The number one question every author gets asked is this: ‘Where do you get your inspiration?’ So I’ve decided to tackle it head on. The way I see it, getting an idea for a story is like falling in love. How do you go about falling in love? Well there are plenty of theories. You’ve probably got your own. One of the most popular seems to be that it just happens to you by itself. You’re sitting on the bus, a woman/man gets on and bang! Cupid’s arrow has hit its mark.
While I like this idea (I have to confess, I’m a big romantic), I don’t think it describes the experience completely. For one thing, it leaves out the necessary pre-condition for falling in love. You have to be open to love. You have to really want the experience. If you don’t, you just look up when Mr or Ms Right boards the bus, your heart skips a beat, but then you say to yourself, ‘Naah! What am I thinking of?’ and go back to staring gloomily out the window.
Of course just wanting to be in love isn’t enough on its own. You do need to exercise a little judgement and you can’t always be guaranteed to get it right. That’s why so many people who end up falling in love in a big way, often have a false romance first. They’re so keen to fall in love, they jump the gun and convince themselves they’ve found the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Then, when the Real McCoy comes along, they have to do some nifty footwork to disentangle themselves.
Shakespeare recognises this phenomenon. Romeo and Juliet, regarded by many as one of the greatest love stories of all time, begins with Romeo besotted by Rosaline. That’s why he goes to the party where he first sees Juliet – he thinks Rosaline will be there.
It’s just the same with ideas for stories. You can’t make them come just by whistling but you can help the process along by being receptive. You have to put yourself in positions where you will encounter ideas that might suddenly spring to life in your imagination. You have to stir up your creativity by reading books, watching films, listening to music, looking at art, travelling to places you’ve never been before, revisiting places that once meant something to you – anything that might spark your imagination and set the ball rolling. And then you have to wait and hope that sooner or later a story will hop on board your metaphorical bus and it will be love at first sight.
Of course, like Romeo, you may have to contend with a few false starts. In the world of the writer, there are always more Rosalines than Juliets. You think you’ve found a fabulous story, get all fired up, tell your friends and family how great its going to be, sit down and start to write and it all turns to ashes in front of your very eyes.
Don’t get disheartened. Keep on believing. Sooner or later that perfect plot will appear and when it does, don’t turn away and stare out of the window. Do the right thing: invite it to share your life with you. Because if you want to turn it into a novel, that’s what it’s going to take.