Where Do They Come From?
I’ve had the opportunity to do many readings over the years to differing audiences. Lately — albeit virtually — it’s been to highlight my recently published anthology, “It’s Always My Fault & Other Short Stories,” which can be purchased on Amazon and here on my website: ldzaneauthor.com. I know…that was a crass and shameless promotion, but what the hell. At the end of said readings I’m asked many questions, but there are two that are universal.
In no particular order of importance, the questions are: Where do you get the ideas/inspiration for your stories and characters? Do you prefer writing Fiction or Creative Nonfiction? (CNF) Allow me to take the first question, well…first; not because it’s more important, but because it helps to set the table for the second question. And, because it’s an easier question to answer.
I find the ideas/inspiration for my stories and characters — whether it’s Fiction or CNF — pretty much the same way I assume other writers find theirs — literally everywhere; you just need to open your eyes and ears. By that, I mean you have to really ‘see’ and ‘listen,’ not just observe and hear. The possibilities are limitless. I suppose it’s a bit of voyeurism or eavesdropping, but not in a malicious way.
The venerable author Joan Didion did, and perhaps still does, make lists of her ‘observations.’ I remember being shown a list of hers in a writing class I took a number of years ago. If memory serves me, she sat in a hotel lobby over a period of time and wrote down what she saw and listened to, along with notes on what she imagined was happening, or had happened, to the people and events she witnessed. It was quite impressive, and it really helped me to write better in all genres. I can only imagine what stories she developed from those notes.
You don’t have to note every event or person, just the ones that capture your imagination. There are many ways to do this; either electronically, mentally or, my favorite, the old school way of actually writing it down. I find there is more of a connection when pen meets paper. Whichever way you choose, do it as soon as possible or you may forget an important detail. I have found that details have a very limited mental shelf life. Not recorded, they can slip away; never to be recalled in exactly the way they were originally experienced. Like a cool breeze, that brushes your face on a hot summer’s day, they come and then they’re gone. You get the gist. So let’s move on to question number two.
Before I answer the question as to whether I prefer to write Fiction or CNF, allow me to digress. There is an axiom that states you can only write what you know about. I believe that to be mostly true, no matter what genre you choose to write. Two cases in point: I apologize in advance, but I’m not a big fan of modern Science Fiction. However, I have, and still do, enjoy reading stories from Asimov and Roddenberry. Why? Because even though those stories take place in a future setting, there are some basic truths about the human condition, which the writers have either experienced and/or witnessed, and transcend time. Their stories resonate with me, and many of us. This is why we still watch reruns of Star Trek and movies like I, Robot.
The other case in point is what makes a joke — or funny story — truly funny. I heard a comedian state that for a joke or story to be funny, there has to be an element of truth that the audience of said joke or story can relate to, and then it’s stretched to absurdity. It’s the same with a story. If the reader cannot relate to it, it will ring hollow. Now that we have all of that out of the way, I’ll answer the question.
I have written both Fiction and CNF and have had both types published. With Fiction, you are manufacturing a story from whole cloth — although there are always snippets of the author’s life within the story which makes it believable. At least for me, that takes a great deal of work, and I’m basically lazy as a writer. I don’t want to work that hard, even if I enjoy the end result. And yes, I do have Fiction pieces — “Where’s the Cow?” being one— in my anthology. (Yet another shameless plug.)
I tend to lean towards CNF because I believe I have led an interesting — some would say dysfunctional — life. I’m writing what I know about, or at least have witnessed and/or experienced myself. There is no guess work. But it is important that I/you get the story ‘right’ and ‘correct.’ I write like a journalist is supposed to write. That is, I see a story — whether it’s Fiction or CNF playing in my head like a movie — and write what I see without bias or prejudice. It’s just the facts. I don’t write to preach or teach or convey any point of view. It’s just my opinion, but I believe doing so would be presumptuous and insulting to the reader. I also don’t overload the story with details.
In short…I always trust the reader. I have found that readers have interpreted my stories and characters in ways I have never dreamed. Why? Because they filled in the blanks in the story based on events — and people — in their own life which they have either witnessed and/or experienced. Simple as that. When they do, it’s truly a beautiful thing.
Wishing you the best in your writing adventure,