Sunday, 5 April 2009


Well it's time for my weekly post and I sat here wondering what to say. I haven't done much writing this week. Very naughty I know but blame it on the bugs that are lurking around this Spring. It is Spring isn't it? I know it's sunny outside at the moment but they are forcasting torrential rain for my week off. Typical.

Anyway, back on topic. How do I get inspiration for my stories. When I sat down and thought about it I came up with the list below but to be honest I rarely make a concious decision to go somewhere and look for a story. It's usually hindsight that shows where it came from. But when I get stuck I know the list below will help me out.

1) Music. This is top of my list because it is my main source of ideas. I listen to a piece of music and pictures appear in my head. I then take these images and expand on them. It doesn't really matter what type of music, and I have catholic tastes. But it does need to generate an emotional response.

So forget elevator music and most pop. Classics, soul, blues, alternative rock are much better. But not under any circumstances Country and Western. I'm sorry but its going to be many decades and several lobotomies before I can handle that. Not that I'm anti-country, just I want a wrist-slashing ballard that comes from deep angst, not cos Pa sold the prize bull and now the cows are in Moo...rning.

2) Dreams. I used to get a lot of nightmares as a kid, immersion heater daleks and shopwindow dummies springing to life. So my Mum taught me to control my dreams. Of course we didn't know there was a fancy name for it. I can recall my dreams very clearly and go back into them when I want which makes a great place to play with ideas.

I find this is most useful at the beginning and end of a project. At the start I can play with ways of telling the story. At the end I can act out scenes and get the dialogue and emotions right. I have to keep a torch and notepad by the bed though to write ideas down or I'll never get any sleep.

3) Travel. I have to do this a lot and I can't say I enjoy it. Airports and hotels get to look very much the same after a while. What keeps me sane is people watching. Catching a snapshot of their lives and filling in the blanks. Why is that woman trying to handle a business deal on the phone while feeding her toddler processed gunk from a jar? What made that security man think shouting in English would make anything clearer to the Indian lady that can't speak a word of it? How did they all get into those situations?

4) Morning Papers. One writing course I attended started with a couple of days improvisation. My first response was...oh dear. I'd once been dragged to a drama school class by a mate and after one session of being a tree and walking round a room saying Cro...Co...Dile and I swore never again.

But instead of walking I decided to give it a try and discovered it was great fun. And suprisingly hard too. Learning to hold the emotion in until it just has to burst out. To let others control what you do and say. It helped a lot with how people really talk and status games as well as stopping you editing your ideas too early.

The improvisation part was run by Dylan Emery of Grand Theft Impro and I believe they run courses in London so it would be worth checking them out here. Don't worry about making a fool of yourself. You won't be on your own. And the things people say when they are under pressure and have no time to think it through first. Hmmm Freud would have a field day.

Anyway, when I get really stuck I use the Morning Papers excercise. Just let yourself write anything until the flow is underway. You can always bin the early stuff.

5) Real Papers. Especially old ones used for packing. I like to think of it as recycling. I have a pile from the late 60s and early 70s that my Dad collected. Some are local papers and these I find are even better than the nationals. They have more of the wierd stuff. Odd adverts and little stories that were important to the community. Small scale stuff but that's what I like.

6) Brainstorming. I've had a few sessions with groups, coming up with a communal idea and it is great fun as long as everyone is prepared to have their ideas binned occasionally. It is awful if you have one individual plowing ahead with their idea and you are all expected to tag along. When it is working well the ideas seem to flow faster and you can bounce off each other. Not literally but I suppose that could be useful if you are working on an action film?

I have tried groups where everyone is in one room and I found these the easiest. Long distance groups tended to be a lot slower, even when emailing back and forth live. Sometimes you just need to see the whites of their eyes. However both forms were fun when you were working with people you trust. Haven't tried it with strangers.

So that's were I get my inspiration. What have you found works for you?


Colin McBride said...

Hmm, that's a really hard one. I'm really not sure. Mostly they come from observation of what I see around me in my own life. Although I agree newspapers are often a good source too. Mostly it's just taking something familiar and turning it completely upside down.

Rach said...

Pieces that make the familiar weird are always a big hit with me. Stops them being predictable.