A question that writers get asked a lot is about where we get our inspiration. When making up dozens of in-depth stories doesn’t come naturally to someone, it’s hard for them to fathom how we can possibly come up with so many characters and plots and details. This is no different from my inability to fathom how song writers can create dozens of new melodies and lyrics and hear it all in their head before they ever get it down on paper.
The obvious answer is that we’re really good at playing make-believe and weaving it seamlessly with details from our life experiences and people we’ve met. As kids, we were the ones instructing our friends on what we expected from them in our imaginary worlds. We offered backstories and character motivations as though directing a Metro Goldwyn Meyer film and not simply running around in our backyard.
Future writer: …and then the bad guy comes in and tries to capture you, but I fly in on my gigantic eagle who picks you up with his feet and we escape.
Future accountant: But the eagle’s claws would poke me and kill me!
FW: No they wouldn’t, because my eagle was raised in a government science lab ’cause they wanted him to be a weapon and they made it so his claws were retractable like a cat so that he could also do rescue missions when any army guys got caught.
FA: …Oh. Okay.
But beyond our natural knack for producing unlimited amounts of B.S., there’s what I call “serendipitous inspiration.” Something that I hear or see that sparks an idea that fits perfectly into my current book. Something I hadn’t planned on, that I never would have come up with on my own or thought to incorporate into the story. And when that something works, it feels like sliding that final piece into a tapestry sized puzzle. I get a huge smile on my face and a giddy happiness flows through me.
I had one of those moments while writing Tempting her Best Friend. I was sitting in a hotel lobby at an inhumanly early hour waiting for the shuttle to take me to the airport. As I sipped my coffee and attempted to keep my eyelids from blocking out the world in favor of a short coma, I took notice of the song playing from the hotel’s satellite radio. It’s called “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by a group called Death Cab for Cutie, though this song is only the lead singer with his acoustic guitar, which is what pushed through my brain fog and grabbed my attention. I love the sound of an acoustic guitar.
As I’m enjoying the song, one of the lines in the second verse reached out and slapped me. At the time, my mind dismissed the rest of the verse to focus on that one line, turning it into a psychological conundrum that needed exploring. So what is this all-important line?
“Fear is the heart of love…”
Now, when not taken out of context, it makes perfect sense. Leading with criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, he claims a nun taught him that “lesson” when he was young, which led him to leave the church for his difference in beliefs.
But I didn’t hear any of that. For whatever reason, I’d zeroed in on those six words and all I could think about was how I—or anyone, for that matter—could explain and justify that statement.
Before the shuttle even arrived, I’d twisted the thought around more times than a Chubby Checker impersonator and concocted my own theory for how it could make perfect sense. And the next time I sat down to write, I took that theory and slid it into place in one of—if not the—most important scenes of the book.
See? Serendipitous inspiration. It strikes when you least expect it and impacts your story in a way you never could have predicted. Those are some of my favorite moments as a writer.
And now with all of that, I bet you want to know what I came up with, right? Sorry, Charlie. No spoilers allowed. You’ll just have to read Dillon’s and Alyssa’s story to find out who uses it and how. If you do, feel free to join my spoiler-rich group on Facebook and tell me what you think of my crazy, backwards theory. Is it genius? Or pure hogwash? Maybe it’s a little of both. *wink*