‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions of writers. Allied to that is, ‘I would like to write but I don’t know what to write about.’
‘Ideas are all around you,’ I say. ‘Go, sit in Starbucks. Listen (discretely) to the sounds (i.e. conversations) around you. Last time I was there, a group sat at the next table, behind me . A man’s voice said, ‘I have reached the pinnacle of my professional qualifications. I can’t go any further.’ I found myself responding to this in my journal.
I couldn’t see this man yet I tried to create an image of him, based on the way he spoke: his hesitations, his short laugh with little energy behind it, his accent, the words he used and, just as interesting, the impact he had on those around him. They were quiet. Was it from fear? Out of respect? I sensed tension.
I created a voice which challenged him. ‘Well, I did a PhD in a different subject to my degree. So worthwhile.’
‘That’s okay for you. Your parents are rich,’ he says.
‘Lots of people who are rich do nothing with their lives,’ she says.
More tension … so, for him, it’s to do with money – and he obviously resents that. You can see where this process takes you … off on an imaginative journey.
This is important practice, a skill you learn by doing it again and again. When it comes to writing a novel, the skill will stand you in good stead. You will have flow from the confidence which practice gives you. You won’t have to grope for words, endlessly re-
Lots of writers have used Shakespeare’s plays as a template – the husband and wife ‘team’ who do away with rivals is a common enough story; the father who is betrayed; a husband’s jealousy of his wife worked on so effectively that he kills her. Ideas abound. The originality so much talked about is your unique interpretation of events, not necessarily the events themselves. No two minds are the same and ‘specialness’ is not such a myth after all!