Thursday, August 19, 2010
A Bus Ticket to Inspirationville
Like Graham yesterday, I make a distinction between inspiration and brainstorming. Inspiration--also known as the Idea Muse--showers us with those delicious feelings of possibility that can lead to, well, dark crime fiction.
For me, there are a few standard "pick-u-pulls" from which the Muse distributes her largesse:
1. History. Fact really is weirder than fiction. And even when I'm researching--particularly when I'm researching--I'll find some tidbit from a newspaper to fit in, something that really happened, something for my characters to comment on, even in small ways. For the Roman series, archaeological mysteries sometimes spark ideas ... for example, the plot of THE CURSE-MAKER was spurred by some items discovered in the Sacred Spring in Bath.
2. Ephemera. (There, Becks, I said it.) Also known as bits and bobs. Flea markets, antique stores, Ebay. Photos, diaries, yearbooks, you name it. A Roman earring (OK, it's an "antiquity" but it's also ephemera of a kind). All objects imbued with a story ... a story I can tap and work into my own.
3. Travel. I'm always interested in learning about new places ... even if the new place is a mile away. Traveling opens our minds and imaginations to new impressions and new ideas ... both of which can be easily converted to inspiration for a character's background or the setting for a book.
4. Riding the Bus. OK, so I don't hang out at cafes, but I do ride public transportation. For a noir writer, this is very, very handy. Talk about a Pick-U-Pull of characters and stories! A cheap and efficient way to enrich your minor-league cast. And if you're lucky, it'll get you across town.
5. Film and other media. Noir, of course, but any good movie, well-told, can inspire. I like classic audio drama, too ... "Sorry, Wrong Number" is an example of how good radio suspense thrillers could be, and all in thirty minutes (the movie came after, and frankly--it wasn't as good). That's Shadow of a Doubt on the left--Hitch's favorite of his films, and mine too.
6. Literature. Read the classics, contemporary or past, read poetry. All of the pain, drama, and emotions we evoke in our work are there. It's fascinating to see how the masters handle them, and how cultural and societal mores transform through the ages.
7. Play with the dog. Walking your dog, petting your cat, saying hello to your llama ... basically bonding with your pets and letting your mind flow over the experiences of the past day or week ... therapeutic and an aid to the Muse. And good for all the animals!
But all this is digressing from what a "brainstorm" is, at least for me ...
Brainstorming is what I do when I'm trying to figure out if the inspiration will work as a full-fledged novel. How will the plot progress, what twists can I add in, what about sub-plots, etc. etc. Plotting--and re-plotting--requires all kinds of knitted brow work, and lots of lots of paper and pencil. Notes, charts, calendaring, circles and odd geometric figures and dotted lines and Xs where I've crossed things out that won't work.
[And still things will change by the end of the friggin' book ... but I digress.]
When it comes to jotting these cloudbursts down, I'm as fussy as other Criminal Minds--I have a particular pencil (mechanical) I like to use and particular paper (I favor black Clairefontaine notebooks made in France). But I've also used cocktail napkins, newspaper, junk mail, crayons and lipstick for various notes because you never know when the hell the Muse will wink at you.
[After the lipstick adventure, I learned to keep a notepad with me at all times, and I do ... a reporter's back pocket notebook, which is also water-proof.]
I also keep a notepad by the side of my bed-- that magic drifting off time right before sleep will sometimes produce ideas, lines, developments and whole pages of dialog. I also like Rhodia notebooks ... the French design paper as well as they design clothes.
So next time you want to hang out with ol' Eavesdropping Bill at his favorite dialog-heavy cafe in Portland, buy a bus ticket ... you might find some inspiration along the way!