Someone read the blurb of my first book yesterday and asked me this – ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
A lot of my stories have just happened. Inspiration, though, as always comes and goes. The best stories are written down immediately. On the other hand, if you are not in a position to write the entire thing down, just keep a little note pad handy to make quick notes. I have my story ideas all jotted down neatly and it has been collected over the past ten years. About eighty percent of those ideas came to me during the first two years. If you don’t have a notepad when inspiration strikes, then you can save a few important cue words in your mind, like ‘girl, shop window, pretty dress, salesman’. Run this through your head a few times and chances are, the idea will stick around till you find a book.
Are you one of those susceptible to seeing strange dreams? If you’ve tried to find meanings in them and failed, maybe you can use them for your story-telling.
Songs are a good source of inspiration. Choose one with meaningful lyrics and possibly a catchy lilting tune. Close your eyes and let your thoughts wander. One of my best stories was inspired by a song and even to this day, I am reminded of the song even if I so much as see the title.
The books and fables you’ve read through your growing years, and later, can help too. Look at any mythological story from a different perspective. Chitra Divakarunni’s ‘Palace of Illusions’ is a retelling of the epic Mahabharata as told from Draupadi’s perspective. Draupadi thinks like a woman of the 21st century. The entire novel was riveting despite the story being old. So tap mythology. Pick up a story from the good old favourites, folk tales or the stories Grandma told you. Even a fairy tale perhaps. I grew up loving stories like the very simple ‘Kaatje’s Treasure’ and more complicated ones like ‘Peer Gynt’ and ‘Blue Baba of the Marsh’.
A role reversal in a story like ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’. Exercises like these help a writer to limber up. It also helps one to take an unbiased view on things and work on the various shades of grey that makes each character what they are. Movies like ‘ET’ and ‘Avatar’ stand out from other sci-fi movies because for once the aliens were not aggressors. It always helps to look at things differently.
Listening and looking around helps a lot. The idea is to blend in and not appear too obvious though. You are not an eavesdropper or a weirdo, you are merely a story-teller looking for stories. Conversations and sights give great beginnings to interesting stories. I once saw an old lady sitting by the side of the road and watching a couple of vegetable vendors coming down that path. I’m yet to write down the story that vision inspired.
Newspapers are an amazing source. Read interesting news tidbits and see what it can inspire. A personal favourite was written after I read about a man who supported his infirm mother and brother both financially and physically. They, in their stead, kept taunting him until he attacked them. My story has nothing to do with that man or his family but grew from the thought – how much can one do for others while taking flak without breaking down?
Here are more visions that inspired pleasant, vague, sad or funny thoughts—
A boy on a cycle peeking into a car and seeing two pretty young girls inside;
Another one sitting on a high wall and wistfully watching a game of cricket being played by children whom he cannot join because of social differences;
A mother angrily leading her daughter down the road…
It can be the beginning, ending or the very crux of a story. The genres could be romance, humour, sci-fi, horror or anything else one likes. And it would actually help if one stayed away from the obvious…like ‘romance’ for the plot with the boy on the cycle and two girls in the car.