The Fount of Creativity

The Fount of Creativity

Mrs. Cranston held her head high as she spoke proudly of her son. “He has turned out so well, and I take all the credit for it for myself. I made sure he associated only with the best kind of people as he grew up. Keeping your children from poor associations is so important, don’t you agree?”

Her companion did not know quite how to answer this, but she was saved from the effort by another question from her interlocutor, this time phrased as a statement. “You send your children to private schools, I am sure.”

“No, ma’am.” The younger woman’s mouth twitched. “We cannot afford private schools.”

The elderly lady widened her eyes in horror for a moment; then she patted her acquaintance’s hand condescendingly. “That’s all right, dear. I’m sure they’re top-tier public schools.”

Is this a scene from a new novel? Did I paraphrase a page from a lesser known Dickens story? No. This was an interaction between me and a stranger on vacation two summers ago. “Mrs. Cranston” is the name I have invented for this wealthy, unknown woman whose snobbery and ability to patronize would have impressed Caroline Bingley. As soon as she and I finished our remarkable conversation, I thought, “This has got to go in a story!”

Writers are often admonished to write about things they know, and what writers know best is the everyday world around them.  So everyday interactions and observations, adapted to a new setting, become the stuff of stories.

“The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer, you see—every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.”

Graham Greene

Jane Austen, of course, wrote satirically using fictional characters, but surely at least some of her invented people had traits drawn from people in real life. Did her sister Cassandra recognize herself in the fictional Jane Bennet? Did any part of Tom Lefroy’s personality make it into Darcy’s character? Was there a real-life Mr. Collins?

Borrowing from real life doesn’t apply to just people. You can use real life situations as well. For instance, an unexplained charge on a credit card became a husband/wife dispute in A Pair of Pink Slippers. An argument about when to schedule a vacation became another matrimonial argument in Duty Demands. Just about any situation you run into in real life can be adapted to fit your characters in a fictional story.

You can get inspiration from other places as well. For instance dreams, song lyrics, and unfinished stories have all been known to spur writers on. But the easiest way to be creative is simply to draw on real life. Creative writers often do more borrowing than inventing.

“A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.” 

Joseph Conrad

Other sources of inspiration:

  • A scene you wish had been written into your favorite novel. What did Lady Catherine say to Darcy after she visited Elizabeth at Longbourn?
  • Inventing someone’s backstory. How did Mr. Collins’ father become estranged from Mr. Bennet’s father?
  • Putting a new twist on a familiar plot. What if Wickham had refused Darcy’s bribe to marry Lydia and completely abandoned her instead?

I keep a running journal of personalities, situations, and plot bunnies that help to give me ideas for my writing. What about you? What spurs your creativity?

23 Responses to The Fount of Creativity

  1. Great post! What an “interesting” conversation! I LOVE to people watch and get ideas from that. I do have a list several pages long of ideas for P&P stories usually from considering how the story would change if something else occurred. I tend to get inspired by very obscure lines of text. A favorite, although short one, was actually a “playground” inspiration on A Happy Assembly about what would happen if Bingley DID injure his ankle at the Meryton Assembly as Mr. Bennet recommends. I could go on and on. One day I’ll have time for them all!

  2. A writer should never leave the house without a little notebook with them. You never know when inspiration may hit. I heard once that Stephen King ‘did in’ people that irritated him. Oh dear.

  3. Yes, my sister has a neighbour that would be perfect to add into a story. One who peeks out behind curtains and one you never tell anything important to! I would like to see how Louisa and Mr. Hurst met? Was he always eating and drinking or did it start when Caroline was living with them?!

    • Louisa and Mr. Hurst would definitely be an interesting story. I’d like to think that he took up drinking only after Caroline moved it. 🙂

      Your sister’s neighbor might have been a particular relative of mine. Hah! That would make a great character for a story.

  4. I gather ideas everywhere…during classes, at movies, listening to music, taking a walk, reading a book, viewing a lovely piece of art, recalling a memory….you name it, it is a possible source of inspiration. I was asked to speak to a class of young writers at an elementary school and one of the questions was where do you get your ideas. Everywhere. You have to stay curious.

      • Often, I just need to relax my brain. So doing things around the house, watching movies, reading books, and making graphics are often very good and do the trick. Another source of blockage for me is making a story direction decision and in that case, I just have to force myself to make a decision and give it a shot (there is a delete key after all) 🙂

  5. Ooh yes Anji, Anne’s refusal of Charles would be a great story. Have to say Elaine I love the pic of your mug above. Great saying!!

    • Thanks Teresa! The mug was a gift from my brother and his wife for Christmas, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to do a post based on it! In fact I didn’t post that picture anywhere just so I could reveal it here.

  6. Hi Elaine – You are right, I was reading it and trying to figure out which Jane Austen story she was from. I really thought it was Caroline Bingley, Fanny Dashwood or someone similar. That was funny!

    • Thank you Summer. Another character I have in my notebook is a middle-aged gentleman who liked to comb his hair over from both sides into the middle to cover his bald spot, and had a habit of being in a group of people and making one very long comment that would completely shut down any further conversation. Kind of a mix of Collins and Sir Lucas!

  7. I’m not a creative writer. I occasionally think I SHOULD be but it would have to be a novel because no one would believe some of the things my (very large) extended family has managed to get into and out of. eye roll For those of you that are writers, I can only imagine the glee when you are in the middle of something (especially ridiculous) and KNOW it has to go in a book!

    I’ve always wanted Mr. Woodhouse’s backstory in Emma. I agree with Anji on Anne and Charles Musgrove in Persuasion because though she refused him and he married her sister, they still remain relatively close (besides the obvious family connection) in my opinion.

    • My family could also supply endless entertainment for a story, but I try to avoid using anyone I actually know who might recognize themselves in the narrative later on. Awkward!

      I never paid much attention to the Musgroves in general in Persuasion; that may have to change . . .

  8. What a great exchange, I imagined Lady DeBourgh as I was reading it. My kids inspire me as they say the funniest things. Although if I ever did write a novel I think I would want to write about those who annoy me as I imagine it would be a great way to let go of negative feelings without the confrontations.

    • Frustrations indeed! So far I’ve only ever written frustrating situations into a story, not frustrating people. I’m afraid I’d overdo it on the poor victim.

  9. As I don’t have a creative bone in my body when it comes to writing fiction, it’d be difficult to say if anything spurs it on!

    However, I often wonder why Darcy’s father was so devoted to Wickham. Was it because he was his natural son, as has been said in a number of variations? That would have made his attempted elopement with Georgiana all the more horrific. And in Persuasion, I’d love to see how Anne came to refuse Charles Musgrove’s proposal.

    • I’ve often wondered what kind of relationship Darcy’s parents had. We know that his father was described as an excellent man, but there’s little said of his mother. And if Darcy was left to follow what was right out of pride, does that mean that his upbringing was faulty in some way? So many ideas, so little time!

Your thoughts are precious!