When I was a kid I had to walk to and from school by myself, and it was a long walk. To pass the time, I would make up stories in my head. Sometimes they would be grandiose fantasies about helping a little old lady across the street, who would then give me a million dollars as thanks for my kind act. Sometimes I’d think up fables, which I’d later translate for my spelling homework. I was inspired by all kinds of things I saw on my way home. A floating leaf, a slinking cat, the smell of barbecue wafting from someone’s backyard–you name it, if I saw it, smelled it, or heard it, I’d make a story out of it. One of the greatest inspirations, though, came in the form of a turtle. Every morning on my way to school I’d stop at a canal that I passed on the way to school to say hello to a turtle. The turtle, I was sure, popped his head out at just the right time every morning. I imagined he was saying hello to me, so of course I always said hello back. Yes, I actually said “hello,” out loud, to a turtle, every morning when I was in the third grade. I was lucky to have such an imagination, and I believe I had it because I read so much as a kid.
I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my room (something I thank my parents for to this day) so I just read a lot. I was allowed to get a new book pretty much any time I went to the store with my mom, so I always had something new to read. I loved reading and making up stories, and I never stopped loving those things. I still get inspiration from things I see, smell, and hear. One of my short stories was inspired by the time I saw a homeless man with a cat on a leash. It was such an unexpected sight that I had to write about it. Another story was inspired by the famous above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans, Louisiana. When I saw them in person I was blown away, excited, saddened, and scared. I had to write about them. The things that inspire me rarely ever have a leading role in my stories, though. Rather, they’re always something my protagonists experience and their appearances in the stories are fleeting. Characters can be created from experiences you have. Characters can even be created from experiences your friends have. The idea is not to write a play-by-play of what really happened, but to build a world and characters about whatever gives you inspiration.
So, what inspires you? When you sit down to write a story, a script, or a poem, where do your ideas come from? Where do they live in your brain, and where are they born? Consider this when you work on your stories and think about any odd or memorable things you could work your way into your characters’ lives.
Don’t ignore the turtle. Greet him every day.