Kickstarting Your Imagination

What sparks a story for you? A scene in a movie? The lyrics to a song? A person or event you saw on the street? A newspaper article? An old photograph?

The inspiration for my novel began as a vivid dream that I had a whole lotta years ago. The idea sat dormant until recent events kickstarted my subconscious to roll the ideas around and begin forming the bones of a story. As the framework solidifies, I need to do a ton of research and make a lot of decisions.

But this post isn’t about my novel, it’s about helping you trigger new ideas.

Let’s say you’re stuck with how to move your character forward, or they have a puzzle you have absolutely no experience handling. What to do, what to do?

Well, you could go through an old photo album and find a reminder of something you did in the past. When I was in the service, my shipmates and I had the opportunity to climb Mount Fuji in Japan. Looking through the album of my deployment, I found plenty of reminders of that trip.

(C) 1985 JJ Shaun
Sign at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan.

Another way to generate ideas is to listen to a song that tells a story and let the lyrics percolate through your subconscious until it finds a tale that is unique to you. If you need a solution to one of your characters’ problems, you can still listen to lyrics and maybe even find an unusual resolution. Folk musicians tell stories with their music, just think back to Woody Guthrie.

If you’re writing an action-packed novel, watch an action movie. Films are an excellent medium to help get a fight sequence come to life. In addition to the visual aspect of a movie, you might even discover some new angles you might not have thought of otherwise.

The fact that I travel as much as possible in the summer gives me plenty of writing fodder for the rest of the year. This summer, the most writing I’ve done regularly is this blog. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, it’s because out I’m getting experiences to write about.

(C) 2019 JJ Shaun
Goofing around while waiting for the worst of the rain to pass. Iron Mountain Road, SD.

Being out and about, meeting new people is one way to gain some character insights. Listen to the speech patterns of people in different areas of your country. Note the words they use and their regional accents. People whose first language is not English have different speech patterns and word choices. This depends not only on their country of origin but whether they initially learned British English or American English. Even Canadian and Australian English has differences. Listen for the cadence of their voices, for there is music to some people’s words.

Newspapers and magazines can also ignite ideas. One of the antagonists in my novel is a combination of several figures about whom I’ve read. By combining traits from more than one person, you can create a believable character. Give your antagonist at least one good quality–she feeds a feral cat every day, he refills the pantry of an elderly friend once a month. Your protagonist needs at least one lousy quality–he hates animals, she has anger issues. Otherwise, your characters won’t be believable.

Sometimes a photo by itself can inspire a story.

(C) 2016 JJ Shaun
Buffalo in Custer State Park, SD.

One of the top tools in a writer’s toolbox is to read and read extensively. I will admit that I don’t read as many novels as I should, but I still make time to read magazines and newsworthy items. Another is to talk to people outside your immediate social group.

Use the world around you to inspire your writing and to help solve the problems your characters encounter. It can be a real-world event, a photo that piques your interest, a refrain you hear in a song, or a quote you hear on the street. Ideas abound if you know where to look for them.

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