Inspiration – What if?

The other day a writing friend asked me what inspired me to write my novels. It was a straightforward question but one that set me thinking.

The creative process isn’t always easy to pin down and put into words. Novels are a complex piece of work involving a juggling act between plot, action, characters, setting and so on. So how do they all come together to make a finished story?

When it’s time to start a new novel I feel like a butterfly flitting from one idea to another, waiting for that moment when my antennae start to vibrate as I sense the seed of something interesting. Sadly, stories never leap into my mind fully fledged but require weeks or months of research and mulling over.

To encourage the process I’ll read as many books as I have time for, watch the news on television, tune into other people’s conversations in coffee shops and tear interesting articles out of newspapers.

This is also the time to read through all my old notebooks, where I often find cryptic comments describing someone I saw walking along the road, a potted account of a particular setting or an overheard conversation. It’s astonishing how these few words can transport me back to the time and place where I made the note so that I can almost feel the heat of the sun on my back or smell the traffic fumes in the street.

The magic really begins to happen when you combine all the interesting snippets of ideas and information in different combinations. My mantra is ‘What if …?’ For me the best time for this exercise is when I’m about to fall asleep or if I’m walking in the woods with my dog. Then my brain flicks a switch into ‘daydream’ mode while I explore various scenarios, putting my heroine into emotional situations in different settings. I allow my imagination to run completely free. This is not the time to be sensible as I can prune back the wildest ideas later on. In my book, sensible often equates to boring.

Once I arrive at a scene or an idea that pleases me I write it into my notebook and carry it everywhere I go because inspiration may strike at any time. This is a stage of repressed excitement, gradually building to fever pitch as new twists and turns in the story seem to appear from nowhere. My brain carries on thinking even when I’m asleep so it’s important to keep a notebook on the bedside table for when I awake.

When I think I’ve reached a sound framework for a story I put it away for a week or two. It’s surprising how easy it can be to see the flaws with a fresh eye. Then I refine the outline into the solid story premise using the ‘What if …’ question again.

Here are my tips for finding inspiration:

  • Keep a cuttings file
  • Keep a notebook
  • Daydream whenever possible
  • Ask yourself ‘What if …?’

Always a bookworm, Charlotte discovered her passion for writing after her three children and two step-children had grown up. She lives with her husband in a cottage in the woods on the borders of Hampshire and Berkshire.

Posted in Writing Tips
3 comments on “Inspiration – What if?
  1. Abbie Todd says:

    Great post, Charlotte. Lots of my ideas come from ‘What ifs…’

    Strange how, no matter how tired you think you are, your brain is still receptive to new and interesting ideas, just as you’re about to drop off to sleep. I suppose it’s that point where it switches off from everything else that’s happened in the day and is about to let the unconscious take over. Makes for a bad night’s sleep when you have to jolt awake and scribble ideas down before you forget them! It’s so easy to think ‘I’ll remember that tomorrow. I’ll definitely remember that tomorrow’, then it’s gone in the morning…

  2. Yes I agree re notebooks. I also spend time in graveyards looking at names and just noting these down. I do like your cuttings ideas too. Must do this.

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Charlotte Betts Always a bookworm, Charlotte discovered her passion for writing after her three children and two step-children had grown up. She lives with her husband in a cottage in the woods on the borders of Hampshire and Berkshire.

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Contact Charlotte via Stephanie Melrose, Press Officer at Sphere, Piatkus & Atom on 0207 9118961 at Little Brown Book Group, 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY