chain letter inspiration

Posted May 2 2010, 8:00 pm in

I love to hear about where writers get their ideas. Stephenie Meyer had a dream that became Twilight. JK Rowling created Harry Potter during a train ride.  Stephen King dreamed up Carrie while cleaning a Ladies’ Room and spying the tampon dispenser. Dan Brown claims an art history class introduced him to the hidden meaning in DaVinci’s art.

For me, Border Lines and its two sequels came from ceaseless political debates over illegal immigration in my hometown, while Send was conceived after a new boss challenged me to find ways to use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to deliver product instruction.

I’m amazed at how these little nuggets grow up to become novels and sagas.  Author Tawna Fenske says she ponders her little nuggets for days or even years, while Cynthia Reese lets them roll around in her head.  (If you haven’t already, follow these links to read blogfest, where half a dozen writers share their writing processes.)   From reading posts like these, as well as my favorite ‘master the craft’ books, I’ve learned not to ignore those little lightbulb moments when they go off.

Last week, I got one of those annoying email chain letters at work. Normally, I don’t read them and rarely forward them because I just don’t have time.  But this one was a plea to remember our troops. It came with pictures. Full color, candid pictures of big burly soldiers displaying raw, unedited emotion.  Heads bowed, eyes closed, hands over faces.  Soldiers crying, praying, hugging, even sleeping. These men and women were tormented and tortured and I needed to know why.   The email’s text did not caption these pictures, so I found myself creating the missing captions.

One in particular, captured my imagination.  A soldier sits on the ground, stunned, while the rest of his company examines what looks to be an overturned vehicle. In his arms, he cradles a little girl whose pink outfit is stained dark. Blood or mud? She’s curled up in a tight ball but isn’t crying. Her hand is on his chest, perhaps playing with the fasteners on his fatigues. She’s safe. She knows she’s safe. He sits there in deep contemplation, not even looking at the girl, yet his hands are clasped tightly around her slight frame.

Does he wonder what will happen to her if lets her go?  Is the shocked expression on his face from the instant realization that he already loves her like his own? How long will he sit there, imagining the life he can give her if only her government – and his – will permit him to keep her?

It occurred to me as I stared at this picture that a book premise was just born. I’ve decided to read all the email chain letters I receive from now on. You never know where that next book idea will come from.



6 responses to “chain letter inspiration”

  1. Harley says:

    That is a beautiful photo, Patti. It evoked many powerful emotions from me, so I can imagine what it might do to you. It is interesting where we get our ideas from. Great post.

    • Patty says:

      The rest of the email chain was just as evocative. I remember reading the Potter series and thinking, “I could do this, if only I had an original idea.” As my writing improves, I realize that the idea itself is only the catalyst. It’s only by “percolating” (as our “blogfest” participants stated) ideas do they become stories.

  2. Wow that is a powerful picture, Patty. I can see why it inspired you.

    Honestly, the question of where ideas come from always strikes me as odd. I’ve always had ideas. Tons of them. When a writer asks how to find ideas, I wonder what door within them is closed. Our own world offers up so many story ideas itself, but you also have the open ended possibilities of your imagination.

    Now to dig out some old emails. ;)

    • Patty says:

      I find my problem isn’t the idea itself, but being unable to work it into a viable premise. Ideas, on their own, aren’t enough.

  3. Totally love this post. What an amazing picture. You’ve brought tears to my eyes. Now I have to go find a sad scene to work on.

    Seriously, thanks for sharing this and your thoughts about inspiration!

    • Patty says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. It truly amazes me where and when a great story is born. It’s like Michelle said in her comment… there are tons of ideas. We just need to let our imaginations take these ideas and start thinking up some open ended possibilities. Thanks for commenting.