Shut Up and Listen

I’ve been out of touch recently, lavishing in the brief respite from the buzzing schedule of my normal life. My family and I have seen a few sights, visited with grandparents, attended a reunion and just relaxed. I’ve enjoyed basking in the sun by the pool with a favorite book (that I’m reading for fun, not research), the air permeated by the familiar scent of sunscreen while my kids swim with their friends. I’ve enjoyed taking my girls to the mall where we can walk and talk, have lunch and window shop. And of course lots of giggling over boys—I do live with two teenage girls after all. For me, a family vacation allows time to unwind and reconnect with each other without the day-to-day distractions of home life.

During the school year I’m all about schedules. Who has to be where? Soccer, field hockey, volleyball, basketball, track, chorus, cello, friends, doctor’s appointments, dental appointments, sleepovers, and then some…Whew, it makes me tired just writing it. 🙂 We all have these scheduling drains on our lives and we all know how hard it is to find time to write, but have you ever considered the story inspiration that surrounds you everyday while you’re going about your normal routine?

It might be the next table’s conversation while you’re at lunch or someone standing in line with you at your local coffee shop, a teacher or coach at your child’s school or the receptionist at your pediatrician’s office. You know how it happens, you’re standing there minding your own business, and suddenly, someone does or says something outrageous or hilarious or poignant and the next thing you know, a story or character idea flashes in your head. You stand there thinking, I so need to put that in a book. It’s an A-ha moment in which your universe suddenly makes sense, at least the one you have built in your story.

Earlier this month we attended my husband’s 25-year high school reunion and I have to say inspiration abounded. Fortunately, most of the attendees had moved on from being the ‘nerd’ or the ‘cheerleader’ to just being people with jobs and lives with bigger things to worry about than who’s going out with whom and what kind of car they drive. But how could I not zero in on the stereotypical ‘obnoxious jock’ that spent his high school years making everyone else’s life miserable. The poor man is 43 and spent his evening reminiscing over his “glory days” of giving wedgies in the locker room and proving that he continues to be a foul mouthed jerk by screaming, “Nipples” when the photographer was taking a group picture.

Another comical inspiration occurred recently while on a family trip. We stopped at a small roadside diner for lunch and I thought I was going to spew soda through my nose when the lady taking orders turned around and in the worst southern accent you can imagine and shouted across the entire restaurant, “Chicken up! Pluck ‘em and fry ‘em!” I mean honestly, who does that? Well apparently, she does.

So whether it comes in the form of a news article, television, movie or a person on the street little tidbits sneak in and make you think, Wow, what a great idea for a book, or a scene, or a character, or dialog… and the next thing you know your story takes off.  Now that I have told you my secrets for story inspiration it’s time for you to check in and share, where do you find your inspiration?


11 thoughts on “Shut Up and Listen

  1. Great post! I love that moment when, for whatever reason, inspiration just pops into your head and you are off and running. 😉

  2. Love the post Dana. Inspiration comes in so many different forms for me. I get great ideas from dreams, but it isn’t easy to capture the intensity of the dream. The other day my son was in the car and we were listening to a song on the radio. One line in the song struck me and I had the glimmer of an idea for a story. I’m not sure I’ll do anything with it, but I might.

  3. I love it when inspiration strikes, no matter what form it’s in! Especially when it brings the idea for a story or a character into focus for you.

  4. Believe me Avery, after I finished choking on laughter the first words out of my mouth were, “I have to put this in a book!” Mentally I had already formed a scene around the woman and that one line. 🙂

  5. I’m boring, I suppose. Most of my inspiration comes when I have a quiet moment to think — in the shower, say, or in bed right before I go to sleep at night. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your recent examples of inspiration!

  6. I’ve always wanted to put this scene in a book: My husband, two of his sisters and I were having breakfast in this diner one day, when the waitress went out of her way to be obnoxious. She slammed our food down. Didn’t bring us things we’d asked for. Did a lot of stomping and slamming even to the counter and back. Well, Hello! I was a waitress all through college, and I knew if I ever acted like that, I’d NEVER get a tip. So, I said, “She’s not getting a tip.” My sister-in-law paid the check and put a twenty dollar bill on the table as a tip. A few minutes later the waitress saw it and asked if that was for her. When we told her that it was, she began to cry. Really cry. She couldn’t believe that someone would be so nice to her after she’d been so awful. She went on to tell us that her mom had just died a couple days before, and her jerk of a boss (my words, not hers) told her she couldn’t have the time off to go out of town for the funeral. If she did, she wouldn’t have a job when she came back. She didn’t attend her mom’s funeral.
    That always hit me so hard. The life we take for granted. Not knowing what someone else is going through at any given minute.
    It taught me a valuable lesson that day. The old adage of “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
    So, someday I hope to put that in a book. I hope she spit in her boss’s coffee cup. 🙂

  7. Dana, great post! Sometimes just watching other people give you the best ideas for characters.
    I find the ‘what if’ for my writing. Ex. one of my latest stories was based on a ghost tour I took with my girls a few years ago. My ‘what if’ kicked in and created a 237 year old ghost who listens in on ghost stories about himself and a woman with the gift of psychometry who brings him to life.
    Now, I had an English teacher who loved to write when I was younger and she would tell us to ‘people watch’ and make up stories based on body language and snippits of conversation. Much like your character viewing. So yes, sometimes we do need to ‘shut up and listen’ to get those best moments. 🙂

  8. Kimberly, what a great story. You are sooo right, you never know what someone else is going through. That would make a very powerful scene!
    Loni, I love ghost tours! I think they give you a special flavor, showing the character of a place. And what a great idea for a story!

  9. Hi Dana!
    Movies and songs generally tend to spark a little something in my creative head but I think my favorite inspirations come from road trips. Especially small towns.

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