The short story is a fiction microcosm. A Petri dish where all the elements of a good read, from story idea to the afterglow you get when it stays with you, are present, but in small pieces.
As part of my own exploration into that Petri dish, I’m reading a lot of short stories by some very good writers, including Joanne Harris’s collection, “A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String.”
Before the start of each short story she writes a short paragraph introducing the story and sometimes describes what inspired it. In many cases, the leap from the real world to the story idea is a big one.
I looked at my own short stories and realised that similarly, many of them bear little resemblance to what inspired them in the first place.
As I let that idea stroll around my head I began to see the “intangible something” that fills that gap between the real world and the story idea. After all that strolling and thinking, I also finally accepted that any time I tried to force the leap from “real world” to “story idea” the story just didn’t work.
Hence the question: How to get from real world to story idea? What happens in the gap between real life and fiction? Where does the story evolve from? What is that spark that forms the bridge between fact and fiction? Where does it come from?
In the quest for a great story idea, the most elusive of all writing tools, inspiration, clearly plays a part.
So I did some web research into inspiration. Here are a few views from other people:
ONE: I like this one most… From a blog by Ariel Constantinof: How to find inspiration for writing? Don’t: Ariel says you don’t find it, you make it. It’s not some magic that floats into your head. You seek it out and if it doesn’t happen, just start writing anyway. I agree. I do this a lot. Start with a few words and sometimes an image, and it goes from there. The ending, you’ll find, is as much a surprise to you as your audience.
TWO: Write to Done gives 31 ways to find inspiration, from blogs to people watching. The common factor with most of these suggestions is that you get into the world! Why? Because more often than not the conversations we have with ourselves are nonsense. If you’re looking for inspiration, you need to get out of your own head!
THREE: Another approach is taken by Henri Junttila in his article Inspire to Write. Meditation, silence, quietude. Getting out of your own head by going deeper into it 🙂 Very cool.
To be inspired, you need raw material.
Stephen King’s famous comment on reading, I think, sums it up: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
When all that raw material from a thousand different sources stews and simmers in our minds, the ideas, no matter now disparate merge and a story idea blossoms whether we like it or not.
This blooming happens at the most random of times (in the shower, in a hot tub, walking the dogs, washing dishes…) which is why, perhaps, we think there is some magic behind inspiration. The truth is, if you read and think, explore and converse with the world, then inspiration is inevitable. All those small ideas bind together making it possible to make the leap from carpets to cats.
Make magic today folks.