Alex Beecroft joins us today to talk about something that authors have to find every day – new ideas for their stories.
I’m no good with blog posts. I couldn’t do what Erastes does, and write something interesting every week on a different topic, because when I sit down to write something, I never can decide what.
So I thought for this post I would tackle the question of inspiration. Where do writers get their ideas from? Why do some ideas never make it to book form, while others get endlessly recycled with hundreds of writers treading and retreading the same old ground in slightly different ways?
This morning, I got this delightful piece of spam in my inbox:
“Am sorry for the late response, my computer broke down so I lost almost all my business contacts including your contact email and phone numbers until I was able to trace your alternate email. As I promised your family about your late father’s share of the fund. Please see directives below.
I am on my way to Bangkok for 1 month and 2weeks trip. I was able to seal the deal with Mr. Andrew Song but the amount he confirmed to me with his Bank of America account was not complete so I guess he messed up my deal and trust in him. Therefore on my return from Bangkok, I intend to start my own private business and you can be my partner if you desire. I just bought a new estate in Hawaii and will be moving there from Bangkok while my family will join me later. I have a new dealer now and they can export the following items:
Customized and polished Diamonds
Precious Cut Stones
Calibrated semi precious stones
Double cut Diamonds & Single cut Diamonds.
I have asked my representative in United Kingdom (Mr. Richard Hearths) to transfer your family’s share of the recently concluded deal with Phillip Pitts which is US1, 950,000 into your account through his bank. I rather will prefer that you do not let Phillip and Andrew Song know about my new deal with Goshi Exports in India as it will have to be between two of us. I do not need a Buyer as I will seal the deal with you when I am back.
This is spam with a story in it. This is the Indiana Jones of spam. Can you imagine? Who is Bill Harris? He’s obviously talking to our hero, whose father has died in mysterious circumstances. I bet he was murdered when smuggling the diamonds out of South Africa. Was someone on the Bangkok end of the deal in on the job? And why is Bill so concerned that the Indians not know what’s going on?
Suppose this was set in the 18th century? Then we have Imperialistic machinations by the members of the East India Company. Perhaps Bill is really Sir William Harris, a renegade member of the Honourable company who is working against their heavy handed business practices. Or it’s later, the era of boat-planes and bi-wings and H Rider Haggard type adventures in far flung locations where piles of treasure still lie for the taking?
Whatever you make of it, this is a piece of spam like a diamond itself, and I treasure it. I have a special folder on my computer for spam like this, which arrives with inspiration attached. Normally I have to look harder for a new idea, and my most reliable forms of inspiration are visual – TV, movies and sometimes pictures. I know a lot of people get inspiration from books, but I can’t seem to do that. I need something that bypasses the writer in me and goes straight for the id, and pictures do that. So, for example, my latest novel, Shining in the Sun, (which is currently out seeking a publisher) was inspired by a combination of my summer holidays and this picture
I was so struck by the vitality and sensuality of the picture that I wanted to know who this young man was. So I put my hero in a position where he came across the guy unexpectedly at the sea side, and I found out all about him at the same time my hero did. I have a special love for villains, sidekicks and walk-on characters in movies, as very often the third spear carrier from the left will have something about him that makes me wonder what his story is. Or I’ll wonder what that villain would be like if he had grown up in a loving family on a different planet, or if he’d suddenly decided to change his ways. Sidekicks in particular tend to be the kind of under appreciated, quirky characters who inspire me to wonder what someone like that would be like if he was to be the hero of his own tale.
I also enjoy taking tropes and twisting them a little – so John in False Colors is simultaneously the Natural Leader and the Nervous Virgin. Max in Shining in the Sun is the Villain because he’s the alpha male, whereas Jasper in The Wages of Sin is an alpha male born into a position in society that requires him to be subordinate and meek, and he’s done his best to fit into that position.
So how about you? Do you get inspiration from other people’s books? Or from conversations overheard at the supermarket? From Wave’s Friday Guys? I confess that Jasper would not be the man he is had I not seen this picture of Kent Edwards on the left (Kent Edwards has been on the old blog many times because he’s so great looking) and Harry and Garnet from Blessed Isle owe their existence to these photos on the right.
But I’d love to hear where you find your inspiration. And if you’re a reader I’d love to hear about the stories you desperately wish writers would give you more of, but you just can’t seem to find. There’s probably someone listening right now who would be struck by the lightning of inspiration and start writing the story you want to read, just from being given that first spark of an idea when you mention it.