Are you a visual person? I am.
Long before words make their way onto my computer screen, I have images in my head. Some are vague. Some are very concrete. But for me, one of the best ways to get a new story off the ground is to take those images and make them into a tangible picture.
Every writer has different prewriting rituals. Janet Evanovich maps out plots on a whiteboard. Suzanne Brockmann writes detailed outlines with lots of backstory to get to know her characters. In my case, creating a bulletin board about my story somehow does the magic trick. Most people would call it a collage, but I think of it as a springboard because it gives me lots of ideas.
This is one of those writing rituals that I look forward to each time I start a new project. Why? Because first off, I’m a big procrastinator. Anything to avoid sitting down and typing the dreaded words, “Chapter One.” Also, I love this ritual because it feels like play instead of work. I get to guiltlessly flip through magazines, newspapers, and catalogues, searching for anything and everything that has to do with my story.
Faces are critical. I’ll search for hours because I have to be able to visualize the characters while I’m writing them. What have I learned from so much time poring through magazines? That our culture, unfortunately, has an endless appetite for perfectly beautiful women who look empty-headed. Ninety percent of the female models and many of the male models I see in magazines would never work in my stories because they look lifeless (and I won’t rant here, because that’s a whole different blog). But despite the glut of vapid sexiness, every now and then I run across a face that has some attitude, some imperfections, some character to it.
Those are the ones I keep.
It’s not just people I clip, but settings–maybe a deserted beach, an eerie looking building. I may never end up using it in my novel, but if it evokes a mood, I want it. Same for props. I clip pictures of cars, murder weapons, shoes, plants–whatever I can find that reminds me of my story.
This isn’t a new idea. Plenty of authors do a collage to get their creative juices flowing. Author Jennifer Crusie (a former art teacher) does elaborate constructions with all kinds of 3-D elements. She says they help her tap into that “subconscious soup” that feeds her stories.
At the moment, I have two springboards on my desk. One is the book I’m starting, the other is the one I’m editing. Each board has pictures of the hero, the heroine, the villain. I’ve got clips of the settings for my pivotal scenes. I’ve got a poem by e.e. cummings that has nothing to do with my plot, but just reminds me of my story for some reason.
Best of all, my springboards help me get to know my charaters. When I’m stuck in a scene, staring off into space, my gaze drifts to the board and I find myself face-to-face with my story people. No, they don’t come to life and talk to me (I’m not quite that crazy) but just seeing them there helps me get back into their heads and get on with the book.
Where do you get your story ideas? And if you’re not a writer, what are your creative springboards in other pursuits? I’d love to hear them! Please take a moment to share your inspiration!
Earlier this week, I was inspired by a talk given by fellow Austin author Julia London, so I’m giving away an autographed copy of her new release, A COURTESAN’S SCANDAL. Just leave a comment, and you’ll be eligible to win!