I’m about in the middle of Stephen Ambrose’s D-DAY, a wonderfully informing and tragic and inspirational account of the allied invasion of Normandy. The book is long and dense and filled with literally thousands of real-life stories and characters. One of the stories mentions Sgt. Bob Nyland and his brother, who were both killed on D-Day. Because another brother was also believed killed previously (in the Pacific), the lone surviving brother, Fritz, who was also part of the invasion, was snatched away from the conflict before he too could become a casualty.
The story sounded so similar to the plot of “Saving Private Ryan” that I wondered if it had served as the inspiration for the movie. So I did a little research (it’s so much easier these days) and discovered that the screenwriter, Robert Rodat, actually got his inspiration while visiting a New Hampshire cemetery, where he found the graves of eight (yes, EIGHT) siblings who were killed during the Civil War.
So inspiration is where you find it, whether it occurs through happenstance or determined effort. The important things then are to recognize that you’ve found something valuable, and after that figure out what do do with it. That’s because inspiration isn’t a story. An idea isn’t a story. A scene isn’t a story. Neither is a situation, or a problem, or a character. A story contains all those things, but a story is the sum of all those parts, and more. It’s goals, and choices, and voice, and dialogue. It’s making readers care.
Where do you get your inspiration? Where will you? And then what are you gonna do with it?