Finding Inspiration for Stories

Five novels meant coming up with ideas five different times that could develop into 50K word stories.

I think one of the biggest questions that artists, creators, any person who is a creative type gets is “How/Where do you find inspiration?” And the thing is – there isn’t one solid answer.

For me, inspiration can come from the randomest things. I’ve put together story pieces from things that happen in real life, from fiction that I’ve consumed, or just from my brain. Some of my ideas have started out as weird dreams, others come from serious, conscious planning when I’m awake. Like many other creatives will tell you, there isn’t one specific place that inspiration comes from – sometimes it clicks and other times, it doesn’t.

For example, the first few novels I wrote when I was a kid were explicitly taken from other novels I had read. I borrowed characters, plot, and setting from other books I had read, throwing them all together into a jumbled mess of story. The inspiration was clearly from those books, and that’s kind of how I learned how to draw concepts from things I knew. When it came to my first novel for NaNoWriMo, I decided to write in a genre I knew best at the time, and that happened to be dystopian. So, I pulled from other dystopian novels I had read and tried to replicate the same thing in my own writing.

After that first novel, ideas started coming more organically. My second novel was still influenced by other books I had read, but the premise was more original and the characters were more of my own. Then I began getting ideas for short stories based on personal experience, things I had seen, and things I’d overheard. One short story I wrote came into existence because I was watching a TV show and someone rode a bicycle to get away from the police. It got me thinking about how dumb of an escape plan that was, and it led to a short scene between two characters, one of whom stole a bike to get away from the police and ended up crashing it.

I’ve outlined a horror story that came from a vivid dream, though I have yet to write it. My 2016 novel was inspired by an anime I watched as a child. NaNoWriMo 2017’s novel came out of an exercise I had to do for my Intro to Creative Writing class in the spring semester, and it became the novel I’m proudest of. And my most recent NaNoWriMo novel came from a short story for class, which came about because of writing prompts we were given.

Sometimes, the inspiration is forced for assignments, and that can produce interesting content too. I’ve written several short stories that I’m pretty proud of because of writing prompts given to me in class. I haven’t had much experience with writing prompts outside of the academic setting, but it’s possible that they’ll inspire something for a short story, a short scene, or even a novel.

There have been several instances in which I’ve written short stories or short pieces from things that have happened in my life. Most notably, I wrote a short story in high school that has been revised a couple of times and is my most polished piece. Other short sketches have occasionally come into existence because of life experiences in college. I’m a huge advocate of writing from personal experiences and pulling from them to write something. Personally, I’ve also found the writing process to be therapeutic and calming, helping me to understand something I went through, to look at it from a different perspective, or to work through my own emotions about something.

The biggest difference between inspiration for short pieces and inspiration for novels is that I need to be able to see a cast of characters and a larger arc for a novel to come from an idea. When I get an idea, I generally also get the sense of whether it’s going to be a novel or not. If my mind churns with more ideas relating to the premise and scenes keep coming to mind, then I know that I won’t have much trouble planning and outlining a novel from that initial idea. However, if I get stuck after an idea first comes to mind, it’ll most likely play out best as a sketch or short story.

Part of me wishes that I could come up with ideas at the drop of a hat and churn out stories/novels like some published authors, but I think my brain might overload a little bit. I know that the rate at which ideas are coming to me now matches my writing skills and the amount of time I realistically have to write.

So, my question to you is, what inspires you to be creative?

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