Monday, June 11, 2012

Layers of Life

How much of real life makes it into your writing?

For fiction, do you:

Choose character traits or physical features from people you interact with or know?

Form settings based on where you've lived or visited?

Create a plot from events you've experienced or heard about?

Taken ideas from all of the above?

For non-fiction, do you:

Gather snippets of ideas from Facebook posts?

Generate an article from an encounter with a rude customer service rep?

Turn a journal entry into a poem? 

Grab an idea from a cereal box for a sidebar in a children's magazine?

Ideas are everywhere, aren't they?

Not just on the surface, but in between, among the layers of life - past, present, or perhaps even under the kitchen sink. That's the beauty of it, you just never know. Something jumps out at you, or glides across your path, unnoticed at first. Before you know it, it's woven itself into an idea, right there in your head.

I had an idea emerge this weekend while talking to my brother in law, our family's historical expert. We were discussing one of my Pennsylvania ancestors who died during the Civil War on a battlefield in Kentucky, not far from where I live. 

I pondered, and wondered.

This ancestor's gaze roamed the rolling hills I see everyday!

Did he compare the landscape to his home? It is similar.

Did he think about how that war would affect future generations? My family and I are among them.

The ideas run wild in my brain, fiction and non fiction, and it started with a discovery my brother in law made.

Like I said, you just never know...:)

Where did your last writing idea hit you? When was the last time you found a good idea between the layers?

Happy writing adventures,

Photo credit: Stock Exchange


  1. My poetry more often than not is real life experiences as I find writing happy or sad things down a comfort.

    Enjoyed your post, have a good day,


  2. You're right, ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. My latest novel idea came when my daughter and I pulled over at the beach to snap a few pictures and got to talking about one of the little islands we saw. I told her some of the history of the place and she said "That would be a great setting for a book." She was right. I've not got pages and pages of ideas gathered for that story.

  3. Yvonne,
    I find writing therapeutic as well. It's a good creative outlet and a way to process, don't you think? Thanks so much!

    Interesting! It amazes me how ideas can start from a teeny thread and then blossom into something wonderful. Best wishes with your book!


  4. I love the process of idea-making. :) Mine come to me very haphazardly... usually when I'm trying to sleep!

  5. Many of my characters--appearances, personalities, quirks, as well as settings, are taking from my own life. It's amazing where our inspiration can come from. And it can strike anytime!

  6. My last idea popped out of nowhere. I was doing nothing related to writing or research but that's when I get a lot of my ideas - not when I'm actually trying to come up with one. I'm sure something triggered it, just not sure what!

  7. I don't think I've taken many things from real life, so not sure where my characters came from. Probably a movie I watched!
    The idea for my current manuscript finally came to me after reading a review of my second book that mentioned wanting to know more about the ancient aliens. Then it hit me!

  8. My ideas can come through a sentence someone says, dreams, weird little day visions.


  9. I think a lot of my own reactions to situations make their way into my books. Some characters have my own characteristics too. But I try hard not to do the whole Mary Sue thing!

  10. Karen:
    My idea for my latest stab at fiction came from a conversation I overheard as we ate in a McDonald's on our trip to see our son.
    I am attempting to find circumstances from life to work their way into this family. I know how I want the end to be but I can't make the leap from an undertow of conflict to a reasonably happy ending. I need to find a major conflict to allow the main character to work out personal issues with the mother of his daughters, his ex-wife.

  11. My last idea came from a interview of Nicolas Sparks. LOL
    Weird, huh? :)
    I guess you just never know what might get the thoughts flowing.

  12. Hi Karen .. my blog ideas come from all over the place and are all over the place! Still it's better to be creative and thinking .. than sitting and not doing a lot ..

    Cheers Hilary

  13. My last idea hit me when I realized a dear friend had died. I thought of a journal type combination of fiction and non-fiction that went along with that.

  14. Talli,
    I know -haphazardly - me too! I get them while grocery shopping, in the shower, and even at church. :)

    You know, I do this too. One character in my WIP, reflects some prickly people I've met over the years.

    I hear you! It doesn't matter when or where, just as long as they keep coming, right? :)

    Your latest WIP - I think that is great! Best wished with it!

    They are just lying, dormant and otherwise, everywhere, aren't they? Thanks for weighing in!

    That's a good point. I know I can live vicariously through my characters...:)

    Sounds like it has great potential! Wishing you the best with it!

    Wow, fun! Well, why not. right? I agree, you never know!

    Oh I agree, and you are a wonderful example of being active and creative!

    So sorry about your friend. I am sure he/she would be flattered that you thought of them.


  15. Not being a writer I find myself much more comfortable posting my images online than doing any real writing (my own). Richard

  16. My most recent writing idea came to me during a conversation with my children, who provide a wealth of ideas! The idea is for a non-fiction piece. I'll be sending out a query letter pitching that idea later on this week.

    Wish me luck!


  17. I write (as you well know) nonfiction, so it's heaps and heaps of real life. From whence does it spring? Nearly all of those you mentioned are creative rockets for me. Recently, it was a link someone posted on Facebook to...well, you'll see it in next week's column. :):)

    Waving and smiling,


  18. Richard,
    Well I'd say that are still wonderful, creative ideas! Your posts are an interesting mix of images, text, and commentary. It's always an interesting stop. :)

    Cheering you on! You'll have to let us know how it goes!

    Can't wait to read it! Now you have me wondering!


  19. Hi Karen...I positively get writing ideas gleaned from my own life experiences. Last writing idea I got popped into my mind while driving along a bucolic road Sunday afternoon. I came upon an old cemetery, way up on a hill. It was such a beautiful place, I could have stayed there all day, very peacefully. Hope you have a good evening. Susan

  20. With fiction, my characters usually just come to life on their own, but I always have the occasional character who "resembles" somebody I know. The same with places, but usually not the plot.

  21. I like to use settings from my personal experiences.

  22. Susan,
    If your blog is any reflection on your ideas, then I would say you have a lot of good ones! :) A good evening and week to you too!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your input!

    It's interesting to see what everyone likes to do, isn't it? Thanks for sharing!


  23. Hi Karen,

    Real-life is often the jumping-off point, but takes some rabbit trails. I think it's almost impossible not to write from your experiences. They color everything we do.

    Great post!

    Susan :)

  24. My own experiences have snuck into my writing but the greatest inspiration comes from reading old journals. The number of times I've hunted an historical detail only to emerge with an unrelated yet delicious morsel, has been overwhelming for me. I did it today... and had to back off from the wonderful pigsty description and tell myself I can save this for another story. But I'm still mulling it over .... (oink) :)

  25. Susan R.,
    Yes, where would we be without rabbit trails? Oh my, they are everywhere! :) Thanks a bunch!

    You inspire me, you know that? Your posts are rich reflections of this very thing. Looking forward to seeing how the pigsty thing works out!


  26. I try to make up everything. If I try to take too much from "real life," then I get too concrete and rigid and it throws my creativity out the door.

  27. Ideas are indeed everywhere--more than I can handle sometimes. I've used all of those fiction techniques that you mentioned. I also get many ideas from my dreams and news stories.

    I've heard people often say they can't think of things to write about. What are they (or aren't they) thinking?

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

  28. I know it, Lee! Ideas seem to just fall out of the trees. But then once in a while, I do get stuck - maybe tailoring something for a guest post and whatnot. The Lord always supplies wisdom to get through it, thankful for that!

    Glad you stopped by,

  29. Laura,
    Hey, you have a good point, I can see where that could be a problem. So it's a balance, right? :)

  30. Lovely post, Karen. I've hit a bit of a wall, mostly I'm not hitting the keys very much at this time! You do inspire me, though!! :)

  31. Cheryl,
    Thank you so much. I can relate, hit a wall lately too. Sometimes it seems to come in waves, you know? Well, if we keep moving forward, we'll be okay. :)


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!