Daily Archives: January 23, 2012

More on Inspiration and Murderers

Less than a week after writing my previous post, “Where do you get your ideas?”, I was sitting in a juice bar waiting for my husband.So I picked up the book he’d been reading and started leafing through it. To my surprise, I came upon the author’s views on just this question – the writer’s top FAQ. It made me realise there was something else to say.

In the Preface to “What the Dog Saw” (Little, Brown and Company, 2009), Malcolm Gladwell attempts to answer the question first of all by giving some specific examples of where his ideas came from, but then he summarises, “The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell.” He goes on to correct himself, calling this trick a challenge.

Gladwell is a reporter; he writes factual books and articles about interesting psychological and societal phenomena, but his remarks gave me pause. Because he is right in a way, but I wouldn’t call it a trick or a challenge, more a worldview. A way of looking at things. And maybe that is what makes me a writer of fiction.

Last week the Friday Fiction picture was an airport (you can see the picture, and my response at https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/flash-fiction-9/). And yet only maybe 20% of the responses featured an airport. The rest spanned heaven and hell, ancient sailing ships and moderns cruise-liners, shopping malls, alien space craft… we couldn’t help it. We couldn’t just see the picture and think “There’s an airport concourse [full stop. no story there.]” any more than we could look at an acorn on the ground the week before and see nothing but an acorn. We all saw something else. Characters. Drama. A story.

So perhaps, as a fiction writer, when faced with the question “Where do you get your ideas?”, there is only one answer, “I’m a writer. It’s not a question of where I get them, it’s a matter of how I get rid of them.” And that, of course, is by turning them into stories.

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