Saturday, May 21, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

What do you do when a purple cow wanders into your dream?  If he tramples a line of people waiting to use an ATM you turn him into a metaphor for consumerism.  If he knocks over the display of Waterford crystal on the second floor of Macy’s, he’s a parenting lesson.

When your mother calls you at ten pm to discuss the details of her best friend’s nephew’s third divorce you could fake a fire in your kitchen and hang up or you could get out your pencil and notepad to exploit his suffering for your secondary character development.

Inspiration comes from three places, each having its own benefit and its own danger: dreams, life experiences, and scripture.

Dreams tap into fantasy, the unbridled, untamed explosion of action and color that break the rules of social behavior.  These ideas take your story to unexpected places, but our memories don’t hold the details.  Writing from a dream can feel like trying to grab a cloud; you know you are catching some of the substance, but you can’t retain the whole.

Life experiences are an unavoidable source of inspiration.  Our human successes and failures are the shared, universal experience and connect our writing to other people, making it relatable.  The danger of this muse is that our experiences are knitted together with our emotions.  Writing from experience requires a determined effort to exploit our own sorrow and joy.

Finally, it is scripture that inspires the spiritual elements of our writing.  Scripture gives us truth and bridges the great distance between our temporal world and the immaterial realm.  Art and literature can never be complete without tapping into our spiritual nature.  The danger of scripture based inspiration is that we risk alienating a portion of our audience.

My favorite writers fearlessly incorporate various sources of inspiration into their work.  So, the next time your three-year-old flushes three rolls of toilet paper down the upstairs toilet creating a Noah-level flood and collapsing the kitchen ceiling don’t surrender to temptation, weeping and rending your clothes.  Channel the tidal wave of emotion into a compelling chapter where your protagonist is washed over the stern of a Victorian Era steam liner.

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