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Writing Inspiration

Had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about writing inspiration — what makes an author start a story, what triggers an idea for a novel or screenplay. What interested me about the conversation is that she’s a writer and yet wanted to know about other writers’ inspiration.

It’s my firm belief you can give the exact same writing topic to five writers and get five completely different stories so what inspires me probably won’t do jack for anyone else, but it got me thinking about inspiration in general. 

Outside of things that stab me with an idea when the well is dry, I think that the best tool a writer can have is the question, “What if…?”

“What if lefties dominated the world? Would everyone be more creative and laid back?”

“What if WWII never happened? What would today’s world look like?”

“What if a group of misfits got stranded on a cruise ship in the Bermuda Triangle of space, in a different galaxy?” (That would be the essential plot of my novel Fluctuations, btw.)

So if you’re stuck for ideas, just write those two little words, “What if…?” and throw in any scenario that comes to mind, no matter how bizarre. Actually, the more bizarre the better, imo.

And on the off chance this will help others, in no particular order, here are my top five wells for inspiration:

The News

No, seriously. There is nothing weirder than truth and that’s a fact. (pun intended, hee!) Like, there was this blurb on an elevator tv about some random space travel thing that sparked an idea for a conspiracy-thriller novel I’ve had absolutely no time to work on. hehehehe. And a writer friend of mine (different one) mentioned just the other day about hearing an interview on the radio which sparked a pilot. Not to mention the TV show Leverage; apparently their writers trawled the news looked for odd heists. *grin*


I will say music is more of a mood/ambiance inspiration than actual story inspiration, but certain songs have actually prompted a few ideas over the years. Two provoked actual screenplays, one that got whittled down to a tv pilot and the other a backdoor feature pilot.

Talking with People

Yeah, I know. We writers hate to interact with actual non-related-humans, but it gives a ton of inspiration. Oh my God, the number of characters that I’ve based off of real people is… huge. Usually I combine quirks and personality traits of different people into a character, but sometimes a person is so singular (in a bad way) that you just have to base an entire character off them. Them’s the breaks for pissing off a writer. Do you know back in ancient Ireland even the kings wouldn’t get on the bad side of the bards? That’s right. Power to the writers. *\o/*

The bathroom

No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter! I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m a) trapped in a small space and/or b) focused on the physical that lets the brain roam, but some of my best ideas have come about while *ahem* indisposed or showering. /tmi (hey you… well you didn’t ask, but anyhow. hehehe)


Honest to god, the number of stories that I’ve had in my brain upon waking up, or staring into space waiting for a bus, or (not) working on something like a spreadsheet/report is staggering. There’s nothing like good, old-fashioned imagination for sparking stories in any and all genres.


About Nancy M. Griffis

Author and screenwriter who loves scifi/action/adventure/urban fantasy genres. I have two published novels, Mind Games and Eternal Investigations, as well as a short story published for charity called "Home Fires Burning." All are available through amazon.com and barnesandnobles.com.


4 thoughts on “Writing Inspiration

  1. I love the “What If…” drill myself, and I agree about the news, sucky as the the media are these days. I just extrapolate, using ‘what if.’ Great post!

    Posted by Tom Elias | August 27, 2013, 9:43 pm
  2. I’ve been dreaming/daydreaming stories since before i started preschool. Just took awhile for me to start writing them down.

    Posted by alkaplan | August 29, 2013, 7:43 pm

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Nancy at the Tim Burton exhibit in L.A.

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