Unexpected Inspiration

We live in a crazy world. With all the demands for a nanosecond of our attention spans, it’s easy to tune out, shut down or narrow our focus. As writers, however, we have to open up. Open our eyes. Our ears. Our noses. Our hearts (Okay, not literally, please!). Stories are everywhere—from a walk in the woods, to an encounter in the supermarket, to conventional writing prompts.

When I look over the stories I’ve written and my few recent attempts at poetry, I find my inspiration is as loopy as my personality. A painting. A wacky get-rich-quick scheme a friend once told me about. A childhood memory. A dream. An incident that occurred on vacation. A woman selling Tupperware at a craft fair. Can you tell I’m a Gemini?

No matter what sparks the inspiration, immediately, visuals form. The characters take shape. I see how they dress, their quirks and habits. I see their environment. I know what’s in their refrigerators and what’s tossed in the back of their closets.

Writing exercises challenge me to be bold, to take chances in my writing.
Surprisingly, writing prompts have triggered several stories that I would never have thought to write. Some have taken me out of the safe “write what you know” mode. Really, would I have written about a troubled twelve-year-old boy from New York who thinks his southern holy-roller aunt’s neighbor is a vampire, if instructor Cindy Ramsey hadn’t handed me an envelope containing a mish-mash of magazine pictures, phrases and numbers, all of which had to be used in the story organically? Perhaps the piece wasn’t one of my shining moments, but it sure was fun to write. The painting I mentioned earlier was a student work depicting a bluegrass band. In this case, I did refer to my own life experience in part. I turned them into a Jazz band performing in a Coney Island club.

Last month, I attended the Isothermal Community College Writers’ Workshop where novelist Kim Church presented a class on developing authentic characters. The exercise she had us do was simple, but featured a clever and inspiring twist. She handed out photos she’d taken, but these were no ordinary snapshots. They were vague, mysterious. You might see someone’s elbow and another person’s shoulder, but no faces. Some were out of focus, downright blurry or taken at quirky angles. They invited imagination. My picture, a shot of a dog in a car with his paw on the driver’s side window, was probably one of the more literal photos in the batch, but still it was intriguing. Where is this car parked? What or who is the dog looking at that caused him to paw the window? Who is his human? The car looked beat up. What kind of person owns that car? That dog? Did the car smell like cigarettes and wet dog? Spring Breeze air freshener? The windows were up, so was it cold outside? If not, why would the owner leave a dog in a hot car? Where did this person go?

Fire up your imagination.
Here’s a pic I took. Start a story in a few sentences. Write a few lines of a poem. Write lyrics to a song. Write part of a scene for a play or screenplay. Post your brilliance in the comments field. This is not a contest. You will win nothing tangible, except praise and admiration from me and others who read our blog. You might, however, begin a new work and be inspired to complete it.

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  1. #1 by Joyce on April 25, 2012 - 9:31 pm

    Okay, Da, I’ll bite. Here’s my try.

    “The night wore a perpetual scowl. The clock tower, cowled like a nun, loomed over the square, waiting for recalcitrant citizens to dare pass by. I was the one who would be struck by the birch branch. I was the one who would slink out of the archway and brave its cold stare to find the one person in all of humanity who could give me succor in my night of distress.”

    • #2 by wordimprovisor177 on April 25, 2012 - 9:34 pm

      Whoa, Joyce! Great suspense. I like it. Think about turning into a flash story. :-)

  2. #3 by Lili Anel on April 25, 2012 - 9:45 pm

    “of all of the things
    than you can’t get back-
    time is the one, keeps and
    takes you off track;
    brings the light
    brings the black
    and remind me
    always of what all
    could have been but isn’t”

    lili anel
    (nice piece Darlene ;-])

    • #4 by wordimprovisor177 on April 25, 2012 - 9:56 pm

      Awesome, Lili! I love the push and pull of this. “brings the light/brings the black” Very cool. Thanks for joining in and for reading. Glad your recording sessions are going well. You need to tour the south! :-)

  3. #5 by priceswrite on April 25, 2012 - 10:35 pm

    Oh great, homework. (And since I typed that, you can’t be sure if I meant that with sarcasm, fear or enthusiasm. I haven’t sat down to work on it yet, but it did remind me of how useful prompts can be. Expect something from me tomorrow. Also, I love that you know what is in your characters’ fridges – I once had a director ask me what kind of cereal a character ate.

    • #6 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 12:31 am

      LOL! I’m looking forward to your interpretation, Linda. And since I typed that you can’t be sure if I meant that with sarcasm, terror or giddy anticipation! :-)

  4. #7 by ndp on April 26, 2012 - 8:32 am

    Ooh, a genre moment!

    A bunch of us were at Preston’s that night, sucking down longnecks and watching the moon that peeked from behind the clock tower across the street. It was a full moon, as bright and expansive as a mylar balloon, and later some of us thought it was at least a little responsible for what happened next. I mean, let’s face it, Jorey’s behavior was pretty weird even for Jorey. The gun he wasn’t supposed to own was lying on the table, and we made a point of not seeing it. That’s why we were staring at the moon.

    • #8 by priceswrite on April 26, 2012 - 9:16 am

      Okay, I seriously want to read the rest of this story. Write fast.

      • #9 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 11:37 am

        Totally! NDP is an excellent writer. We have a loose little writers’ group here. By loose I mean we meet when we can and if we have a story or chapter to share we pass it around. Mostly, we go out to dinner and drink wine. Not unlike a Queens residency. LOL!

    • #10 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 11:34 am

      Yay! Genre moment! Jorey! You come up with the best names NDP! Love the voice and the set up. Let’s see where you take it. :-)

      • #11 by ndp on April 26, 2012 - 4:02 pm

        Hullo? Take it???

      • #12 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 6:22 pm

        OK, NDP. I’m a dork. :-(

  5. #13 by Beth Goehring on April 26, 2012 - 9:32 am

    “The utter silence was even scarier when the last waves of sound from the 10 o’clock bells died. Where did all the people go? When Mom put me to bed tonight at 8 o’clock, the neighborhood was as busy as usual: drivers honking at people darting into the street, people laughing at the cafe across the street…. Wait. Oh, no, where’s Mom?”

  6. #14 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 11:40 am

    Beth!!! Good one! You might have the start of a teen or YA novel. Keep writing! Thanks for contributing.

  7. #15 by Emily Bartlett on April 26, 2012 - 5:46 pm

    Hey Darlene. Though of your prompt today at work and this came out of somewhere:

    Betty Jean took a moment to catch her breath, clearing a small patch of fog-covered car window with her hand. As if through a key hole, the town clock glared back at her with its pointing fingers, bringing to mind her mother’s mantra that nothing good ever happens after midnight. Mid-night. Something from deep within her, ancient and newly sewn to her being, lifted the corners of her green eyes. “Okie dokie,” she said, to his long lashes and soft curls.

    • #16 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 6:12 pm

      Excellent, Emily! Now something dreadful must happen! Glad you took some time to scribble a few words. Happy writing!

  8. #17 by priceswrite on April 26, 2012 - 6:33 pm

    I started to write a scene, but dialogue takes so much space so this came out instead.

    It was always night when we parted.
    Darkness hiding your heart
    So you could say “I don’t want to leave you”
    And I could pretend it was true.

    It was always raining when we parted.
    Teardrops melting into raindrops
    So I could say the mascara staining my cheeks was the fault of the sky.
    Not yours.
    And you could pretend it was true.

    And then the only lie would be that you would be back soon.

  9. #18 by wordimprovisor177 on April 26, 2012 - 6:37 pm

    Wow! Linda! That’s great. This could be a song.Very cool. :-)

  10. #19 by Debbie on April 27, 2012 - 6:06 pm

    The bright light burned into my retinas as I tried to see the time. It was as if the sun was up but the cold dampness confirmed it was nighttime. I tried to see what lay beyond the light. Was it a prison? A cemetery? No difference really. They both provide a final resting to those who sinned.

    • #20 by wordimprovisor177 on April 28, 2012 - 1:08 am

      Very cool, Debbie! I love that ending. Excellent tension to kick into what comes next. Or as an ending to micro-fiction piece.

      • #21 by Debbie on April 28, 2012 - 7:20 am

        Thanks Darlene. This was fun. Sorry for the extraneous letters at the end. I don’t write fiction, so this was a wonderful exercise to teach someone how to write with descriptive details.

  11. #22 by Debbie on April 27, 2012 - 6:09 pm

    The light pierced my retinas as I tried to see the time. It was as if the sun was out, but the cold dampness told me it was nighttime. I strained to see what lay beyond the light. A prison? A cemetery? No difference, really. It’s the final resting place for those who sinned. ned

    • #23 by wordimprovisor177 on April 28, 2012 - 9:32 am

      Hey, Debbie, I used to write creative nonfiction and sketch comedy and started writing flash fiction about 10 years ago, so I know where you’re coming from. :-) It’s good to switch it up every so often. Keep writing. That’s the important thing. Have a groovy day.

      • #24 by Debbie on April 28, 2012 - 10:01 am

        You too Darlene. I’ve written several 10 minute plays, children’s short stories and lots,of business content. Fiction is (for me) challenging because you WANT lots of descriptive language, whereas in business you want to eliminate all of it!

  12. #25 by Audrey on April 28, 2012 - 3:07 pm

    The haze over the moon in the night sky reminds us that tomorrow will be another scorcher. Walled cities to explore; the clock towers lead the way. Inside the cities we find treasures. A culture so unique it calls you to return to a way of life that is passed down to each generation with pride. Savoring the moment and the coolness of the evening I will forever remember this wonderful experience.

    • #26 by wordimprovisor177 on April 28, 2012 - 9:29 pm

      Nice, Audrey! I get a feeling of history and mythological lore in the place you’re creating, even in this short vignette. Might be fun to explore what magic awaits within the walled cities. Thanks for contributing!

  13. #27 by Clare O'Sheel on April 28, 2012 - 10:51 pm

    He stood in the shadow of the old clock tower at the end of the bridge, the fog obscuring what Ron knew where tiny deep-set eyes almost invisible in broad daylight. The moon was full and frosted the moisture in the air with an icy glare that caught and illuminated a line of spittle between Bull’s anemic lips like the silver trail of a garden slug. A malicious sneer held center stage. Ron knew he was in trouble. What had been proposed as a reconciliation meeting was clearly a trap and he had left his revolver in the car. Stupid.

    “Nice to see, you Ron.” The moron’s curled lips barely moved around the whispered greeting, more threat than welcome. There was a charge in the cold night air now and a sifting sound such as one would hear if a hunting knife were being slid slowly from its sheath. Not thinking twice about it, Ron pirouetted, leapt over the railing and plunged forty feet into the icy late-winter waters of the French Broad. Those ballet classes were every bit as valuable as Cheri had promised.

    • #28 by wordimprovisor177 on April 28, 2012 - 11:10 pm

      I am totally creeped out! Love it, Clare. Ballet! Now there’s a twist to add depth to this character!

  14. #29 by Kim Church on April 29, 2012 - 9:12 am

    Wow — beautiful photograph, and inspired writings! Thanks for breathing new life into that exercise (one of my favorites, by the way).

    • #30 by wordimprovisor177 on April 29, 2012 - 10:45 am

      Thanks to you, Kim, for inspiring the inspiration! :-) Hope to see you again one of these days. Your book is on my reading list already, even if it is coming out in 2014! “Byrd” is the title, correct?

  15. #31 by talesfromahungrylife on July 7, 2012 - 11:25 am

    Okay, so it takes me awhile to respond. Here’s my stab at it:

    It was a few minutes past 10 pm, but the moon shone so brightly that I could see you both clearly. You, with your arm draped around her. Her, looking up into your eyes like you were Moses come down from the mountain. I used to look at you like that. Instead, now I watch from behind, on moonlit street corners, wishing I hadn’t followed you at all.

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