Mostly true except for the made-up bits: finding inspiration – SWC Member’s Webpost by Tony Beekman #2
(Previous Webpost from Tony Beekman: Having a go)
Readers have remarked to me politely that my short stories are a distinctive and unusual take on the world. A more direct friend told me that only someone with an imagination like mine could come up with such tales. I decided to take both comments as compliments. For my second webpost, then, I have opted to share a few thoughts on finding inspiration for writing.
First of all, I have to try and get myself into the frame of mind for being creative. A good bit in advance of a deadline, I have to clear a space in my mind of the normal clutter. “Getting into the zone”, as an artist friend of mine puts it. If I am not in the zone, I will stare at a blank page for a while and then do something else instead that I have neglected. The last three days’ dishes, for example! Eventually, as the wheels of my mind turn, I will drift into a daydream while doing everyday activities and a weird and wonderful scenario will occur to me. Now that I have my essential tasty ingredient, I can get to work on cooking up a story.
As a science fiction fan, I love the weird and wonderful for a bit of excitement and colour. But I also want my strange scenario, as in the best science fiction, to have one foot, or even a toehold, in reality as something that could conceivably happen or have happened. That way, the writer – and, hopefully, the reader too – has more of a stake in the outcome of the fictional events. I therefore raid the pantry of my life for ingredients in the form of experiences or interests that will give me a setting on which to ground the wackiness. Or a starchy staple over which to pour the scenario sauce.
Take my Scots language story in Lallans 83, “An Awa Gemm” (or “An Away Game”). The scenario here is that a wee guy appears on Earth in our time and claims to be a stranded alien traveller through space and time, though people assume he is just in fancy dress. To give the yarn some borrowed realism, I place it in the recognisable setting of a small town pub which seems awfully similar to my local, the Cellar Bar. Boosting the familiarity factor, when the hapless self-styled alien asks for help, I leave him in the hands of Brendan and Campbell, two pals on opposite sides of the Old Firm divide. Giving a nod to Jean-Paul Sartre’s notion of commitment in literature, this type of set-up also allows me to comment on social issues such as, in this case, sectarianism and attitudes to migrants. But all within an entertaining and engaging story, I hope.
My approach, then, is silliness in a realistic setting. Or, my stories are mostly true except for the made-up bits!