How Tales are Born
Posted by petercruikshank
Probably, the number-one question I get when I meet someone at a party, and they find out I am an author is: “How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?”
Naturally, I tell them “I turn inward, using my keen introspective to dig deep within my soul for the story.”
After they ‘oww’ and ‘ahh’ over my artistic creative ability, I then tell them, “That’s not really true, in reality, I owe it all to Willow!
First the eyes go wide, and they want to know, “Who’s Willow?”
“My Muse of course.”
Their eyes narrow as the person glares at me like I just dropped out of the sky from the human-like planet of Torenlia (which is just a hop, skip, and jump over in our nearest neighbor, the Alpha Centauri solar system). I especially love it when their nose squishes up like a rabbit.
“But it’s true. It really is,” I tell them.
Then I get The Smile, and they say, “Oh, you mean your imagination. Cute.” It’s a bonus when they shake their heads and roll their eyes.
“But I actually hear Willow talking to me.” I have the story down pat and try to keep a smile on my face the entire time, hoping it will help my case, but I know my next words will only add to their disbelief. “And after I come up with the basic concept, the characters start to converse with me, though not nearly as often or as a clear as Willow.” After all I don’t want to seem crazy.
Oops, narrowed eyes again. “It’s just you using the right side of your brain versus the left, correct?”
I can see the look of incredulity, though it is somewhat difficult through the slit their eyelids have become.
“Yes and No.”
That gets me a frown.
“It is somewhat true in that the right side of your brain tends to look at pictures and events as a whole, opposed to the left side, which looks at sequential steps to make a whole come together.” I don’t bother to go in the study of right and left sides of the brain, but just continue, “But Willow draws from both sides to provide me the images and the flow I need to come up with a story idea. And I can actually hear her voice, the inflection and everything.” By the way, it has a bit of a southerly draw to it, like found in the deep south of the USA, with a southern California overlay.
“So it is just in your own mind?” Their face lights up like they proved a point, but then the lips twist or similar facial expressions appear that reveal their hesitancy. “There really isn’t a Willow is there?”
I have to smile myself now as I have them thinking, maybe, just maybe. “Let me give you an example of how I come up with a new story idea.” I don’t want to make it all about me (well yes I do), but after all, they did ask me.
“I was on a family outing to the zoo, and decided to take a break, just away by myself to commune with the animals. Actually, I was looking for a beer garden, but that really isn’t pertinent. However, while I was walking around (looking for the ‘commune garden’) I turned a corner and there was an enclosure of meerkats. Their little butts sticking out of dozens of caves in the ground, dirt flying behind them as their long claws dug further under the surface.” I take a dramatic pause; which works out nicely as I can also take a sip from my glass of wine.
The momentary break also gave me time to consider something that had always bothered me. What happened when the meerkats had created a honeycomb of tunnels that would cause the ground to collapse? Then I rationalized that maybe zookeepers came in at night and filled in some of the caves. But I digress.
I pick up the story, “What really caught my attention, and made me block out the zoo visitors and all the other meerkats, was the one meerkat sitting upright on its hind legs, at the highest point in the enclosure. Its head darted from side-to-side looking for a threat to the clan below. This one meerkat was giving up its favorite pastime, digging (which I still don’t get), to look after its family, its clan. After a while, another member of the clan took its place and the new meerkat continued the constant guard duty. “
I would get a lot of responses, at this point, from “I knew that.” to “Yeah, I’ve seen them do that. They almost seem human.” And this is normally followed with a well veiled comment like “Interesting.”; which can be translated to, “So what?”
Nevertheless, I push onward. “Like everyone else, I am amazed at the organizational instinct and loyalty to family and clan, but then I sort of zone out, and I can actually see someone. Well, to tell the truth, I don’t see them, but I can feel them as if they are standing next to me and I can tell you what they look like.”
I have to talk fast now, or I know I will lose them. “Then I hear ‘What if it was dragons rather than meerkats?’”
My educated response is ‘Huh?’
“The voice continues ‘What if there was a clan of dragons that lived in caves?’ This voice starts to feed my mind with images. ‘The caves could even be in the ground rather than on a mountain. And what if the older dragons took turns perched on a high peak, above the clan, looking for danger, so they could warn the rest of the clan?’ A landscape starts to fill my mind. I start to picture the concept — a desert or a forested area, with a lot of small hills with cave entrances cut into them, and a lone spire that rises above the hills, where the dragons stand guard. I’ve got the concept, and this is where my right brain would have done its duty, but then Willow gives me more.”
“So that is how you come up with a story?” They still don’t look convinced.
“Yes and No.”
“That is part of it, but there is more to it than that.” I always get to this point and find it hard to describe what happens, but I try nonetheless, “Willow takes these images from my imagination, if you will, and starts putting them in a sequential manner. Then she says ‘What if there were other clans, and the clans didn’t get along, just like meerkat clans? However, the clans must come together with the help of a small group of humans (got to have a group of humans) to combat some great evil that would otherwise devour both humans and dragons alike.’”
“That sounds kind of cool.” I can see a bit of excitement in their expression.
So I drop the bomb. “Then one of the main characters, a dragon, starts telling me how it wondered what these puny humans that had intruded on the clan’s nest wanted from it?” I think they thought I was maybe kidding earlier about characters talking to me.
At this point, I normally get one of two responses.
The first one is “Really? You hear voices?” And then I can count to myself, and before I reach ten, they will have to go refill their drink or just saw someone they needed to talk with.
The second one is “Really? That must be so cool!” And they will spend the next hour pumping me for more information about how I write and my stories.
But the bottom-line is that a tale is born. Or at least that is what Willow tells me.
How do you find inspiration and come up with the story line for your tales?
Posted on February 17, 2014, in Authors - Peter Cruikshank and tagged dragons, epic fantasy, imagination, inspiration, meerkats, muse, right brain, story creation, Willow, writers journey, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.