“No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.”
“Imagination is the eye of the soul.”
Where do creative ideas come from? Whenever I come across a new novel or short story that intrigues me or see a fabulous play or musical, this question floats to the surface. How did someone think this up? I wonder. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same thing.
Charles Frazier said that his new book, Nightwoods, grew out of a location that he saw in his mind: a lake, an abandoned lodge, a small town. Once he had fully imagined the place he wanted to write about, he began to people it with characters.
This started me thinking about inspirational triggers: the tiny seed of an idea, a whisper of the mind, a dream, a chance conversation, a haunting image — the many ways in which the first blush of a story arises.
One of William Faulkner’s novels grew out of a single image. An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser’s great novel, was inspired by a story he saw in the newspaper. Here are a few more ah ha! moments to inspire you:
William Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan supposedly got the idea for one of the team’s most popular light operas when a Japanese sword accidentally fell off the wall in his study. It started him thinking about Japanese culture and royal ruthlessness — and “The Mikado” was born.
After reading a book of short stories by James Michener, the director Joshua Logan approached Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers with an idea: why not adapt some of the stories into a musical? The result was “South Pacific,” which went on to become the second musical ever to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Ragtime, the fabulously inventive novel by E. L. Doctorow, was literally inspired by his 1908 house in New Rochelle. Early in the 1970s, the beleaguered author was suffering from a severe case of writer’s block; out of desperation, he started to write about the walls of his third-floor office. This led him to muse about what the house and neighborhood looked like at the turn of the century.
“I was imagining what things were like in that time, with awnings on the windows and trolley cars going down the hill to the Sound and people in straw boaters and women with parasols,” he said. “One image led to another, and I was off the wall and into the book.”
Any inspirational stories about writing you can add to the mix?