Most writers are convinced that ideas for fictional stories come from everywhere. Naturally, this explanation sounds simple and intuitively right. At least, writers think so. However, this may not sound so simple for the rest of humanity. So, what do writers really mean by their statement?
In reality, the oversimplified statement that stories come from everywhere may not cover any real consensus amongst writers. Every writer is different. However, it is possible to create broad categories for inspiration based on observation. Firstly, some writers are fantasy prone. They are the daydreamers of this world. They start dreaming, perhaps, as an escape to deal with stress and tension, and the dream grows into an elaborate phantasy with psychological hurdles built into it. Of course, these phantasies (spelt with “ph” at the beginning to reflect a psychological need), reflect the inner psychological world of these writers. This description reminds me of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Classified as bildungsroman, the romantic tale with a maturing protagonist ends triumphantly, the way all romantics at heart would wish for.
On the other hand, some writers are inspired by personal tragedies rather than elaborate positive fantasies. Unable to talk about their own experiences or unable to reveal the entire truth about their experiences, they try to express their thoughts and feelings through fictionalized versions of their struggles. A good example is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Originally created as a memoir, James Frey included fictionalized events into his story to present his struggle with drugs and alcohol.
Still, some other writers are just very sensitive to social and political problems around them. They write in response to some events taking place or changes made in society. Often times, great passion fuels these stories. Dystopian novels are great examples. Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel, entitled We, embodies this idea. The protagonist struggles in a one-state totalitarian regime where the secret police watch everyone and there is not freedom to speak of. This kind of inspiration for a story rarely brings happy ending for any writer prompted by social and political concerns.
Some other writers are preoccupied by deeper philosophical questions. These writers try to develop philosophical arguments either by challenging their characters or by engaging the characters in actual argumentations. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre did the former successfully in No Exit, while George Berkeley did the later successfully in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous.
As I pointed out in a previous blog, I prefer to start with philosophical questions. For example, I started with a question in knowledge in the short story “The Hermit’s Journal” to be included in my future collection, Real Life Choices. I ask the question how a person can tell whether a perception is real, if he lives alone in the wilderness. Basically, there is nobody around to ask if they see the same thing as the person does. To find an answer, I place my character on a remote mountainside at high altitude and let him live as a hermit for a winter. I complicate the situation by the psychological factor of isolation that allows him to have altered states of consciousness with nature mysticism involved. Then, I challenge him to find out the mystery behind two women on the mountain across, one of which is suggested to be a ghost by the nearby town’s history book. In this situation, can a person tell whether a perception is real? (Yes, there is a philosophical ambiguity with the question as it is stated.) The point is that I love placing my characters into philosophically challenged situations and let them sweat. Watching them struggle makes the questions very realistic. It also forces the readers to think about these questions and do their best trying to make sense of them. This is also the reason that I love creating cliffhanger endings.
Of course, ideas for stories may come from other sources. There is no limit to the human imagination. Still, these broad categories can help to see the general sources writers tap into for inspiration. For this reason, it is actually more accurate to say that, depending on the writer, stories can come from anywhere rather than everywhere. This is a more generalized statement that, I am certain, almost all writers can agree on.
M. J. Mandoki