Rhobin Courtright’s question for her faithful bloggers: “Where do you get your ideas for stories?”
This is recycled from the introduction of my anthology, Through Other Eyes:
A writer is not just a person who writes. Almost anybody can write, which is why publishers are drowning in a flood of manuscripts that no one wants to read. But a writer must write. I can no more give up writing than I can do without breathing. It is something I do all the time. Working at one of my many jobs, talking with a friend, whatever I am doing, I am also observing life and translating it into words. I look at the expression on a face, the movement of a hand, a flower, the scenery, on joy and suffering and squalor and magnificence, and all of it is stored away, to emerge some time later. Everything is ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination. It will become part of some work or another, perhaps a long time later, transformed and hidden and combined with other experiences.
One of my recent 100 word stories is You meet the nicest people in the oddest places. Go on, read it. A click will open a new window/tab so you’ll still be here as well.
Molly is clearly a young woman. I am an old man. She wears contact lenses. I never have. So, how could I get into her mind, into her experience?
People who wear contact lenses have told me about the effect on their lives. I’ve seen how they manage things, and have read about them, all without taking particular notice. Somewhere within my memory network is a node labelled ‘contact lenses,’ and for some reason or no reason at all, that node was triggered when I needed it. All human memory works this way. One measure of creativity is the extent to which distant, disparate nodes can form connections.
That’s what jokes depend on. A joke makes you laugh because the punchline is clearly apt, but from a distant node that you wouldn’t have expected to be related to what went before it. You know, like
“Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?”
“Hmm. I think it is breaststroke, sir.”
Very recently, Sandra Warren has interviewed me. One of her questions was about difficulties. This popped out:
Hit and Run reports on several court hearings, and I needed to research these. Advice from three lawyers was very helpful. Having to correct the details could perhaps be called a difficulty. (Isn’t English a fun language? Do difficulties come when you call them?)
“Doing” and “call” are both parts of multiple meaning networks, and there you are.
OK, but what about me being a young woman in an embarrassing situation? How can I imagine that?
The first answer is that I am cursed with very strong empathy. I can walk in the moccasins of people on a wide variety of paths. Empathy is the first lesson an infant soul needs to learn, and the more times you have lived, the stronger it gets. Your ongoing self has access to huge amounts of experience it keeps from you, because otherwise life would be an overwhelming cacophony of memories. You need that filter to focus on the world around you. All the same, those pasts are accessible through intuition and emotion, dreams and creativity.
Oh, you don’t believe in reincarnation? You need to read this and improve your knowledge.
One of my past lives was as Amelia, so while the Bob-Rich-me has never been a young woman, I can access the experience. This is not some conscious memory-mining, but simply allowing thoughts and emotions to come.
The second answer is a major tool of scientific research: inductive thinking.
As an author, I have been three-legged, three armed little green people. While I have no experiences to draw on that allow me to use my skin to feed from sunlight, or to hold one of my legs up like a kangaroo’s tail and bound along on the other two legs, I can describe these well enough that I can feel AS IF — and if my writing is good enough, I can get you to feel that way too as you’re reading about my lovely little Greenies.
You will manage that if you also have well-developed empathy. People who lack this skill are simply unable to enjoy fiction.
So, guess what. You are also a soul with many lives behind you (don’t look around now to see if they are standing there). Otherwise, you would not be interested in fiction.
To answer Rhobin’s question: my stories come from a muse. That’s why I strive to amuse.
You might want to comment on my rambling through a writer’s garden. Having done so, or even otherwise, please go for a walk in a few other gardens, with the following guides: