Moving Inspiration into Story Muscle

Ideas and inspiration are flitting, flirting sparks of energy. Spontaneously they rush in front of us in a creative spurt, feeling like clear rush of energy. Sara Gruen was entranced while looking at a photo of a depression era circus when she got the idea for Like Water for Elephants. Elmore Leonard was galvanized to create U.S. Marshall Karen Sisco from a photograph of a real-life marshall.

Ideas must be captured, gazed at, recorded and exercised when they develop. Elusive as a a butterfly, they must be caught with the practical net of work before they are real. There isn’t one way to turn a spark of inspiration into the emotional energy that gives the writer a story he wants to write, plus the blessed understanding of how to begin to write.

Through a time of simmering, seething incubation the idea will either gather, swell and grow into a substance like a half remembered dream, or it will lose its trail, dissipate, and never form heart or soul. Emotional muscle of developing story, building its characters, plot, and reasoning hidden in the words takes attention and time.

Driving by a Greyhound bus on the interstate at eighty miles an hour can provide the spark of, “What a great story.” It is noting the feeling of looking at a Greyhound bus, its state license plate, and not being able to see inside the darkened windows. That night it is built while perhaps eating a soggy hamburger at a roadside inn and noticing an old man who would have a difficult time riding cross country on a Greyhound. It is seeing the half-realized scene of his shadowy figure limping down the bus’s aisle holding a locked box, that when he drops it by his feet, thuds like meat hitting a counter. Finishing your hamburger and lost in vaporous thought, you imagine an eight year old Asian child’s stare that is so intense the bus driver turns around and also sees a woman sitting in row three. In her throaty voice sounding like a hammer breaking coal, she is telling a man trying to read of fleeing from her murderous husband.

Unsteadily, the story is rising from creativity’s maelstrom. Every writer will handle the story in a different way. Process is not as important as effort, follow-through, deepening observation, and revisions. For an initial inspiration or idea to become real it needs time, attention, and understanding to edge out of the writer and onto the page.

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