Monday, June 13, 2011

The Inspiration Genie

There was a character in Case Histories on BBC1 last night who was a a novelist, and in one scene a nurse says to him, "There's something I've always wanted to ask. Where do you get your ideas?"

The look on his face said it all, and I gave a wry little laugh. It's one of those questions writers dread as it's so hard to answer sensibly.

It would be great if there was an ideas bank where you could go and withdraw inspiration when you're running low, but for me I find that the more I write the more ideas seem to pop up, and they're everywhere.

A while ago the lovely Teresa Ashby ran a 'first line' competition on her blog, which I entered. I didn't win, but the line stuck in my mind and I've just sold the resulting story I wrote to Woman's Weekly.

A few months back my daughter rang on her way to work in a panic, with the immortal words, "It's only half past six and I've killed a cat."

I think I managed an appropriate response, but I was secretly thinking what a brilliant story opener and subsequently sold that story too.

Sometimes a line on the news or in a TV drama, or in a newspaper or magazine, or an overheard snippet of conversation in a cafe, or something I see in passing will plant itself in my head, and I know there's a story lurking that I want to write.

I've even woken up lately with stories half-formed in my head, that haven't seemed completely ridiculous a couple of hours later.

Maybe it's like exercising a muscle that keeps growing stronger and it's got to a stage where I'm subconciously seeing stories everywhere.

I don't want to put ideas in Teresa's head, but my daughter did demand a cut of my earnings from the dead cat story, as she said I'd never have written it if she hadn't phoned me that morning. (The cat wasn't dead, by the way.)

Which, to be fair, is spot-on.

She did back down though, once I began droning about the unpaid labour that's gone into parenting her over the past twenty years.

Wherein lies another story. Probably.


Teresa Ashby said...

It is brilliant you sold a story from that first line, Karen. Can't wait to read the rest. Congratulations :)

DAB said...

Your post made my smile :-) So glad the cat lived to see another day. Tommox

Jen said...

I love those throwaway comments made innocently by 'normal' people. I have a plot brewing from such a comment made by my disastrous and incompetent Biology teacher - it's months now and still planted. Oddly, I bet she's never given it another thought...

I like thoughts and ideas. I just need to come up with one that makes a million quid now!

Dumdad said...

"It's only half past six and I've killed a cat."

Wonderful line.

Where do ideas come from? Where does natural tennis talent like Federer come from? Or anything else really? There is the old line of 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration that jumps to mind.

Apparently, the great Anthony Burgess was on a bus and heard two old ladies chatting and one described someone as being like a clockwork orange. Um, he used that line to his benefit!

Linda Gruchy said...

Well done.

The important thing to do is make a note of them at the time.

Which I don't always do.

Bother it.

broken biro said...

I love the idea of the 'idea muscle' ...but I have no truck with these people who demand a cut of the writer's vast (ha!) earnings for use of a line they quite literally threw away... they were never going to do anything with that line!

Lydia said...

I agree: hate that question! However, completely agree that the more you write, the more stories seem to be everywhere and no, I don't always write them down when I get them - though I have been known to be scribbling by torchlight at 2am. (Husband doesn't even bother beginning..."what the..." anymore). It's a lovely feeling when you're in the flow and ideas are flooding in, isn't it? Enjoy it while you wait for novel feedback. Nice to have you back in the short-story writers' fold! x

Anna Scott Graham said...

I smiled the whole time I read this. My sister is forever calling me telling me this or that would make a great story. I have yet to take her up on one, but don't tell. :)))

Each idea is so... hard to qualify. But precious and occasionally with an equally fantastic tale attached. And at least now, if I wake with an idea, I'm smart enough to get up and scribble some notes. One day I'll hopefully catch up on all that lost sleep!

Pat Posner said...

Great first lines, Karen. Especially as the stories went on to sell!

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

I love that first line.

I have a dreadful problem thinking of ideas for short stories and admire those of you who do write such brilliant ones.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I heard that line last night and though Kate Atkinson had put that there on purpose because writers are always asked that!

Well done on selling the story. Love that first line about the cat - but just in case you think it gave me this idea, I've just entered a comp with the first line: 'Jake MacKenzie hated cats but he hadn't meant to kill the first one'. Would hate you to think I was using yours!

Lorna F said...

As Evelyn said, the key thing is to write them down! Congratulations on (a) writing the stories triggered by those lines and (b) selling them! xx

Anna May said...

Congrats on the sale to Woman's Weekly! Real life is always my inspiration - so many ideas, so little time......
Anna May x
ps: Hurrah for nearly but not dead cat

HelenMWalters said...

So glad to hear the cat wasn't dead ;-)

Talli Roland said...

Congrats on your sale, Karen! Fantastic!

Thea Atkinson said...

ah yes, the dreaded question. I dread it as much as I dread, "What's your novel about?"

Great post. thanks for visiting my blog or I'd have never found you. I'm following you now.

Misha Gerrick said...

Hehehehe yeah I can see how that phone call got you thinking. Most of my story ideas come from a variety of things that melt together into something I want to write.


Karen said...

teresa - Thank you :o)

tommo - Why thank you x My daughter was EXTREMELY relieved!

jen - Ooh yes, I'm still working on the million quid idea. Maybe there's a story in that ...

dumdad - I didn't know that about Anthony Burgess. So if he hadn't got the bus that day ... it does make you wonder.

evelyn - I've got better at making a note of ideas these days, as I got so frustrated trying to remember them all!

broken biro - That's a good point, and I'll remember to use that the next time she wants commission :o)

lydia - I've tried scribbling things down in the night before, but without a torch! Didn't always make sense the next morning :o)

anna - I sense a story coming on now, about a woman lying awake all night trying recapture lost ideas ... food for thought :o)

Thank you, Pat :o)

debs - Prompts often work for me, especially first lines for some reason, which is why Teresa's competition sparked my imagination :o)

rosemary - I wondered that too about Kate Atkinson popping that line in! And it's funny how, even if we all had the same first line to write from, the rest of the story would be completely different :o)

lorna - Thank you, and yes I'm getting better at writing them down!

anna may - That's the trouble, I have to stop myself looking for a story in everything at times. And yes, the cat was fine - but with one less life!

Me too, Helen!

Thank you Talli :o)

thea - Thank you for dropping by :o) And yes, that's a killer question too. I sum up my first one as 'romantic comedy with time-travel' and leave it at that, but haven't thought of a tag-line for the 2nd one yet!

misha - Thanks for commenting :o) It's funny how some things pass you by, and others stick and become something bigger. Funny thing the old brain (and mine is pretty old!)