A week or so ago I had one of those sparks of inspiration that usually stop me short as I backtrack in amazement to work out how my brain cobbled together something that seems so, well, inspired. I was tidying up (yes, housework), putting some books back on a shelf, when I noticed that the author of one of the books had the same name as a character from my work-in-progress. I thought nothing of it at the time, but about half an hour later I found myself mulling over what I remembered of a Wikipedia entry I’d read a year ago, that had a connection to a plot strand involving this same character. Suddenly the phrase “everything’s connected” popped into my head, and an element of the Wikipedia entry that I hadn’t considered important before wound up being the thread that tied an entire dangling subplot back into the main plot. I was so blown away I just had to sit there for a moment with my mouth open.
I’ve had others like that. An advertisement for a Hannah Montana concert led to me reminiscing about my own childhood aspirations and the games I’d invented around Alice in Wonderland (we had a wonderful embankment in our garden that made for a perfect tumble-down-the-rabbit-hole sequence). Within a day I had an entire novel outlined involving crossing over to another world.
My not-so-pleasant experience at a hotel in Torquay led to an idea for a comedy a la Fawlty Towers, but set in a family residence. My characters had other ideas when they started killing each other. That book was a mess and I eventually “frogged” it (a knitting term I love, meaning to rip all the stitches out and reclaim the yarn to start again from scratch). But I was drawn to the premise of a dysfunctional family with layers and layers of secrets, and the moment I saw a photograph of a manor house that just had to belong to this family, the pieces clicked together and I started writing.
My most bizarre inspiration was from a dream. I’ve written about this one before. The dream involved a pygmy hippo, but in the book the hippo is simply a dog. Despite it’s psychedelic beginnings, this story is my most “normal”, with no elements of fantasy or magical realism.
I’m being deliberately cryptic, I know. None of these books are published yet because I have editor’s block. And a distinct lack of time these days. I’m working on both those issues.
What about you? What inspires your stories? Do you sit down to deliberately craft ideas, or do you wait for flashes of inspiration and grab for the nearest shopping receipt or sheet of loo paper to write them down?
Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle-grade chapter book The Convoluted Key, picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job.