Saturday, 15 May 2010

Helping the flow of ideas

Another piece of writing inspiration from one of my husband’s Kununurra photos.

It’s a lovely photo, isn’t it? Peaceful and calm. But if you start to look at it, there’s so much going on. First, there’s the water flowing down over the rocks. It’s not just pouring down, it’s quietly digging its way into the rocks below, forming the deep pool. All around, the trees and plants are growing and, if I know the Aussie bush, it’s alive with birds and insects, all going about their business and adding their own sounds to the gentle rush of the waterfall.

So how does it relate to writing? The waterfall, I see as a flow of ideas. They come into your mind and fill it, gradually spilling out into stories, poems and novels which can be enjoyed by everyone. The stronger the flow of ideas, the deeper the well of ideas becomes. We can’t use them all at once of course, so they work their way deeper until they can get out.

Now of course, that flow of water in the waterfall will sometimes dry up. In Kununurra, the summer is wet, so the waterfall was flowing quite strongly when P took the photo. In winter it will probably dry up to a trickle or maybe to nothing at all. Our waterfall of ideas, too, needs a source. So where do we get the ideas to keep it flowing?

Number one, for me anyway, is reading the work of others. Often I fall in love with a character and use them as the basis for my own story. Not the whole character of course. That would be little more than fan fiction. I may use the way they behave, the way they look, their relationship with other characters. Snippets of ideas put together from different books and stirred thoroughly. All those things go into the stream and wash down over the rocks into my pool of ideas.

Then there’s films, magazines and TV. I have to admit that my characters are often based on actors or people with ‘interesting faces’ that I see in the media. Not famous faces. If I had Harrison Ford walking around my novel, it might be a little obvious. But some lesser known actors have wonderful faces, full of character and I tend to start a story with a character rather than a plot. I make up a person and then do the ‘what ifs’ to get a plot and enhance the character. Using people’s faces this way is helpful to me, because when I start to lose touch with them in my story, I can go back and look at pictures or movies and get them more firmly planted in my brain.

Newspapers are another great source of plots. A simple headline can stick in the mind and start the flow of ideas. Put a strange headline with a face you like and see what ideas start to flow.

Then, of course, there is every day life. I live and work with interesting people. People tell stories all the time and sometimes a gem of an idea might fall into the stream. By the time it has rubbed its way over the waterfall it will be unrecognisable as their story and become a story of its own.

Sometimes, for me, the problem is not how to keep the ideas flowing, but how to keep them all from flowing over the edges of the waterhole before I’ve had chance to use them.

How about you? How do you keep your waterfall from drying up?


Trish said...

Great post, Kate. I keep my waterfall from drying up by writing down my ideas as soon as they pop into my head. I write the first paragraph or two, then file it on my computer. I come back later when I have more time.

Only a few days ago, I read something I'd written over a week ago. I didn't remember writing it, but it cracked me up. It was so funny, I couldn't believe I'd actually written it.

Joanne Fox said...

I'm a big fan of keeping notebooks and scrapbooks, and also often do a storyboard for specific stories. Which reminds me, that was a subject I was intending to blog about myself this week - thanks for reminding me!


Beautiful photograph. And you're absolutely right--films and books and pictures can be utterly inspiring. When I see a great movie, with a wonderful screenplay, it makes me want to write. And when I see a good blog post like yours, it makes me want to write, too.

Kate said...

Trish, that's a good idea. I'm always thinking of ideas and then forgetting them.

Joanne, I have lots of notebooks too, but I never seem to have one on me when I have a really good idea.

Samuel, thanks! As a fan of your blog, I take that as a great compliment.

Medeia Sharif said...

I read voraciously, write down my ideas, and hobnob with other writers online and in person. Those things help maintain my energy to write.