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Fairy Folklore as Inspiration for Writing

From what I’ve seen, every culture has folklore involving fairies or other spirits, and they make great inspiration for all genres. Although serious usage may require more research than a St. Patrick’s Day writing prompt. Whether you need fresh ideas for types of magic (worldbuilding), ways to frighten people, or even human behavior, fairy stories have a lot to offer – as many writers have found before us.

While we no longer think of them that way, the idea of elves and dwarves commonly used in the fantasy genre are rooted in much older superstitions about faeries. And going back to take a look at the concepts of those creatures (especially ones that predate modern fiction) can help give you a fresh look at the genre’s tropes. I especially like looking at older books about beliefs of the time because the perspective is very different from what you hear now – well, that, and a good number are free on Project Gutenberg.

For example: The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley and Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the Western District of Scotland by Mawell Wood, M.B. Those books focus on celtic faeries and superstitions, but if you search “superstitions,” you’ll see a plethora of options from a variety of cultures. You probably know some of them already (like the myths from Ancient Greece), but there are plenty more to discover. Some are dark and terrifyingly powerful. Others are surprisingly vulnerable and fragile. And since stories of these creatures were originally told orally, there’s often varying accounts of what each creature can do, likes, hates, etc.

Which leads me to my favorite part of using fairy mythology as inspiration: there is simply so much fodder that 5 authors could use the same faeries as inspiration and get 5 very different worlds, characters, and stories out of it. Make that 5,000 authors (and I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole). Seriously, though, if you take the old ideas and make them your own, there is unlimited potential for exciting new stories.

Every try it? Which fairies or spirits inspire you?

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Starting Stories Before You Know What They Are

What do you do if you need to write a story, but you don’t have any ideas for a story?

Yeah, that sounds a little silly (kind of like putting the cart before the horse). Sometimes, however, you decide to submit something to a contest, a magazine, etc. You look up the requirements and learn about the genre(s) and word count range that the story needs to be. All you need is something to write about.

If you don’t have any spare ideas lying around and gathering dust (in the spare idea cupboard), what do you do?

I more or less forced this problem on myself a few months ago when I started twytte. I challenged myself to write and post a new poem or story (or part of one) every day. I was already writing every day, but this was different. Before, I was writing because I had a book to finish – I had a story I wanted to work on that inspired the writing. I still have lots of stories that I want to work on, but they’re mostly novels. I didn’t want to use them for a little snippet or poem. So I could either come up with new ideas, or I could give up on the writing experiment.

I’m not very good at giving up on stuff. That meant I had to figure out a way to start writing before I knew what story I was going to write. Well, necessity is the mother of invention, right? I got lots of practice, and eventually, I found a method that worked for me.

When I need a starting point, I generally try to think of 1 of 3 things: a unique/weird situation, character, or first line. Once I have 1 of those, I start writing about it and let it lead me into a story. They don’t need to be unique or weird although if they are, it not only helps keep the story from getting too flat or stereotypical but it also gets the brain moving.

I don’t know about you, but nothing makes my brain start writing a story faster than taking two things that don’t usually go together (or better yet, shouldn’t go together) and putting them together. It makes me want to figure out how the idea will work – to explore it.

That’s how Deathwalker started. It wasn’t on my list of novels to write. I wasn’t even planning to make it a novel at that point. I really only needed to write a certain amount that day, thought of the first lines, and let it grow from there. After a while, I decided to add to it. The more I did, the more I liked it. Suddenly, the plot grew in my head, and I had a book I was working on. And it all started with that unique/weird idea.

Seriously, try it sometime. You might really like what comes out of it.

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Blind Love & Letting Go

I’m sure that all of us have had an idea or a scene or a character that we come up with that simply makes us fall in love. We think it’s the best thing since sliced pizza, and we can’t imagine anyone disagreeing. And when we’re right, it’s magic.

Unfortunately, sometimes we’re wrong.

Oddly enough, a lot of the time, it’s the big idea that started the whole book (or other project) that stops working as the book goes on. Maybe, the goal was to make an allegory or use a particular style of symbolism. Then, as we write, we get more great ideas for the characters and the plot, and they take on a life of their own.

But they don’t work with the original idea anymore.

Singer and songwriter, Anne E. DeChant, talks about a song that started with a phrase she heard. If I remember correctly, she worked on it off and on for several years but simply couldn’t get the song to jell. When she finally got the song finished with the help of a friend, she had a very good song.

And the original phrase was nowhere in it.

Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to finally accept that the phrase wasn’t going to work in the song? That was the whole point, right? But they obviously made it to a stage where the song was stronger without the phrase than with the phrase.

I’ve had similar issues with projects before, and I honestly think that one of the hardest parts of being an artist (of any kind) is to accept that something isn’t working and let it go*. Sometimes, you simply have to because if you don’t, you’ll ruin the whole project. And that’s a tragedy.

It’s heartbreaking to see a person on the verge of having a great story who can’t sell it because he/she won’t make the changes needed to fix the problems in the way.

That’s when blind love for an idea becomes dangerous. And it’s mainly the blind part that’s the problem. A certain amount of love and confidence in a project is good – let’s face it, it’s necessary, or we’d never dare show our writing to anyone. But we cannot afford to be blindly in love with our work. We have to be able to step back from it and look at it as a whole.

And sometimes, we have to be able to let go.

*My apologies to everyone who now has Frozen stuck in his/her head.

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Coming from Hitchcock, This Quote Makes Ideas Seem Scary!

It's so true it's scary.

And they’re coming for YOU.

The first time I heard someone ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” I was baffled. The concept behind the question confused me. What do you mean where do I get them? Ideas are everywhere! I get them at the grocery when I see someone trying to climb the shelves, I get them in traffic when I catch a glimpse of a sign, I get them at work or out or in class because someone says something funny  – life is full of ideas.

Apparently, not everyone looks at the world that way. To many people, the very thought of having so many ideas is impressive and strange (and that itself is strange to me).

I’ve come to believe that idea generation is a way of thinking: looking for possibilities in what is (or what isn’t). I don’t know if some people have a natural tendency to think that way. I do know that it can be learned or at least made stronger by consciously seeking out those possibilities. However you get it, I think it is an essential skill for being a writer (or an artist of any kind). How could you make something without seeing the possibility of what it could be?