It’s Choc Lit’s seventh birthday today, so I baked a cake. Yum. I was also pondering lists with seven things in them and thought I’d share this one with you. Here’s my list of seven places to find inspiration.
1.TV and film
Ever watched a film and thought ‘but what if this happened instead’?
You never know what might spark off a train of thought. Even if it’s not obvious at the time, your brain will be squirrelling information away for later. So, you know how I’m not blogging much because I’m watching Netflix… that’s research, that is.
- The News
The weirdest things happen in real life. The news is full of things that make you wonder how or why they came to pass. Why would an otherwise normal woman try to kill her own children? How did the PA manage to squirrel away a million pounds before her boss noticed? Magazines are even better – who hasn’t read the ‘My husband left me for my mum’ type headline and thought ‘there’s a story in that’?
Sometimes real life isn’t terribly believable though. A friend of mine had a habit of destroying her mobile phones – back in the days when phones were still small. One day she tucked her phone between her ear and her shoulder so that she could talk to her sister while her hands were occupied opening a tin of tomatoes. She opened the tin, stretched to put the lid in the bin and her phone slipped and landed inside the tin of chopped tomatoes. This is a true story. If I put it in a novel, no one would consider it to be believable.
I’ve always thought dreams were the brain’s way of doing the filing. Our subconscious is way more creative than our conscious minds, so all kinds of odd things link up in dreams. The whole Twilight story came to Stephanie Meyer in a dream. So, you know, if it worked for her…
4.Secondary characters in your own stories
This is one of my favourite things. I wrote Girl Having A Ball because Stevie, who was a secondary character in Girl On The Run just wouldn’t leave my head. She make such a racket that I had to write her story.
While I was writing Girl Having a Ball, I gave the hero a female best friend called Olivia, who was a bit of a ladette. I loved Olivia so much that I gave her her own book – Girl In Trouble, which will come out next here (hopefully).
[Since my characters all inhabit roughly the same world – they gave cameos in each other’s books. You’d expect that in the series, but see if you can spot the links between Doctor January and the Girl books].
Have you got any fun secondary characters who you’d like to spend more time with? What story do they have to tell?
- The pub
When I worked in the labs, we used to joke that the best science happened in the pub. This was, broadly speaking, true. We used to all push off down to the pub once or twice a week and chat about work over a drink. The best suggestions for new experiments or even ways to make that stubborn experiment finally work happen around the second or third pint. A few pints later, you get into really silly suggestion territory like ‘if you ever go into writing romance, you could call yourself Rhoda Baxter haw, haw’, but those initial suggestions are usually gold dust.
The same works for story ideas. A good old chat over a couple of glasses of wine can unlock a wealth of creativity.
In the early 2000s the BBC ran a web forum called BBC Get Writing. It was a wonderfully supportive place where newbies like me got to learn from people who knew what they were doing. Get Writing used to post a daily set of prompts – every night at 8pm the prompts went up and you had 75 minutes to write and post a story. It was brilliant practise for someone learning to write. Having to write quickly meant that you dampened down your inner editor and were freed to write things you normally wouldn’t. There are a number of sites that offer story prompts. Have a go. See what you come up with. You might surprise yourself.
- Other people’s books
No, it’s not the same as nicking a plot… although, come to think of it, Pride and Prejudice forms the spine of many a good romance. This is similar to watching TV series or films. Take an idea. Bend it, twist it, move setting, change the heroes gender, combine it with something else. Tinker around with it long enough and you’ll soon end up with a story that is completely new. There are only so many storylines in the world, but it’s the way you put them together, the people you populate them with and your voice that makes your story yours. Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is inspired by The Jungle Book. You can see the parallels, but they are definitely not the same book!
If you want some inspiring books to read, check out Choc Lit’s catalogue. The range of stories there is incredible. Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Cheers!