Friday, August 15, 2014

Inspiration

by Sandy Cody

Writers (at least this writer) are always looking for inspiration. I don’t mean ideas. Most of us have more ideas than we know what to do with. Maybe I should stop saying “we” and say “I” because that’s who I’m really talking about. What I look for most is a way to tell the story that will make the vision in my head come alive in a reader’s mind and (I type this hopefully) in their heart. Sometimes I look so hard that I forget that the best ideas usually come from close to home. They’re all around me in my daily life - in the things I do and see and hear - and, most importantly, in the things I remember.

I'd like to introduce you to the source of my best memories - and definitely my best source of inspiration. Meet the McGee girls, five sisters who grew up on a farm in Missouri during the Dust Bowl years. The one on the left is my mother, the other four my aunts (obviously).



When I was a little girl, I loved to sit so still that I felt invisible and listen to my mother and my aunts talk about their lives, the people they’d known and the things they’d seen. You know the book that claims “everything I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”? I think everything I really need to know about writing, I learned from those family stories.

I wasn’t very old when I noticed that, even though they were all talking about the same event or the same person, certain details changed and, with different details, it was a different story. Without realizing it, I had just learned a valuable lesson about writing: the devil is in the details. A cliché? Yes, but true. Isn’t that why cliches become cliches?

There was a mysterious neighbor whose land touched my grandparents’ back pasture. He lived alone in a big house that my cousins and I were convinced was haunted (a conviction the sisters did nothing to discourage). Every sister had a different story to tell about him. Depending on the narrator, he was:

bad to the bone,
painfully shy,
proud and arrogant,
misunderstood and lonely
or (in the language of an era before political correctness)
a nutcase.

I wondered how the sisters could have such diverse perceptions of this man. Five girls had grown up in the same house, with the same parents, had been taught the same values, had known the same person and, yet, each seemed to describe someone totally unique. Another lesson for a writer-to-be: the power of point of view.

It even occurred to me that there might be five brothers with identical faces and different personalities. How else could five sisters have such varied accounts of the same person? I longed to know this man, to see which sister had it right. 

Eventually, I understood that they were all right. Each had seen a different side of the same complex person and each had filtered what they had seen through their own set of complexities. So I learned the most important lesson of all – that every human being is a puzzle and the writer’s challenge is to keep adding pieces until all the baffling inconsistencies merge into a recognizable whole. Do that, and you’ll have a character who lives beyond your pages and a story worth listening to.

How about you? What’s your best source of inspiration?


14 comments:

  1. I love the photo. My mom had a lot of similar sayings. She was always quietly observing everyone around her. Friends and family still quote her. You're so right - no political correctness back then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Zelda. I love that photo too. I doubt if there's much political correctness in families even now. That's where we tend to let our hair down.

      Delete
  2. I'm with you on this one. Family is the best source of inspiration. (I do write romantic comedy, afterall.) :) Love the photo!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Actually, Sofie, family can be a pretty good inspiration for a murder mystery too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a great post. I try not to put family or friends in my books (lawsuits you know...) but I do put a lot of myself in there. The small Ohio town where I grew up probably influences my writing the most, but I'm told it wasn't as nice and innocent as I perceived (or remembered.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jayne. You're right; place is an important influence too. I have midwestern, small town roots too. I see you have another Blond book out. Good luck with it,

      Delete
  5. Wow what an interesting post. You must have a treasure box full of potential plots. I immediately thought of a possible series based on your mom's and aunts' perceptions of the guy next door

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kathye. If you write that book, I want to be the first to read it. And, if I write a book based on the same character, I'm willing to bet we'll have completely different stories. Different perceptions. Part of the fun of writing. Right?

      Delete
  6. That's just about the best illustration I've ever heard of point of view and how it influences the stories we tell!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Karen. You just made my day.

      Delete
  7. I'm with Karen - this is a great illustration of the power of point of view. I'm so glad Kay Finch let folks know about your post today. Thanks for sharing your inspiration, Sandy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Molly - and you, too, Kay.

      Delete
  8. Hi Sandy--
    What a lovely photograph of your mom and aunts. Being surrounded by all that fodder you were definitely bound to become a writer :-) Great writing tips by the way!
    Victoria--

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Victoria. I do feel lucky to have been born in this family. Some writers seem to grow from a tortured childhood, but I'm not sure I would have survived one.

      Delete