In my experience, writing a novel is the literary equivalent of acting: an actor has to do research to prepare for a role, in order to become the part. Depending on the genre of a book, an author has to do something similar, although as preparation for their character and not themselves. But, where to get ideas or inspiration in the first place?
Snippets of conversations can spark ideas. I’ve taken inspiration from conversations I’ve heard on the tube in London, while out doing the grocery shop, or by random passers-by in the park. Of course, it’s always good to fictionalise everything you jot down in your notebook: real life can make for a good source of inspiration, but unless you’re writing non-fiction, it’s best to put your own spin on the yarns you hear.
Browsing the job listings can sometimes unveil a huge source of unusual occupations that might just suit the profession of main character in your story. In my second novel, The Buddha’s Bone, I did plenty of research into Clinical Psychology, the training of my main character Kimberly before she changed career to teach English in Japan.
Movies, TV and books
Okay, so I’m not suggesting you rip off the things you watch or read! But whenever I’ve had writer’s block, or been stuck with what direction to take a particular chapter in a work-in-progress, I’ve turned to films or books to critically analyse the ideas or plot. From time to time, this has led to an idea developing off on a tangent, or even sparked a new idea altogether.
Visiting or living in other countries can provide the perspective we need for our writing. Other cultures and customs that are different from what we are used to is a great basis for a story; or even simply a change of scenery for our main characters. I’m from Belfast in Northern Ireland, but having lived in other places such as London, England and Tottori, Japan has inspired my novels and poetry.
Channelling your dreams – or nightmares – into short stories or working them into a novel scene can be a productive use of the subconscious brain’s activity, and a good way to make our nocturnal hours part of our diurnal work. Why not?
Turning a bad situation into fiction is a great remedy not only for processing a learning experience, but for making lemonade out of lemons (or maybe cider out of rotten apples). Bottoms up!
Take inspiration from everywhere and carry a notebook at all times so you don’t forget those ideas. No idea is a bad one; better to run with it and edit it later than have a blank page. I’ve used all of the above to find fuel for fiction – hope it’s useful fodder for you too.