Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Bus Ticket to Inspirationville

By Kelli

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!


Meredith Cole said...

I agree with you about the bus, Kelli! When I rode public transportation in NYC all the time, I used to play writing games with all the people (try to guess from their shoes what they do for a living, for example) and listen in on their conversations (like the rhythms in the voices of two women from the Caribbean). Driving just isn't as inspiring, I'm afraid...

Sophie Littlefield said...

this is a *great* list...i am helpless against the allure of fancy notebooks. i don't know that i write any better in them, but the scratch of the pencil on the page is exquisite.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Great list, Kelli! I don't miss the bus, but I do miss the subway. You never know who you're going to see. I'm a sucker for fancy notebooks too. I just LOST my fancy notebook that had the notes for A CITY OF BROKEN GLASS. I will have to ransack the house again. Besides all the great notes and research material, it's beautiful blue with Tiffany-inspired cover and a black back and stitched so it lays flat and a leather strap with a magnet on the end to hold it closed...*sigh* I miss it.

Kelli Stanley said...

You're absolutely right, Meredith ... being a passenger is a key to observation.

Is it any wonder so many great mysteries take place on trains, where you have ample time and opportunity to observe? ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Soph!! Yeah, my paper needs to be just so. I absolutely hate wide-ruled. When I use loose-leaf (which I do often), it must be college ruled.

Graph paper is also fun.

This is what the e-revolution is missing out on!! ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

Becks, that's tragic!! Did you call the Borders? Did you check the car? Losing a notebook is a nightmare ... I hope you find it, sweetie!!!


Jennie Bentley said...

Ah, but driving a car is good for rehearsing dialogue! Barrelling down the interstate, talking and gesticulating wildly... yes, I get some weird looks.

Awesome list, Kel, as always you rock, girl! And is that the cover for the sequel to NOX? I thought it was going to get another Latin title. MALEDICTUS, wasn't it? They decided to go English instead, huh? Very nice cover!


Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Jennie my sweet!! :)

I think all that rehearsal is part of your actress background ... I'd love to see you perform one of your scenes!! :)

And yup, that's the not-quite-final cover for THE CURSE-MAKER, which morphed from Maledictus to Cursed to The Curse-Maker in terms of title saga. THE CURSE-MAKER sounds exotic and a little scary, so it works for me. :)

Thanks for stopping by, and let us know how Killer Nashville goes, darlin'!! :)


Shane Gericke said...

Reporters notebooks are absolutely essential, Kel--no other size is so damn handy for carrying around in back pockets, jacket pockets, what have you. Great list! I like geology, too--thinking about odd stuff like what a city used to look like back in the Siluarian era, for instance, when America was under the seas, being turned into coral reefs--fascinates me and sparks the imagination.

Shane Gericke said...

And oooh, THE CURSE-MAKER does sound exotic as hell. I see a guy with a pointy chin and hat, stroking his pencil fu manchu ...

Gabi said...

So if I swipe your pencil, Graham's pen (or the Eiffel Tower, far trickier but much showier) and Rebecca's snacks, I'll either be a brilliant, prolific author with multiple books out every year or a fabulously wealthy blackmailer. I don't see a downside.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Super Shane Man! ;) You and fellow CM Bill share a fascination with geology. I like it, too--took a class in college and toted around bags of rocks when I was a kid.

Actually, I still tote around rocks ... picked some up on a desert trip through a really cool mountainous area from San Diego to Phoenix. I'll post some pics. :)

And glad you like the title!! It deals with necromancy, ghosts, curses, and (of course) murder. All stuff the Romans were very familiar with! ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

Gabi, you're already brilliant and pretty prolific!! So don't go into blackmail, OK? ;)


jeff7salter said...

I also notice 'items' on the internet, or on the news, in a magazine -- where ever -- which sometimes calls out to me, saying (basically) it's a nugget I can likely use later.
For brainstorming, which I call 'ruminating', my spot is the front porch overlooking a beautiful field and trees beyond.
That porch has been very good to me. Two complete novels in the past 12 months. Five novels total in four years (which included some 15 months before we moved to this house).
Every writer (hopefully) has a spot or a space -- or at least a frame of mind -- to which she/he can retreat to compose and solve and write.