Monday, February 13, 2012

Flotsam + Jetsam

Posted by Alex Villasante
Inspiration is Flotsam and Jetsam

I know you've heard it before, that you can go to any diner or coffee shop, nurse your third cup of joe and second slice of cherry pie and just listen. Stories will come to you, snippets of conversation that you can use as dialogue, strange situations from someone else's real life that seem perfect for fiction. 

That's never worked for me. I've heard interesting stories, unbelievable ones and sad ones. But I never heard a story that made me think - that's it, that's my inspiration.

For me, ideas come from the collision of the floating garbage in my head. Let me explain. I hear a snippet of an interview on NPR, something about albino eels and how there's a legend that killing these eels will bring bad luck. I can't bookmark the page, or write anything down because I'm driving to karate and littlest is singing the Caillou song really loud, but it sticks, that detail, just a piece of driftwood.

Then there's the fact that eldest and I are making a metal detector for the science fair. I read up on the science of metal detectors and a fragment of an idea - the ability to find things - is added to the hopper. Finally, I'm thinking about Sleeping Beauty and how something can be taken from a child (a future) or given to a child (the fairies gifts) before she's even aware of it. 

When I sit down to write, these are the kinds of details that flood my mind and, although I'll often throw an idea back into the ocean that is my head, sometimes they'll fit, like dovetails or hinges, perfectly into what I'm writing. That's how I've ended up with a girl named Mop who can't remember how to read but can find any lost thing - except the one thing she wants to find more than anything - her father. I'm pretty sure the albino eel will make it in there - at the bottom of a stopped up well. My work in progress is going nicely, thanks.

So what works for you? How do you get your inspiration? And have you ever gotten inspiration from overhearing someone in a coffee shop?


  1. I don't believe anyone in a coffee shop has provided me an ounce of inspiration with the heads buried in a novel or magazine or busy typing away on their laptop. Now, the Rte. 1 Wawa right off the PA turnpike at 1am is a melting pot of people ready to share little snippets of their lives. I found myself standing behind three women spending their winnings from Parx casino on $1 coffee and snacks, giggling the whole time. The minute I said they looked like they had a great time, they opened up and told me everything. I wrote down everything I could remember down and put it in my idea box.

  2. That has NEVER happened to me! I'm jealous. Maybe it's because you talked to them. I'm a closet introvert ;) You'll have to tell us more about your 'Idea Box' sounds exciting!

  3. I gather a lot of ideas from my dreams. There are people, places, and things that happen there that I would never experience in my waking life.

  4. @shockgrubz - I have tons of dreams where, while I'm having them, I think - this would make an awesome story! Then I wake up and look at it in the cold light of day and go - yeech - that's pretty banal and boring. I envy you your interesting dreams!