Friday, March 16, 2012

What’s This Muse Crap?

One of the most popular questions a writer of any calibre gets is: where do you get your ideas from?

For me, the answer to that is easy. Everywhere. Take a walk, or a drive, keep your eyes open, listen to conversations other people are having. A phrase, an expression, an action, anything might trigger an idea which, when paired with a what if question, might develop into something with a plot.

For example: One day I'm driving in my car and listening to a news radio station because yes, I'm that old, and there is a news piece about some historical society trying to save an old house from demolition. I only half-heard the reporter prattle on until she finished with the phrase, the famous house. . .

Boom. Click. The heavens opened. The sun shone. The muse descended. The light turned green.

Famous House. What if, this was the name of some house, like Tara from Gone With the Wind. Oooh, plantation homes, they're always cool. So why Famous House? What if famous people lived in them? Better, what if famous people lived in them before they were famous? What if the house made them famous--for a price?

See how it goes?

But Mike, I hear you whine, I don't have a car, or a radio, or like news programs.

Not a problem my friend. I bet you have a local library, or a bookstore, or maybe even books at home. When I'm stuck, I use a hybrid method I learned at the Writers of the Future workshop. Wander through the aisles, non-fiction best. Don't look at the book titles. Randomly choose five books. From these, choose three, and you will likely get something of an idea to write, whether it be a character, a location, or an unusual topic. The downside is you might actually have to read, or even skim through some of the books. The upside is you will educate yourself, and write what you know.

But Mike, the library cancelled my library card because of unpaid fines and the local bookstores have banned me for drunken and rude behaviour.

Really? Drunk in a bookstore? You really need to get some help.

But never fear. The solution to your dilemma is writing prompts. After all, that's what ideas are, prompts to jump start the old gray matter. Have someone suggest three things. Have three different people suggest one thing. Don't have them suggest anything, just listen to them and quietly pick out three topics of discussion. Open a magazine and pick a random picture that interests you. Then ask yourself, what if?

The story doesn't have to work. Not everything you write is going to be gold, but the next time you hear the question: where do you get your ideas from, you can smile because this time you're not the one asking.

My story, Famous House, first published in the horror anthology Black Spiral: Twisted Tales of Terror but can be purchased as an e-book from Smashwords for the low, low, price of $0.99.

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