Friday, January 22, 2010
Inspiration. It's such a slippery thing. What is it? Where does it come from? How do you find it and hold on to it and where can you get more when you need it?
I don't have an answer.
Well, ok, that's not true, I mean, I do sort of have an answer... but: "It's everywhere, if you just look!" sounds a little too much like the useless platitudes found in those up-with-people type of children's show, the kind where the aging hippy host wears brightly colored suspenders.
But then, I guess that's the rub, right? Inspiration is everywhere and if you keep your eyes open and put a little effort into keeping track of all of it, then you will find that you won't have any lack of ideas-- now, whether or not they're good or bad, of course, well, that is a whole other animal, but I digress...
I keep various file folders saved in a couple of different locations as insurance against some kind of catastrophic event. I have an e-mail folder full of e-mails that I've sent myself that contain nothing but links. I have scads of random, weird pictures. And some day, long after I'm dead and gone, some poor bastard will have to sift through all of my files and there they will find pages and pages of pictures and reams of cluttered and cryptic Word Docs that all say things like:
"Remember the Academy--long gone."
Or: "Great beasts lurking in the mist..."
Or: "He's not the first to step foot here..."
They're pages of disconnected short-hand, nothing but nonsense, a jumble of pictures and words quickly jotted down and cataloged and hopefully in such a way that when I stumble upon them again while idea-trolling, at some point in the unknown future, the stored combination of them will trigger a recall of the whole (or at least, the interesting parts of the) story idea.
So far, it's been pretty successful system for me. Upcoming pieces and potential storyline ideas for my first book were stored in such a way, and successfully retrieved when needed, as well. It's not a perfect system, of course. Every once in a while, I come across something like this:
Hmmmm... not sure where I was going with that...
Anyway, in general, those are just minor bumps in the road. Usually, the process works (again: for me). So, my point is: Watch, listen, and record. Keep an active and alive folder of ideas. Save all of those crazy pictures you stumble across. And always record those little snippets of conversations or random moments that occur to you on whatever scraps of paper are at hand, just don't forget to transcribe them to your file later. Remember.
The main idea for my first book came from three places.
1. A general feeling of dissatisfaction with the way my, at that time but currently cryogenically stored, work in progress was coming together. Lots of good pieces... I love some of the visuals... but it just wasn't quite right... I loved the zombies, though... and these two side characters...
2. A massive disappointment in George Romero's fourth zombie movie Land of the Dead. Sloppy. Half-baked. The world building made no sense. How can paper money have any value at all in a Post Zombie Apocalypse World? Zombie emoting? Horrible! The whole scavenging idea was good, but the idea of trying to live in a large population center while raiding small towns for supplies seemed somehow backwards to me...
3. A bus ride. It must have been almost four years ago now, maybe more, winter was ending, but it was still chilly out. Cold enough where you couldn't wear a light jacket, but warm enough that you would sweat in your big coat. The streets were nothing but a sloppy mess of mud and brown slush. The skies were overcast and dreary and everyone around me looked haggard and pale and worn out and for some reason, a lot of people riding the 17 line have luggage with them... and they're NOT going to or from the airport... it's weird...
So anyway, I'm on this bus, gazing listlessly out in the deepening twilight and thinking about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and American Refugees (which is apparently an incorrect term, as foreign is an integral part of the definition... which is why they started calling them Katrina Victims, I guess...) and broken urban landscapes, etc, etc... (Note: I was percolating the book, ok... I don't just think about this stuff for fun... ok, maybe a little...)
and the bus is just packed full of tired, murmuring, and late-winter dirty people, clutching their backpacks and suitcases, all of them sunk down in their seats, or standing in the aisles and swaying with the bus's motion... When out of nowhere, some ragged moron suddenly dashes across the street, pell-mell and right in front of the bus, lit up and flailing for a split second in the bus's headlights. The Driver slams on the brakes, people cry out in shock and fear.
The idiot goes running off into the night where he, most likely, died in some ridiculous manner and then the bus just goes on and I eventually end up at the comic book store (Yay!). BUT... I wrote it all down, lines of quick scribbles, something about Refugees, crammed into a bus and driving through the desolate night and then running over some screaming madman (zombie) and the pieces of that and the other two reasons, the whole of it all... they just started to fit together.
And now I'm written a book.
So, long story short (too late), pay attention out there, folks, because you never know when you might see something awesome...