In my life, I’m a guy who writes, and sometimes, too, a guy who teaches writing. And in both capacities, I find myself being asked about inspiration. “What if I run out of ideas?” I get asked, by students and sometimes by beginning writers. And I have two answers to that: “go back to your characters”, and “look at your own experiences.”
Characters should be the root of a story–stories record the lives of the characters in them, and experiences make up the life stories we all live through and share with others.
Life experience offers, for me at least, an endless well of ideas for stories and characters to fill those stories. Sometimes a story springs from something that’s current; some struggle I’m dealing with and can’t make sense of any other way than on the page. That was the spark that became my science fiction novel “Annah”, and the “Children of Evohe” series of which it is a part. Sometimes, a story comes from reminiscence; from recording and sifting through the sweet, the bitter, and the bittersweet of the past–such as the experiences that led to my still-in-progress urban fantasy novel “The Kind.”
In the end, our characters are always their own people–they have to be, to have a weight and consequence to readers who don’t know us or the experiences that spark our stories. But they help us to articulate those experiences to others, and, in understanding our characters–in looking at them as people, rather than moving them about with manipulative disregard, like paper dolls or pawns on a chessboard–they help us come to better understand ourselves.
One of my favorite authors, Clive Barker, once wrote: “I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold.”
When I write, I tell my story, even if, from one tale to the next, I tell it using different places or different names. There is, I find, always truth in fiction. And if you’re writing stories that are true–even if they happen to be fiction–you’ll never run out of things to say for very long. Writing’s like life in that sense. While life is in us, the gap between one breath and the next is never very long. And the word”inspiration”, itself, comes from both the notion of drawing in of breath and the idea of Divine breath–or, to look back at Clive Barker’s quote–the divine Word.
So, for those of you who write, or want to write, remember–take a deep breath.
And tell your story.