Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fountains of Ideas

One of my favorite times to look for story inspiration is when I'm outdoors or traveling somewhere. This is why my camera goes with me everywhere, too -- one picture can often fire my imagination with such a blaze of thoughts and associations that I can keep building and expanding on that image until I have a novel. If I'm really lucky, my photos can also help me write my way out of a story problem, too.

Case in point: I'm working on a project for a client that I thought needed an additional scene, and that's about all I can tell you about both without violating my NDA. I needed to pitch an idea, too, but I kept coming up short on ideas to make it interesting as well as significant to the story. While I was driving myself crazy trying to arm-wrestle some inspiration out of my brain, I sat down to take a look at a bunch of pics I took on a recent trip to one of my favorite southern cities, St. Augustine, and decide which ones I wanted to print out.

I photographed a lot of fountains on that particular trip, and I smiled when I saw this one:

Here's a closer look (you gotta love six guy heads spitting into a basin):

One of the aspects of this funny fountain is a great story element, too, and it appealed to me as a tool I could use in my scene pitch. How I might do that came with the color of this fountain in front of one of my favorite restaurants:

You just don't see that many red fountains around, right? My thought exactly -- and that bloomed into a bigger concept. Finally, I looked at this pic that I took from the side of a gorgeous fountain, so that the sunlight and shadows would show off the intricate art:

From that angle several details jumped out at me, all of which dovetailed nicely with my concept.

I still didn't have the scene idea fully realized, but I had enough to let it percolate while I went to make dinner. As I cooked I thought about precisely what attracted me to each fountain picture, and how I could work that emotional response into my scene and get it to motivate my characters. I rewound the project in my head to see what it would best fit with in the backstory. I looked for opportunities where I could put my personal stamp on it as well.

All the elements I found interesting came together with the needs of the story. By the time I was washing the dishes I had it. The end result was not a fountain in the story, but a new construct formed from these fountains of inspiration. I pitched the new scene idea that I built with them, and the client loved it. Tomorrow I'm writing it in and I already know it's made this part of the project stronger, more cohesive and definitely more interesting. The best part? It's not filler. It's what was missing.

Next time you feel stumped with a story, grab your camera, go take a drive or a walk, and take pics of whatever catches your eye. There is a little story fountain inside your head, and sometimes all you need to do is prime it.


  1. Love the 'six heads' but that red fountain is so dramatic! I'm still so glad that you found the ghost writing, or however you'd like to label it, but I admit, I do miss new stories. Which is why I'm patiently waiting for more Nex. Maybe patiently. We'll see by the weekend... ;)

  2. The six heads are epic, but the red fountains wins the prize. It's just gorgeous.

  3. Absolutely. I find just getting out among people gives me the kick I need. I don't even have to talk to them. I just watch--how they walk, what they're doing, and what their eyes say.