Indirect Inspiration

Sometimes the muse is silent, the page is blank, and the fingers are still. This can be before the project is even developed, or part way through when searching for new elements, or later in drafting and revision. And, as many writers know, finding ideas can feel like the entirety of the battle (it’s not, it’s just the beginning, but that’s just depressing).

There are many techniques for searching out new ideas—prompts, free writing, long walks, listening to music (a personal favorite), etc. But there’s one technique that lately has been particularly helpful to me, and I call it “indirect inspiration.”

I mentioned in a previous post on finding ideas that reading a summary of a book you haven’t read, and imagining what it might be like, can be a big source of inspiration. You have to be careful not to copy any direct elements, and to always add your own unique creativity to it, but if the muse is responding to something in that summary it’s probably worth pursuing in your own writing.

Movie trailers are also really great for this, especially ones in your favored genres. Trailers are a brilliant combination of visuals and music (and random bits of dialogue designed to intrigue you), and can evoke emotional responses sometimes better than the movie itself.

My new favorite source is AMVs (anime music videos). Whether or not anime is your thing, these music videos (which set clips from the show against music, so without dialogue) can be extraordinarily well-edited, though they do tend to be a little flashy, so epilepsy warning. I think a lot of conventions have awards for best AMVs, so that might be a way to find good ones (or just Google “Best AMVs”). You can also find music videos made for just about any TV show or movie, usually framed around couples, which use the same set-up of a chosen song and random images.

For me, the key here is to not have seen the source material. The reason is that your creativity will step in and try to make connections between the images, to fill in the blanks, to imagine what might be. The less you know about the context for any given character, setting, or emotional moment, the more your own creativity will have to supply. It’s a raw and often pure way of tapping into creative energy, since your mind will almost automatically fixate on certain elements, its true interest. The less you know what’s going on, the more you’ll have to imagine. And thinking about what you would like the source material to be can help you determine what you’d like to create for yourself.

Now, in order to avoid infringement, you need to then go and get at least a basic knowledge of the source material so you don’t inadvertently copy its major elements. Wikipedia is a good source for this, as you can get an overview and even spoilers if you want; a basic summary provided by a site that sells the source material will also give you the basics. If you’re really inspired by specific settings, characters, or scenes in the trailer or music video, you might still stumble on a similar set-up—but the less you know about the specifics of the source, the less likely you’ll stray too close.

It’s a fine line, and I understand not wanting to be a rip-off, so if it makes you uncomfortable don’t try this at home. But for me personally, I’ll take secondhand inspiration over none at all. And look at Shakespeare—some of his stuff was directly taken from other works at the time.

The “indirect” element here is the fact that you are inspired by the random images and out-of-context elements from the source, not the source itself. Once you experience the source, then you might be inspired by actual characters, settings, and plot points—and that’s okay, but I would call that “direct inspiration.” That’s what I would call an “influence.” This is just a way to spark some new thoughts and ideas for fun.

Whatever it takes to get the muse moving, right? 🙂


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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