When an author of fiction sits down to pen a novel, he has a fairly decent idea of what his story is about. He has characters in mind, places envisioned, a general idea of the plot which can make or break his efforts.
Many, like me, write from the gut and develop the book as inspiration hits while typing. Not so easy, as oftentimes this can become a very time-consuming endeavor. Others, like mega-author, John Grisham strictly believe in formatting an outline first then placing the story on paper; specifically seeing the story from beginning to end and then crafting a readable manuscript. No outline, no book, those are words they live by. The rationale is you don’t want to arrive on page 250 of 400 and draw a blank, then, you’re in big trouble.
Both methods work, but first and foremost, you have to actually see the story, right? This brings up the question: What/Who do you see and where do you go to envision your stories? What propels the creativity fairy to arrive and pay you a much-needed visit?
We’ve all heard the saying, “Writers write about what they know.” Much truth to this, no? After all, many writers have places and people they draw inspiration from.
Personally, I’ve learned to write about cities lived and visited, occupations worked in, and people who’ve made lasting impressions on me, for good or bad. For various authors, their lives are colorful enough to fill thousands of pages. For others, seeking out new ideas and visions to accompany the ones they already have is the needed answer.
My newest work-in-progress takes place in a small town outside of Dallas; and as it just happens, one where some of my family resides. So, I’m very familiar with the landscape. And there’s something about the charm of small-town living that draws people in and makes great stories–especially when there’re jackals living among good God-fearing, non-drinking, dinner-at-six type folks.
I always thought a tiny town, one like this, which rarely makes the news or gains much attention, could use a giant shakeup. Something that makes people pace the floors at night, pulls upon their greed, and tests generations of family bonds. It would take a lot to change the lifestyles of small-town attitudes; however, nothing gets peoples attention faster than the lure of buried treasure, so to speak.
Here’s where I’m going with this. I’ve known for a while what I wanted the story to be about, yet, I couldn’t envision some of the plotline I knew lay beneath the surface. So, after plenty of frustration, I did what any crazed writer would do, I started visiting the places I had in mind, and it’s helped immensely.
There’s the old gas station turned restaurant/bar in the middle of nowhere (GPS required) where I hear moonshine is bottled and sold after midnight, the historic-looking town square both at lunchtime and way past dark, the biker bar where I was noticeably overdressed (tattoos and pissed-off attitude required for admission), the racetrack down the road where RV’s find new homes and fights are frequent, the neighborhood Drive-In Theatre (home of most teenage pregnancies), and of course, Wal Mart, every residents second home (great for people watching while dining on popcorn and beer). To most outside observers, this tiny spec on the map of Texas is a sleepy pit stop. But dig a little deeper and stories can be found.
Think of things this way: Ever spent time at a Truck Stop in the middle of the night (just picture the drug dealing, prostitution, and adultery you’d see), Topless Bar in Washington D.C. (is that Senator #@$& across the room!), Homeless Shelter (imagine listening to the reasons of why many are there), a chic Country Club dinner table (did his wife just wink and lick her lips at that other lady’s husband?), or how about that abandoned, rusty old barn where millions (and Jimmy Hoffa) were accidentally found seconds before burning it to the ground– it stood next to a busy highway for years, yet, if people had only known. But you, the creative writer, envisioned a story inside its patinaed sheet metal while cruising by!
Stories are everywhere; maybe the ticket is spending less time at Starbucks and more at Bubba’s Bar & Grill?
Speaking of the picture above, is that Elvis I see playing checkers?