Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding Inspiration

I love a good story, especially one that's rooted in history.  In the same way that readers disappear into a good novel, I do the same thing with non-fiction.  Much of the inspiration for scenes in my novels is drawn directly from history, science, and nature.

When something grabs my interest in the real world, I'll often consider the themes that it holds and ask myself why that moment stood out from the page or leapt off the screen.  Sometimes it's an emotional connection; other times, especially with nature documentaries, it's simply something that I think is really cool. 

Chapter 15 of Escaping Destiny finds our heroes sitting around a table in Mallia's inn, listening to three of the warriors taking turns as they tell the story of The Battle of the Wildlands, each wrestling with the memories of the tale and the demons that haunt them to this day.  While Lo'claera 'no Wae (as the fae call it) exists only within the pages of a book, it's inspired by multiple historical sources.  The story told around this table draws primarily from The First and Second Crusades, The Battle of Culloden, and the Westward Expansion of the United States and the massacre of the native population. 
Mallia coughed and wiped clumsily at her eyes.  "When you watch fellow warriors so lost in their bloodlust that they cut down an innocent," she began, her voice wavering as she clenched her eyes tightly closed, a single tear escaping to slip down her wrinkled cheek.  "There was this woman," she began again, raising her face toward the ceiling and opening her eyes, the tears streaming down her face as the memory rushed into her mind.  "She was kneeling in the dirt; weeping; holding a dead child to her breast; screaming inconsolably.  She was a threat to no one.  I can still hear the horrible silence as a knight I had known for more than two decades cut her down.  There are nights when I'll awaken in a cold sweat, when I know, beyond any doubt that it isn't sweat at all, but the woman's blood that splattered across my cheeks and forehead as I watched her die."
This paragraph was inspired by a testimonial from a book called Chronicles of The Crusades, which collects countless letters and journal entries from both sides of the conflict.  After the crusader army captured Jerusalem the night before, the following event took place on the morning of July 16, 1099. "In the morning our men climbed up cautiously onto the roof of the Temple and attacked the Saracens, both male and female, and beheaded them with unsheathed swords.  The other Saracens threw themselves from the Temple."

Rather than drawing upon the actual event, I'll write from the space I found myself in when I connected with that particular piece of reality.  Sometimes it's to exorcise the emotion that I felt when I uncovered that piece of our collective past; other times it's to give those nameless souls a voice or their own.

When I prepare to write a scene, I'll first revisit and familiarize myself with the pieces of history that I'm drawing from, not the details, but the feeling that I had when I first discovered it.  Then I submerge myself in that emotion and I begin to write.  While writing the chapter referenced above, I had the song "Culloden's Harvest" by the Celtic band, Deanta, playing in a loop, listening to it over and over again as I typed.  It's a beautiful, haunting song and created exactly the emotional space that I wanted to express in the scene.  I'm a pretty passionate guy and feel emotion strongly.  They say, "Write what you know."  Personally, I'd add to that, "Write what you feel."

I keep a pretty wide range of music on hand, including the soundtracks to numerous motion pictures.  Music allows me to turn an emotion up or down, to create a space inside myself that mirrors the scene I'm trying to write.  I find that the words flow much more easily when I take that approach than when I simply sit at a keyboard in silence.  Inspiration from the world around me coupled with emotion from the world within, offers me tools to break through writer's block and keeps the story flowing.


  1. What a great inspiration, Jeffrey. I agree, we should write what we feel.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

  2. This is lovely Jeffery -=)I'm glad you share your feelings with us in such a powerful way!

  3. Nancy and Mammo: Thank you! As much as I look for tips and ideas to improve my own writing, I thought I'd share some of the techniques that have worked for me. :)