Swiping Inspiration

graphic from open clipart.org by qubodup


Writing is theft.   Confession time: there are no characters, situations, or concepts in my writing I haven’t lifted from a real world experience.  While anything is fair game for a story, I’m most focused on having “real characters” that a reader can relate to and believe are real while I make a world full of the fantastic these normal people have to deal with.  Because I like character studies, my most stolen tidbits comes from the surrounding people. 

When I talk to you with that over eager, boisterous barrage of questions, I am interested in you, but I’m also pilfering all your experiences and responses to mash up later when I sit down to write.  Do not leave me alone in a room because I rifle through every drawer.  There’s no shame in my cat killing curiosity and there’s no end to it.  Tell me to back off anytime now.  I know my intensity is off-putting, and I try to keep a lid on it.  If we ever meet, I hope you’d never suspect how hungry I am to hear your life story.  How much I want to dig into an abstract hobby of yours.  I want facts I can check to see if you’re the honest sort, but either truth or lies, I’ll incorporate that study to some Frankenstein-esque mash up of you and four other people I met this week.  It’s alive, and the only part I can claim rights to is how I fit the Tetris blocks together.   

What in your day-to-day life do you steal the most inspiration from?  Are your gems personal experiences and past events?  Or do you explore expansive new places, plumbing each place for its local traditions, retooling them to your desires?  Do current or past politics spur you into creative world building?  Are you seeking to recapture old myths and fairytales in an unique way?  Or maybe you dream of technological break through in the present and think of what they’d mean in the future (or what they would mean if delivered to the past)?  There’s so much information offered, rife for a writer to pluck up and entwine into a new story.  How is a creative to choose?  Tell me what you hunt for, what parts of your story are the “most real” and how do you obscure the origins of those tidbits?

5 thoughts on “Swiping Inspiration”

  1. I take the themes of anthologies looking for submissions and use them for inspiration. Like a journalist getting an assignment. It’s worked for me and caused me to write stories that I would’ve never written otherwise.

  2. Several of my characters are based on people I know, but I try to not be too obvious about it (with a few exceptions for those who would be entertained by a Tuckerization*). And I know that everything I write is definitely based on everything I’ve read – put it the blender a few years, mix in some real life and personal aspects, file the serial numbers off, and go for it.

    *Tuckerizations are named for Wilson Bob Tucker, a SF writer and fan who would frequently insert names of real people into his work. Then it became a contest of sorts, and now it is a popular auction item at SF conventions – donate to charity to get your name in some author’s book. Quite often it’s elaborated to have a minor character named for you who dies an awesome death in horror and action novels.

    1. Thoughtful response Chris. Thanks.

      I like believing most of the people in my life wouldn’t recognize their fictional counterparts. I read an essay about a writer who admitted they’d borrowed from all their friends and family’s personal lives. Those people recognized themselves, hated the writer for betraying them.  It wrecked his interpersonal relations. His story struck a warning chord in me. Like him, people confide in me, and while I’d like to use something so real and fantastic, I never want to betray the confidence another place in me.  I worry about self isolation.  
      I already blurred this line once when I wrote my college essay about a conversation my father and I had when I was five.  My father HATES this essay and to this day I’m not sure why.  To my eyes, he seems like the reasonable person and five-year-old me (and adult me by extension) seems petulant and difficult.  He made peace with the scene I portrayed, but even now he rolls his eyes when we talk about my college entrance essay.  An essay that won me scholarship money at five different schools on its strengths.

      To avoid this, I haven’t use a family member or close friend in my writing since. Once in a blue moon there’s a theme from their life but I make sure the setting is a world apart.  If a character in my writing reminds you of my husband, I can assure you it’s a coincidence.  I’m unlikely to use your or Zach in my writing either.  My brother may one day make a cameo but he’s so chill about everything, I know he wouldn’t care if I wrote a character with his temperament and a different back story. 

      That said a lot of relative strangers over share elements of their life with me. I’ve got a few characters in my novel where I haven’t even changed the name (my conscious will get to me before I publish). In my dreams where I publish this book, don’t change these characters, and it takes off, I always wonder “Will person X recognize themselves”. My novel setting is in downtown Huntsville. Adding elements of realism makes me more vulnerable to that moment where people know themselves and are pissed with how/why I portrayed them in the novel, even if I run back through to further erase the serial numbers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *