If you’re writing a big sweeping epic, you probably know where it’s going. What about those of us who write slice of life stories especially? Odds are at times you’ll struggle with where to take your characters next. So what inspires you? How do you get those creative juices flowing so you can get back to the rhythm you’re used to? That’s what we’re talking about in this weeks Friday Artist Talk.
Ideas can come from all over the place, sure. However it’s not always that easy to find one to run with. The worst is coming up with an idea and not having a clue how to continue implementing it. So what can you do to come up with concepts and get them off the ground into full out inspiration? Let’s go over some of the methods that have kept me busy over the years.
5. Dreams are your friend! So are your nightmares.
If you’re like me, your artistic mind doesn’t shut off when you go to sleep and every dream you have is the most epic insane thing ever. This can be a great source of concepts. The trick is trying to remember as much as possible after you wake up. It’s best if you live alone or with friends that understand this strange process, so you’re not presented with a million questions by everyone around you when you first wake up. You just need some time to focus and grasp at those straws left behind in your mind from your dreams. It works for me at least.
Mainly you need to search around and find specific ideas. Cling to those and see if you can find any other memories from your dreams. Odds are you’ll come up with some pretty amazing and twisted stuff. You’ll also get some concepts that aren’t good for anything too since our minds can make trivial situations in dreams seem like huge emotional ones. Perhaps that’s even a concept within itself, a character who over reacts to the situation you dreamed of in that emotional way.
Don’t take any of it for granted and if you can start a dream journal. Yes all of this sounds incredibly nerdy, but it’s surprising how much of what you write down will actually stick with you later. When you look back at your notes, you can sometimes remember dreaming that story. It’s your own inspiration, just from your subconscious mind. That and if you’re very lucky, you’ll even end up dreaming about the project you’re working on and what to do with it! It’s rare, but when that happens, it’s an amazing thing. Just make sure you try to relax in bed and remember it instead of realizing at the coffee machine you’d had that great idea in your dream that you can’t recall now.
4. Do something else that is relaxing to you.
A friend of mine mentioned that Douglas Adams would take baths in order to stir up some inspiration. Of course I can’t find any detailed reference to this online as of this writing, but things of this nature can help get your mind flowing. I don’t know if it’s something to do with warm water getting your blood flowing more or what, but ideas can come to you if you’re up for a relaxing bath or shower. Sure to everyone else it may seem a bit crazy to wander off in the middle of the day from work to bathe, but whatever works right? You’re an artist! The creative process is what keeps you working.
There are other methods that keep you from getting your blood pressure up though. Even just going for a walk can sometimes be a good thing. It can help to distract your mind to let your thoughts wander, or who knows, you may just meet some interesting people that give you some much needed inspiration as well! Depending on how tight your schedule is of course, this is one of the reasons why you should take lunch breaks and do your best to get out for a bit.
3. Take the time to just relax and listen to music.
I don’t know about you, but in my mind the stories that music tends to convey never come out the way they’re intended. That isn’t an insult to music itself, it’s a fantastic medium that I certainly be where I am without. What it means is my creative mind is all over the place and I don’t tend to take the obvious concepts the musician is trying to give me as the actual queues. I’ve seen numerous musicals and been surprised by the endings after listening to the soundtracks because my mind wanders and I imagine where the story goes instead. Sure that’s easier in some stories rather than others, but when it does happen it is a curious bit of inspiration.
Naturally music in general is wonderful to just listen to, take in the stories, and see if anything inspires you toward a certain concept. What are your characters going through? Take some of those key words and look up songs that feature those words in the title. That has worked fantastically for me in the past. As discussed a couple of weeks ago in another Friday Artist Talk, music can even be a background push to both inspire you and keep you drawing or writing.
Getting back to Douglas Adams, that’s even another method he used in writing some of his books. I won’t go into detail here, but you can check out his musical inspirations over at DouglasAdams.eu for the full story. So on the bright side, it’s not just me. If you’re really low on ideas, just take an album with lots of dialogue and story to it and let the concepts flow. Who is the character they’re talking about in your mind? What happens to them as the story goes along? Is this perhaps all metaphor and you can apply other concepts with similar emotional feeling? Of course I’m not saying outright take ideas from other peoples work. Just let the songs inspire you.
2. Get a group of friends together and see what they think or role play!
One of the best and worst things you can do is to ask a friend. It really is hit and miss depending on who you ask. Sometimes you’ll get someone who is very direct that their idea is great and you should definitely follow it! “Abandon all concepts you’ve had, and follow me!” they may suggest. That can be problematic. Other times when your friends are knowingly or unknowingly feeding you ideas from movies or stories they’ve heard, this can also be equally catastrophic. But when you get that group from friends together who will tear apart and idea and give you concepts or considerations you hadn’t thought of, that’s when the magic happens.
Another wonderful method of getting your friends to inspire you is to role play out the story. Literally, like a good old fashion pencil and paper RPG session. Get everyone together, be the game master and give everyone a character from your story. Tell them what their characters are like and let them freely play these characters out. Sure things may get a little crazy, or unlike what you’d do with your characters, but all of this is just inspiration after all. Let them have fun in the world you’ve created. Of course, you’ll want to tell your friends about this beforehand since it can be rather jarring for them to learn much later that you’ve been developing their play style into your own production.
1. Go take in some related media.
This isn’t about plagiarism. You’re not trying to take another idea and make a copy of it. What you are doing is seeing what other people have made and trying to get ideas from that. If you have a comic that is kind of out there, watch some 80s cartoons! Some of those had some of the most bizarre cliché’s out there. However they are concepts that you might consider giving a go. Even artwork can inspire you. I watch a lot of anime just to study it as I view each episode. It’s surprising what you’ll notice, and then realize you can apply to your work later. That’s more so an artistic form of inspiration however.
We’ve already covered music, so this is meant as watching TV shows, movies, anything that can get you thinking creatively. Naturally even parody is an option if you really like a concept. Just make sure you do indeed make a parody and don’t just copy the idea outright. I’ve been stuck for a character name and come up with some of my most memorable ones from background characters on random shows. Sometimes you’ll just hear something, and it will stick with you. Hearing it spoken just gives it that strength you’d never noticed reading it. It’s all a process, and this is all about finding what works best for you. Perhaps reading is the best way to go for you.
Going to the theatre especially to see a big epic can be a lot of fun. Not only can it be exhilarating to see a film on the big screen, but the sound and music can draw you right in. Usually after going to the movies, I’m full of inspiration. I used to come home and write something in the same genre, but with new characters. You’ve got all of that creative energy that you’ve just been a part of, use it and see where it takes you. Again, I’m not saying to steal ideas, only to use that inspiration watching the film has given you. That emotional thrill it’s filled you with. That and of course if you have friends along, ask them what they thought of the movie.
So get out there, take in media, and most of all be attentive to the world around you. It may just give you that next idea you need. When that doesn’t work. Take some time to yourself. Relax and maybe even take a long shower. Odds are you’ll find something that will work for you.