Where do my story ideas come from?

The not quite final manuscript of my second book is being, or has been, read by a few different people to give me feedback and improve the final product. I’ve received some great thoughts and some absolutely necessary corrections. For example, I had a character who died in 1982 that used a facebook Facebook account – woops! Anyway, in the process of reading it, a friend sent me the following email,

We just read the chapter of the couple whose son died in college and my son said, “Are these true? How does he think these things up?” I told him that many were probably based on some truth. What say ye?

Just a little background for you. The book is a non-fiction, narrative written for student-athletes. It’s the story of a man taking the time to instill wisdom into his grandson. The grandson is set to play college football in the fall and his grandfather invites a group of men to talk to the kid about life. The chapter in question involves a couple talking to the grandson about the poor choices their son made that lead to his untimely death. He died of a drug overdose due to the stuff he ingested being laced with anti-freeze. So, here’s the answer I gave to my friends, with a little more detail than originally included. (The parenthetical statements were not in the original email; those are just for you!)

Without sounding aloof, I believe God does the inspiring, but there are certainly traces of my past in the book. For example, one of my best friends drove a 70’s Land Cruiser with a brushed paint job (this vehicle appears in the story) and I grew up in Columbia County (the character’s high school is Columbia County). But the idea for the book and the ideas for each character and their story came from that creative place I believe God indwells.

On that particular chapter, like the ones before and after, I sat at my computer with the topic in mind and maybe the basic concept – parents who lost a child – and began to type. As I wrote the chapter I tried to listen and let the story come. I know it sounds a little loopy, but it’s truly the way it went. I had picked out names for the parents, but imagined their appearance and described them in the moment. Their careers, hobbies, etc. arrived in the moment. Even the concept of the car (their son had a passion for tinkering with cars and eventually fixed up a ’70s Land Cruiser) burst forth in a moment of inspiration. I remember pushing my keyboard away to hand write how the car would become a key element of the macro-narrative after the idea arrived. Once I scribbled that down I went back to the keyboard and resumed typing. Now I did search for an image of a ’70s Land Cruiser on the internet to help with my descriptions.

The anti-freeze bit was an example of an idea that arrived literally as I typed the sentence. I had heard of dogs being poisoned with anti-freeze and knew it was supposedly sweet, so there was latent information floating in my subconscious,  but applying it here was an unforeseen development. After I typed the idea, I researched its plausibility and discovered it actually happens. I was surprised to learn people actually do this, but who wouldn’t be? I did a little more digging to add detail and increase the account’s believably and accuracy.

This combination of latent information and creative inspiration is one of the reasons it’s so important for writers to read. All that information and all those ideas lurk in our mind waiting for just the right moment to sneak into one of our stories. It would probably be a good practice to take time and reflect on our own past to mine for personal nuggets that could enhance one of our characters or the story in which the reside.

Is this how the creative process looks for you?

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