Writer Wednesdays

Writer Wednesdays – Where do you get your ideas?

By D.L. Winchester

One of the biggest cliches in the world of writers is the question “Where do you get your ideas?”

The reason, I think, people ask this question is that they believe having ideas is what’s keeping them from becoming a writer themselves.

And I would say they’re wrong.

It’s not a lack of ideas that stops them, it’s an inability to develop the ideas into a story that keeps them from picking up a pen.

Ideas are everywhere, you just have to be willing to dig for them. The problem is, they don’t spring into your head a full-fledged story. You have to work, to build on that spark of inspiration, merging it with others until you’ve pieced together.

Take, for instance, “Signs Following,” one of the stories in my recent chapbook, Shadows of Appalachia.

The spark for that story came from the National Snakebite Support Facebook group. A common topic of discussion on the page is that a lot of doctors mismanage snakebite treatment, so I wanted to write a story that showed the proper treatment of a snakebite, or as close as I could reasonably get.

Now, a story about snakebite treatment isn’t very interesting, and would likely be more of a vignette than an actual story. So I knew I had to build a story around the actual hospital treatment.

My first question was, “how did the victim get bit?”

The answer I decided on harkened back to my dad’s hometown.

Snake Handling, or “signs following,” churches are a distinctly Appalachian tradition. As part of their worship, believers will handle deadly serpents and drink poison. The denomination is not strong, only a handful of churches with low attendance, and yet, it’s something most people in America are aware of.

So I had my bite victim and how they got bit. Next I had to build a story around it. So I came up with a young couple, a young man and the preacher’s daughter, who were trying to escape the church, but were limited by the preacher’s controlling nature. When in doubt, toss in some religious trauma, right?

But I also needed some tension, something to tie the couple to the church long enough for the snakebite to happen. Enter the preacher’s son, a minor who also wants to leave (It probably won’t surprise you to learn the pivotal scene takes place just before the young man’s eighteenth birthday).

Once I had these elements, the story came together quickly. It was just a matter of molding the ideas into a cohesive narrative.

So I don’t think the right question is “where do you get your ideas?” I think a better one is, “how do you mold ideas into a story?”

If you can figure that out, a career as a writer is looming.

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