I woke up this morning to a Facebook post by George Adamczyk about inspiration. Specifically:
How do you get your inspiration for story ideas?
1. Spontaneous Creation – it just comes to you
2. Sub-Mission – think of an idea that a magazine or anthology is looking for
3. Dream Factory – it comes from a dream you had
4. Couch Potato – just sit around wracking your brain for a seed that can blossom into a novel
5. Lottery Ticket – keep scratching away until you come up with a winner
Chris Stenson (one of the authors featured in The Gates Of Chaos) added a 6th: reading other people’s work.
I said that my inspiration came from 1. and 2. with the rare occasions that a story grows out of a dream. But then when Chris made his comment, I realized that most of my written works have come from reading something else.
Richard Laymon has always been a favorite of mine. I can’t really explain why; I don’t necessarily feel like he’s a great writer. If anything, his prose can be a bit juvenile with its obsession with sex. Almost lewd. But his characters work for me, and his stories often inspire me to try writing something similar.
For example, I started writing my novella THE CAVE after reading Laymon’s THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW (one of his best, in my opinion). I loved the idea of kids exploring a circus/carnival that comes to their town. Kids exploring things hits home – we did a ton of exploring as kids when our world was smaller. An empty lot in our neighborhood overgrown with trees and serving as a drainage area for our part of the neighborhood was a vast jungle filled with adventure. The cornfields around our area were unending fields of tall green stalks, rising above our heads. The woods at the end of the street and the dirt road leading to an untrustworthy bridge (for vehicles, not bicycles). We dreamed about finding adventure. And what could be more interesting to a group of kids than finding a cave?
Another Laymon story was called ENDLESS NIGHT, and while it wasn’t what I thought it would be from the title, I took that title and wrote my own story that ended up being called THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT. It is nothing like the Laymon title that inspired it, but deals with the mystery of what might lurk behind the closed doors of homes in suburban middle America.
Then there is Edward Lee and his book CITY INFERNAL. The idea that there was a city in the underworld, called Mephistopolis, I think, that was powered by suffering gave me an idea to write something about human suffering being a more practical goal than simply evil for evil’s sake. Oh, it’s still evil, but it serves a purpose. From that idea came my short novel RECIPROCAL EVIL.
William Malmborg is one of our contemporaries as writers. Malmborg has a delightfully twisted imagination, having written JIMMY, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL, and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH THE OUIJA BOARD. He also wrote TEXT MESSAGE, which follows the story of a college girl in a suburban shopping mall during a snowstorm who has become separated from her little sister (she ditched the little girl to meet up with a boyfriend) and begins to receive text messages threatening to hurt her sister if she doesn’t perform multiple degrading acts around the mall. It gets more voyeuristic and more violent, and. well, I think Bill is going to re-release it at some point in the near future, if it sounds like a good read (which it definitely was for me).
It wasn’t so much the story that inspired me but the setting. I was inspired to pick a public location in which to set a story. Also, the voyeuristic aspect of the story intrigued me and I wanted to use it as well. I remembered laying on the bed in a hotel and staring up at the smoke detectors and sprinkler system fixtures on the ceiling, and thinking how easy it would be to install those little cameras in them. And between that and Malmborg’s story, I had the basis for my novella THE INN.
Robert Walker mentioned in that same FB thread that sometimes challenges can be the source of inspiration. I’ve also found inspiration in these sorts of challenges. Write a story to fit an anthology’s theme. Or writing contests, like the ones we used to have at the Book and Candle Pub, where we’d be given a starting sentence and/or six words to build any sort of story around. My novella ODD MAN OUT began its life as a 1600 word short story that used an opening sentence and six assorted unrelated words. I increased the word count to something around 37K when rewriting it. Now it’s also inspired a sequel (complete but untitled). My story DEAD OR ALIVE was a 2400 word story about a detective who escapes a vampire enclave in Los Angeles, also written for a Pub contest. That story first grew into a trilogy of related longer short stories (averaging about 8000 words each) and then another short story, then two more novels/novellas (finished but not edited completely) and a third novel or novella in progress today. Only the first trilogy of stories has been published, but I’m getting there with the others.
Another source of inspiration was an old shared world from the Horror Discussion Group on Delphi. The moderator of the forum created a town called Addison Falls, along with a group of settings and common characters that were free for anyone to use. I wrote a longish short story (about 11K words) in that world, called “The Ghost Train.” And then finally I finished a 60K novel, as yet untitled, also set in that world, using some of the common characters, some ‘proprietary’ characters (with permission from their creator) and several new characters of my own. I recently did a reread and quite enjoyed it. I wonder if others will enjoy it as well.
Finally, my own characters seem to be inspiring me. I started a novel called “College Horror Story” which really kicked into gear when I realized that it was set at the same college as RECIPROCAL EVIL was set at. And THE INN has now inspired a prequel/sequel that I am at the beginning stages of writing. I suspect that I’ll lengthen other short stories in the future and see what comes out of them.
Inspiration seems to come from all over the spectrum for me, but the common theme is the written word. How about you? Do you have any thoughts or stories about what inspires you? Feel free to drop me a comment. Thanks!