The bright idea is the easy part. We tend to think of that as the inspiration, but people with creative minds have brilliant ideas quite often. (I was going to say they had brilliant ideas all the time, but that would be stretching it.)
The true inspiration is carrying that idea through into a story, novel or screenplay. Recently a couple of people have told me they have this great idea for a story.
One said “There’s this hillside, rocky, and there’s this man standing near the top looking down on soldiers, and he’s going to attack.”
I asked about the idea – “Who is he? What’s going to happen?”
The speaker had no sense of the story, he just expected that it was there, somewhere, somehow, for some time.
Another writer knew he had a great idea – “There’s this fire-and-brimstone preacher in the pulpit thundering out “Thou shalt not commit adultery…”
He had a complete picture of the preacher and the pulpit. He even had an idea that perhaps the preacher was having an affair. But the actual story? Not there. He was having an affair with…well, er…. He was straying because…mmm, not sure.
Ideas like these are seeds. You look at a seed and what you see is a seed, not a flower. We tend to look at our seed idea and see it as the flower. To make the seed create a flower work has to happen. You need to plant it and supply water, nutritious soil, sunlight. You need to clear off the weeds, perhaps prune a bit and then, maybe, you’ll get the flower you were hoping for.
Your idea seed needs to percolate in your imagination for a while as you try to fit it to different characters and scenarios. Maybe the obvious – the preacher’s affair – isn’t the way to go. As you get to know the preacher in your mind other avenues come to mind. You try them and discard them until…
Until one seems to fit just right. So right it takes your breath away. Now the seed is planted. You nurture it by developing and honing characters who will carry the story forward, bringing out all the nuances that are floating about loosely in your brain.
You add active scenes, strong dialog and the most vivid language you can squeeze out of your thesaurus. You edit, and edit some more. You try it on your writer’s group and edit yet again.
And finally you have a story and not just a seed idea. You are looking at the flower. Inspiration is not about a flash of a bright idea. It’s about the time and focused, intelligent work taken to grow a beautiful creation out of it.