Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WiP Wednesday: It's Not Stealing...'s "inspiration". ;)

I get inspired by the most random things. I don't really remember when I got the idea for Strings, the novel I'm currently whipping into querying shape. But I do remember when I first "saw" my heroine, Mara, which helped me to envision her character better while I was drafting.

It was during the movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist—which was cute, and I've heard the book is better—and there she was. I'd seen the actress before, but the character she was playing was sort of a manipulative bitch who relied on her looks.

I remember thinking: "That's her, that's Mara. That's the exact look she has on her face when she's trying to get what she wants."

Except that Mara looks like a sort of younger, shorter, darker version of Alexis Dziena, if you want to know the deets.

In other inspirational news, I watched Moulin Rouge the other day, a movie I haven't seen in a few years. Though I thought some parts were sillier than I remembered, the movie had an atmosphere that reminded me of the way I see parts of Strings.

Which made me wonder if I'm properly relating this atmosphere to the reader, if I've indeed captured the chaos and dirtiness and intrigue of both the time and place in my pages. This led me to second-guess what I'd written (as usual) even though I know that some of my strongest writing is usually related to setting and atmosphere.

Then I got started thinking about Mara again. Oddly enough, not a bit of her personality came from someone I already knew, unlike most of my other leading characters. That scene in Nick and Norah merely reinforced what I already knew about Mara, what I knew she had to be to make the story work.

Does that make her less "human"? Less real? I see her so clearly in my head (partially because of Ms. Dziena—thanks, hon!) that I just hope I'm doing justice to her on the page.

Does "stealing" traits from real people automatically make a character more three-dimensional, or is that a crutch?

Don't ask me, I haven't the foggiest idea. It's all very existential and confusing, but that's what's been occupying my thoughts for the past week. You're welcome. ;)

How much do you "steal" from life, movies, or other books that has an effect on your writing? Or do you purposely avoid certain books or movies while writing so you DON'T have any outside influences on your writing? What works for you?


Abby Annis said...

Second guessing? That's so unlike you. ;)

Most of my characters have traits from people I know or have known at some time in my life, but that doesn't make them any more three-dimensional than the ones I make up from scratch. Though they are easier for me to visualize from the start.

Once my characters are set though (especially the MC), I try to avoid anything with a strong voice, because it tends to filter into my writing. I'm such a follower. ;)

Great post!

Sangu said...

Oh, I steal all the time. I recently wrote a post on my blog about how I'm inspired by spending time with strangers at a large dinner or something. I'm always stealing interesting noses off people! (Not literally. Really.)

I completely see what you mean about inspiration from movies and books, etc. Without actually copying anything, it's so easy to feel like a movie's atmosphere is exactly what you feel your book's atmosphere should be.

Elana Johnson said...

I don't "steal" anything. I "borrow" it and twist it and make it something that fits my story. Something I wholeheartedly endorse, BTW. Whatever inspires you, inspires you!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

As we grow, we "borrow" traits that strike a chord within us and meld them into our own psyche. And in so doing, like Elana says, we add our own take on it into who we are, making that trait distinctive for our twist to it.

If we do that with our own personalities, is it any wonder we do it with our characters. My own character, Samuel McCord, is part Quigley Down Under, part Viggo from Lord of the Rings, part Raymond Chandler, and part Sam Elliot. But he is himself in his own mix of those traits and my own, too.

We are a product of all that we've seen and experienced -- and in extention, so are our characters, Roland

jessjordan said...

Someone had one of those posters that mocks inspirational photos up once. It said something like, "Inspiration: forgetting where you stole your ideas."

Sometimes I wonder if that's what we all day--take little bits and pieces from everything we do, w/o realizing it.

That said, I've never intentionally stolen anything, other than maybe some looks from an actor, or something funny one of my friends said that really fit a character. I get tons of ideas from watching a television show or movie, or reading a book and thinking, "That was cool, but what if this happened instead?"

Great things come from questions.

Tess said...

All of our work is inspired from the world around us. I think it is what gives realism to our characters and situations. I'm always snapping this mental image here or that word there and threading them into my writing.

and, Mara is beautiful (or at least, her inspiration is).

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with Elana. I get ideas from other books, but once I twist them together, it's an original idea. And usually the ideas from other books are minor, either in the other book or in mine.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I once wrote a short story with an MC based on my grandmother. I had a lot of fun because I knew exactly how she would react within the fictional tale. But most of my characters aren't based on real people. One walked out of a dream. I think even if some aspects are borrowed the characters grow into their own skins and personalities, and pretty soon they're telling you how it is. :D

KM said...

I always soak in as much as I can in a genre I'm working on because it's a huge inspiration for me. For my current WIP, I haven't used much real life experience as far as basing things on people I know; but I did that a lot in my previous one.

And I love casting characters! Steven Strait was my MC in my last WIP. *sigh* lol

Icy Roses said...

Everyone steals when they write, whether they realize it or not. Sometimes, you get that "aha" moment when you watch a movie or read a book and think, "this is the atmosphere that I want" and sometimes it's a subconscious thing. Either way, I think it's universal.

I love finding a good visual representation of my characters. :)

Krispy said...

Definitely guilty of "borrowing," but then again, who isn't? It's subconscious most of the time for me, though sometimes, I do read or see something I admire and set out to TRY to be even a fraction as awesome.

I don't like to think of basing a character on Real Life people's traits as a crutch. I mean, it can be if you let it be, but I think it's more like a reference. It's a jumping off point to something else.

I like reading for this purpose. Sometimes, a book just puts me in the right mood for a certain segment I want to write. In fact, reading often makes me WANT to write.

Wendy Sparrow said...

I think inspiration comes from all kinds of sources and it's never stealing or a crutch (unless you are, of course, stealing. LOL) You know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character of Sherlock Holmes on a professor of his. It happens frequently. I think whatever helps you visualize your characters enough to convey them can't be a crutch.