Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Inspiration

I'm so going to cop out on this post today, mainly because I spent nearly all day yesterday tweaking my website ( and am now feeling slightly sick that I've not gotten any critiques done for my friends and am falling behind on my own revisions. But! I am glad to have revised my website. It still featured my other WIP, but now is focused on the current one, Long Way Home. I know that some people like to feature all their WIPs on their website, but I want to focus on the one I'm marketing now.

One of the biggest things I had to change was my page on inspiration. For my last WIP, I had a clearly defined set of character inspirations: the teacher was inspired by Audrey Hepburn, the bad guy got traits of Nathan Filion's character Captain Mal on Firefly, the main character came from the myth of Bellerophon. But in my current WIP, there was no real inspiration from the characters at all. Not physically--one character's traits come from his heritage, and the other has bright red hair only because that was the most different hair color I could think of in contrast to the first character. And these characters had no real inspiration emotionally: who could I compare to them, considering one's been cyrogenically frozen and the other born on a space ship?

Nope--instead, inspiration for these characters came from the plot--this story started with plot, and I fit characters to them. So, where did the plot come from? That's what I spent a large part of yesterday analyzing. It's on my website here, but in case you'd rather not click over, here's where my last WIP came from:

On Writing: Inspiration

I love hearing about where books come from. Although often the source of a story untraceable thing as ideas feed into each other, in some cases it is possible to pick an author's mind.

Three books had the greatest influence on Long Way Home, but the seeds of my inspiration happened years and years ago, reading Agatha Christie in elementary school and junior high. As a kid, I never liked Nancy Drew. Her mysteries were too mild. But Agatha Christie had foreign detectives, murders, and even spies! I try to include some element of mystery in all of my writing--mystery, after all, keeps the pages turning--but I've never done a novel that revolves around a mystery.

A year ago, I read Jeanne Du Prau's first book in the Ember series, The City of Ember. I adored the mystery of that novel, which awoke my old longings to write a mystery of my own. One thing I particularly loved in The City of Ember was that the mystery was in a contained location: the kids couldn't leave Ember (at first), and everything had to take place in that one city. I thought that was brilliant, and started to play around with ideas of creating a contained mystery. Another walled city sounded too close to De Prau's work...a cruise ship had been done before...but what if it was on a space ship....?

But of course, I couldn't write that because I didn't like science fiction. Sure, I liked Orson Scott Card's Ender series as much as the next girl, but those giant tomes filled with physics and chemistry that my husband reads sounded much too much like a science textbook to me.

Then I read The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson. The plot was amazingly clever and I became instantly hooked on the wonderfully written characters, but the thing that stuck with me was the realization that this was science fiction. This wasn't a five hundred page epic with detailed analysis of the science behind the plot. Pearson used science in the same way that JK Rowling used magic: as a means to progress and enhance the plot, without an dissertation on the mechanics.

And that is what I set out to do: use science like magic, write a science fiction that worked like a fantasy. And, of course, throw in a murder mystery, too.

But it just wasn't...twisty enough. I had a setting, I had an idea of a mystery, but I needed a twist, something more shocking than your run-of-the-mill whodunnit.

Fortunately, I read The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner soon after. It featured a first person narrator, a style of writing I had never used myself before, and honestly, had never really liked. First person point of view always made me feel as if the story is being told to me by someone else, and I have trouble becoming fully engrossed with the characters. Turner was so skilled in this style of writing, though, and I fell into the world so completely that I never realized just how...unreliable...a first person narrator can be. I won't ruin the book here--you need to read it for yourself!--but I will say this: after discovering the twist the main character Gen creates at the end of The Thief, I realized that not only did I need a twist in my own novel, but by using a first person narrator, I'd be able to use my own main characters to deliver that twist.

Of all the stories and novels I've worked on, this one has had the most influence from books I've loved. Although Long Way Home isn't a copy of any of these works, it is the result of a reader's mind!

So, where does your inspiration come from? Do you start with characters (as I did with my previous WIP) or plot (as I did with my current one)? Or something else entirely?


C.R. Evers said...

Mine tend to stem from plot. Good question.

MeganRebekah said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm glad that you agree about the Twilight issue!!

My inspiration for my WIP was a singe sentence. It was the first sentence in a prologue (now deleted and gone forever) and everything kind of spiraled from there.
What was that sentence? "I was abandoned in a Walmart parking lot when I was two years old."

From there I just started asking why questions. Why was this girl abandoned? Who abandoned her? Does she know who it was? What happened next? Who is she today.... and now I have an entire plot! :)

Unknown said...

MeganRebekah: I have a book that stemmed from a single sentence, too. How weird is it that inspiration comes from such varied sources?

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, Beth, first let me say that your website is fantastic. I love the buttons for email and twitter and facebook and stuff. Did you use GoDaddy? I went with 1and1 and I'm not even sure how to do that stuff. Very nicely done. I am not very technological when it comes to stuff like that.

Second, I have written a dystopian SF, which I like to call "soft" sci fi so I don't have to pretend to be a scientist! We're like, twins, or something. And I need to read those books you mentioned; I have them written down on my list now. So thanks for that!

As for inspiration...I think mine comes from anywhere. A cool commercial that gets me thinking. Thinking about what a society, that kind of thing.

Great post! :)

Natalie Allan said...

Hey Beth @natalieallan here,

What a fantastic site. Where does my inspitation come from? My inspiration kind of comes from that weired place at the back of my head. You know the one? The one where all those random day dreams come from where normal thoughts don't belong. I'll sit there and all of a sudden my brain will say, "here's an idea, how's about it?" and I'll say, "Hmmm...not bad actually." Then I'll write down as a first draft and tweek on revisions.

So for me, it's not music, TV, quiet,'s just randomness!

Have a blast writing Beth.


Robyn Campbell said...

Conversations that I listen in on. Not to be nosy. Just to listen to how people speak. Then I add to them and lo and behold a book is born.

Casey Something said...

What an amazing web site, Beth!

Tim King said...

Usually I start with a character idea or a core plot point. Then as I flesh out the characters, their characteristics determine the plot; and as I flesh out the plot, it determines which characteristics the characters have. The two feed back on each other in a loop as the story grows.

Interestingly, a similar thing happened when I recently wrote Love through the Eyes of an Idiot, a true story about my past. As I went through my old journals, letters, and other papers, and as I fleshed out the plot of my past, I discovered new things about the people I used to know and the way that I related to them. I was even able to forgive someone whom i had been bitter with for a long, long time, because I finally was able to see her through different eyes.

So yeah, plot and character are interrelated, and as I learn more about one, I also learn more about the other.


Michelle D. Argyle said...

I usually start with an image or a scene.

Clementine said...

Beth, your website is so beautiful!!!! Gosh, girl...I'm impressed!

PJ Hoover said...

I love your post and the comparison to City of Ember (which I loved). you know, I'm not sure I've ever done an inspiration post. I talk about it when I give speeches, but it seems like a great topic especially as THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD release gets closer!

Weronika Janczuk said...

Beth, what a great train of thought--I really enjoyed it. :)

And, you've added to my own reading list.

Good luck with the revisions. I would love to read a sample chapter from you soon.


Christina Farley said...

My inspiration usually comes from life experiences in one way or the other. Like a place or people I've met or things I've done.

I'm off to check out your website!