Finding Inspiration (First Sentences)

Following on from my previous post on finding inspiration for creative writing, this one looks at borrowing ideas.

It’s no secret that other writers have borrowed from other writers. T.S. Eliot who was heavily influenced by Dante and French Symbolist poets is known to have said: ‘good writers borrow, great writers steal.’ Of course he wasn’t advocating plagiarism, that would be plain wrong. What Eliot was talking about was taking themes, motifs, phrases and making them your own.

After all there aren’t many themes if you think about it: Good vs. Evil; Individual vs. Society; Boy meets girl; Boy messes up, loses girl; Girl wakes up, ditches boy etc. most of these themes are already contained in myths and fairytales.

It’s not where the inspiration comes from so much as what you do with it that matters. How you inject your own style, honesty, and experience of the world; how you find that special place inside where nobody else can see and create from it that makes your writing unique.

For this exercise, take the first line of a poem, story, or novel (it can even be an informational leaflet) and see where it takes you.

The beauty of these exercises is you don’t have to show anyone. They can be whatever you want them to be without judgement. I don’t normally show anybody (not even my wife), these are things that Stephen King said should be written with the door closed i.e. for your eyes only before they are redrafted.

But by way of an example, I’ve selected two of my better ones here. For every acceptable one there are usually at least ten awful ones, however one is all I need to ignite my inspiration. As always these were written within ten minutes and without thinking.

First sentences

Ariel – Sylvia Plath

Stasis in darkness.

His mind was devoid of all feeling, all thought. Numb. Intoxicated by nothingness. It should have brought fear, trembling. But the nothingness, the expanse that gazed back at him seemed comforting.

Knowing nothing at this moment in time was akin to relieving pressure from the brain.

He could almost hear the moments passing, the hisses, cracks, and fizzes as the seconds dissolved into eternity. Lost but yet together. Never alone.

And yet in that comforting darkness there was a feeling that niggled, like an itch that couldn’t quite be located. So you scratch furiously around it until you are sore but the itch remains.

And so that nagging feeling remained. The feeling that he shouldn’t have left her. But that’s all it seemed, a feeling like watching a silent black and white movie, full of on screen crackles as the scratches accentuated the artificiality of the medium.

In the movie he watched her walking away. Never looking back. Even in the movie, like re-watching your favourite film, you know the ending, you know the villain never gets away and yet sometimes you will it to happen. As if thinking and wishing enough would realign all stars and atoms of the universe in one single moment. To ask ‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’.

He watches in silence. Reaches out to touch the darkness and yet in dreams he is denied. No pause, no rewind this time. She walks away. The late autumn breeze blows regretful rain against her shoulders. Her hair waves him goodbye.

© 2016 Occasional Dreams

Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski

The first thing I remember is being under something.

By that time we no longer had any idea how long the war had been going on. As far as we could remember there was always a war. Somebody’s grandparent always had stories to tell about the Hurtings. Even our grandparents’s grandparents.

History books were no use as books, it was said, were burned at the start and they remain illegal now. In the old times apparently children had to go to some torture camp called School where they made you work for six hours. Nobody really remembers these times. I think they are just things invented to scare children.

We are much happier now we actually make things.

Today I made two warheads. They say that warheads are very important so I feel very proud of my work. Warheads stop our enemies killing us.

My sister works in the Pleasure Division. They say that’s very important too. She doesn’t talk much about what she does and we don’t really see her a lot. They say that is a very important job too as it helps the soldiers feel better about themselves. And happy soldiers means a happy war.

Perhaps it was a piece of wall or a table I don’t quite remember. I just suddenly discovered I couldn’t feel my legs anymore and I was lying on the ground. Dust was everywhere. I think some people were screaming but I could only hear a strange ringing in my ear.

My first thought was that I let people down because I saw the warhead I was working on and it was already broken.

© 2016 Occasional Dreams

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