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.”
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.”
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?