How to Find Inspiration

As writers, we are often distracted by real life events – events in our world, events in our country, events in our communities and events in our personal lives. Those distractions have the potential to turn to blocks. How can we let these events not block us but rather inspire us? That is a personal question, but I can share my own experiences with “unblocking” in hopes of helping my fellow writers in similar situations.

Whether it be international news or your local community news, present day or something that occurred in 1942, in my opinion, there is no story that is too small or too odd to consider. What works for me is reading a lot and watching the news and human interest programs. I know that “news” today can consist of a lot of noise, and a lot of which can be toxic, so I would avoid what I feel is toxic for me and keep my ears and eyes open for little known, obscure stories that resonate with me. The more obscure the better and the more interesting! I also look for stories of heroism and understated courage, especially important to me in today’s climate, about the unsung heroes or underdogs, because these are the types of characters who inspire and motivate me to be a better person. This was how I got the idea for my Nicholl finalist screenplay about P.O. Box 1142, the top secret Nazi POW camp in Virginia during WWII; I learned about it on the CBS Sunday Morning show.

The important thing to note, as I have been told by agents and managers, if you are interested in historical fiction or drama (as I am) is to dramatize themes that are relevant to present day to make a story set during WWII, for example, relevant to the contemporary audience. Consider why, for instance, Downton Abbey was so popular. It was an era when the public would have had little interest in watching aristocratic people deal with their privileged problems. But the show ultimately isn’t about just privileged lives. It’s about the gap between the rich and poor and the tension between the classes – a problem that is still very real today in the 21st century. The show’s storylines reflect a poignant examination of culture, classicism, society, and the tension between tradition and progress. These themes give the show timeless qualities. I would say that exploring timely and timeless themes is important for all genres, not just stories based on or inspired by historical events. If you can identify such themes for a story, you will have found the key structural elements for crafting a compelling story. Note how I purposefully said “structural elements.” That’s because there are other key elements, such as characters, conflict and authenticity, that are critical to creating a compelling story. All that are subjects for future posts!

I also just alluded to stories “based on” versus “inspired by” true historical events. There is a distinction, and there are differences in approach to writing such stories. That is a hefty discussion that warrants a separate post, so I will share my views and my approach next time. Meanwhile, write on!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent legal advice. If you have questions about the legalities of writing about your subject matter, please consult with an attorney.