Inspiration can be fickle: it doesn’t always necessarily come when you want it. There are some tried and true methods for getting ideas and motivation to write. These have been discussed in multiple “killing writer’s block” and other such advice columns.
What I want to propose are ways to find inspiration for writing fantasy, some of which may be obvious and others not so much.
1. Look at animals
If you think about it, a lot of ideas and concepts of monsters may actually derive from animals. The mythical Kraken was for the longest time thought to be just that: mythical. Now we’ve seen evidence that giant squids do exist and may have been crushing ships and terrorizing sailors just as the Greek myths told. There are plenty of weird, mysterious animals just on Earth, so no telling what version you could come up with for a fantasy tale.
Some of the most intriguing creatures are combinations of various animals, such as the chimera (part goat, part dragon, and part lion) or the bunyip (a sort of horse/walrus hybrid that infests wetlands). A lot of inspiration for fantasy creatures can obviously be found by just studying various cultures. Find a culture you’re interested in and study just a little bit about it. I’m pretty sure you’ll find something to spark your interest.
2. Look at old photographs and study your family
Some of the most wonderful inspiration can come from looking at a simple photograph. I’m not talking about Instagram. Just look at old pictures of anything.
Find old pictures of your grandparents, parents, friends, or children. What was it like for them growing up? What about your great-great grandparents? I’ve found lots of inspiration just hearing about my family genealogy. This can open up a whole new world of not only what your ancestors were like, but what you may be like as a writer.
No photographs of some of your family members? Just imagine what they were like. How would they function in a world of acid-spitting dragons, elves, and water spirits?
3. Watch movie trailers
Yes, you can watch movies to find inspiration, but what about movie trailers?
Sometimes just a clip can get me thinking about stories. It may be the way a character looks at another or the color of someone’s coat. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m thinking “Oh, this character is wearing a blue coat so I want my character to wear a blue coat.” It may be something like, “That blue is quite striking. What if the whole world was blue like that?” or “What if time moved in what we perceive as slow-motion?”
4. Listen to music you hate
Anyone can find inspiration in music they love. Like a lot of writers, I listen to music as I write; it gives me a soundtrack to my writing. But when I’m not writing? Sometimes I just like to listen to songs I would never have any interest in hearing. Why? Because it gives some new perspective, something I’m missing.
Next time you’re stuck for an idea, just listen to some music you hate. Maybe it will invoke a feeling in you that you haven’t felt in some time.
5. Sit in an empty room with no computer or paper
Just sit somewhere and think. Preferably a room with no decorations. Just white or beige. Bland.
Make yourself a prisoner of the room. If it locks from the outside, have someone lock you in there. How would you get out? How would you decorate that room? What kind of creatures might live behind the walls?
Just let your mind race. After about 10-15 minutes, run out of the room and scribble down anything you thought about while in there. You might just have come up with some interesting ideas.
6. Transform your surroundings
On a bus? Find someone. What would they look like in wizard robes or with long, pointy fangs? What if the bus was actually a massive beast of burden that carries dozens of people across the ashes of a fallen civilization, the screams of those left behind echoing in your ears?
Make the mundane moments of your life interesting by doing a little day-dreaming. Find weird stuff and people. Mold them into something new. You don’t have to always go on a sunny walk in the park to find inspiration.
7. Shake up your schedule
If your routine is to go to work, come home, talk to your family, eat dinner, and start writing, maybe you need to change it up a bit.
Wake up super early, like 3 am and just start thinking about your story. Look for strange holes in the wall that you may not have noticed before or go in your attic and just stare into the darkness. Do you see ghosts? Does the pitch black awaken something inside you? Does your perception change?
Sometimes the best ideas may come in the middle of the night. Sure, your family may think you’re creepy or something’s wrong with you, but just reassure them and say, “I’m working on a story.” Make yourself available at different times of the day. Disrupt things a little bit. You may notice if the rhythm of your life is a little off, new ideas may come swarming in.
8. Go to places outside your comfort zone
Hate dance clubs? Go to one. Avoid shopping malls? Go browse a bit.
With the increasing reliance on the internet for research and ideas, good ole’ fashioned “people watching” has gone the way of the dodo. Similar to my “look around the bus” situation, putting yourself in places that may not be entirely comfortable for you may get you thinking about story ideas.
If your story is about an elf that feels isolated amongst humans, what better inspiration than finding places where you feel isolated and go there. It’s best not to go anywhere that pushes your limits too far. Just trying new social situations may help spark some ideas.
One of the most awkward situations I was ever in was at a vampire party. I was totally out of my element, but observing the way they acted was quite fascinating.
9. Over-saturation of news
Read, watch, and consume news until you feel sick. Try different mediums and points of view. Just watching different pundits talk about a myriad of topics can give you perspective into your fantasy world.
Do people think the same way? Are there broad divisions in philosophy? Are some points of view so extreme that there’s no possible way you could ever understand them? Then you may be getting quite a bit of inspiration.
What if you have an army of goblins marching towards the southern capital and no amount of negotiation can make them turn back? What are they fueled by?
You can find a lot of inspiration just in consuming as much news as you can. Just be careful not to get too depressed. Too much news can do that.
10. Read fantasy books
I left the most painfully obvious for last. If you’re a fantasy writer, read fantasy books. Read old ones, new ones, ones that you’ve resisted. Don’t box yourself in to only reading one sub-genre or certain kinds of writers. Find authors you’ve heard good and bad stuff about and try them out.
Most fantasy writers would say they got their first inspiration from reading. So that should still be any writers go-to point. Try to please your inner hipster though. Find obscure books no one has heard of or ones that nobody likes. You learn as much about yourself as a writer from what you like as from what you don’t like.
So there are my obvious and slightly less obvious tips for finding inspiration for your writing. Some writers are “waiters” (those who wait for inspiration) and some are “seekers” (those who seek it out). What camp do you fall into?
When seeking inspiration, what is the least conventional tactic that you’ve tried? How did it work for you? Please share your thoughts below.
You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at philipoverby1.blogspot.com.