat see characters -- the vengeful queen, the young grandson prince who is taking the brunt of the curse... oh yes, this should be fun.



There I have it -- the kernel of an idea for a new fantasy novel.  By the time I'm done, my new story may look nothing at all like this first bit of inspiration -- or this basic idea may hold me through to the end of the actual writing.

I would not have come up with this particular idea if I had not been reading the play.  I would have come up with a different one -- I always have ideas -- but this one is going to grow in ways that I cannot foresee, because I am reading material I normally wouldn't read and building on a new foundation.

That's good.  That makes something new and unique for me to work on.  It will help me grow as a writer. 

And I'm actually learning a few things about Greek plays along the way.  Knowledge is the writer's essential tool.  Never fear to learn, and always look for ways to use that new knowledge in your writing.