Dead Cats, Writing Fuel, and Ideas

No, this title isn’t a subtle hint that you should go out and murder pets, turning them into some hideous protein shake of creativity. (Although that sounds like a neat idea for a book) This post came from me pondering the nature of ideas in writing. Where do we get the emotion from? How does the imagination decide what someone would do or feel in a particular situation? A lot of writers say, “It just comes to me,” and I think that’s true. But if you follow the little string back far enough, I think you can find a source to most of our stories and the emotions contained therein.

Two weeks ago my cat died.

Winter Is Coming

Winter Is Coming

I was a bit sad. By a bit sad  I mean I cried for two days and accused my girlfriend of killing him. (We had to put him down because the vet bill for his broken leg was obscene. We both made the decision, but in my dickish grief I decided to be mad at her.) At some point after, I wrote a scene in which someone died that was very well done. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized I had superimposed my own emotion about my dead cat onto the characters. Some of you might be thinking, “So what? I’ve lost my wife/husband/mom/dad/etc, and all of is way sadder.” That’s true. I’ve lost people that mattered way more to me than that cat, but not in the last two weeks. Mister Kitty became writing fuel after he died. I’m still unhappy, but I got a lot of that sadness out onto the page. When you read that scene you won’t say, “Oh man, this guy’s cat died,” you’ll say, “Oh man, he painted this scene really well. I’m sad now.” I knew how the characters felt, because when you create them you know a lot about them. (Though not everything) But that got me thinking, where did the ideas for the characters come from to begin with? How did I come up with the story for them to act in?

Some of my friends and readers on this site find my job endlessly fascinating. It’s not. I sit with my laptop on my crotch all day, lowering my sperm count and ticking away at a keyboard. When I’m done I just close Word and start playing video games. If you had a camera feed into my life you’d change the channel 10/10 times. But somewhere in that boring feed you’d see the spark of creativity. The truth is it comes from everywhere. Humans are dehumidifiers. We suck up all the emotion around us and dump it somewhere. For some people it’s drinking a beer with friends. For others it’s watching sports and talking with fellow fans about it after. Some of us go see movies. Others crank Goodbye Horses and tuck it back. Artists are weird as shit. We internalize all of that and crush it down. A lump of coal being turned into a diamond. When it crashes around inside long enough we get it out, putting it in books/songs/paintings/movies/dance/etc and sharing it with the world. In doing so not only do we get it out of us, but we help others understand it as well.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m just being a high brow art snob? Let me go over a few of the stories I’ve been ticking away at. All of these books came up apropos of nothing. I didn’t think about what order I’d write them in, what they’d be about, or what their themes were– the ideas just came to me.

1) Darker Shadows
–Story of a man coming to grips with the fact that he might be insane.
–Something I struggle with.

2) Darkest Days (Working Title. Two titles with dark in them sounds too cheese.)
–Survivors after the world ends try to find safety. It deals with how people chose their families.
–Something I’ve done my whole life.

3) Endless Desert (Again, working title)
–A group of soldiers travels across a desert, flashing forward and backwards in their lives that may or may not already be over.
–I’m a veteran, and that comes with a bunch of baggage sometimes that I won’t get into here. (Just read the book when it comes out, it’ll be obvious enough)

Those are just examples. Those three stories came up while I was sitting and staring into space. It was only afterwards when I was jotting down brief notes on them that I became aware of what each story was about. Afterwards, when thinking about them, I realized how much of these mirror problems I deal with in my own life.

So, yeah, writing fuel. Dead cats, battle wounds, death, laughing, agony, and happy. All of these things go into the world’s most awful soup and come out as stories. We get the big picture from the questions we have about ourselves and the world, and we get the minutia from the emotions we’ve learned to deal with. Sometimes these are just fun distractions, and sometimes they’re a way to try and get people to see things from a different point of view.

What about you readers and writers? Do you agree? Do you find you get your inspiration from somewhere else? Do you think I’m choked full of crap? Let me know!

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