Inspiration Spreads Outward…

Three first editions of Barbie dolls from 1959...

The start of a wonderful story, the original Barbie dolls from 1959Image via Wikipedia

…kinda like spilled applesauce. It’s thicker and slower than, say, milk, but just as inexorable.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for days about the series of short stories I planned on putting together, many of which are spin-offs of Candy Apples. One of those characters is a teenager, so I was thinking about what her story or background could be. Since the stories all center around addiction, I was trying to piece together why someone so young would be in recovery from an addiction. I put it out of my (conscious) mind when I sat down at work.

The job that I have is one that is repetitious and requires little active thought from me. It’s very easy to attend to my job on one level and let the rest of my active mind wander.

On this particular day, something brought an odd thought to my mind about a Barbie doll. This poor doll was having a rough existence. There are two types of Barbie doll owners (of the little girl variety) that I’ve experienced: one who loves and cherishes her Barbie and one who takes out all of her frustration and anger, along with any maltreatment she suffers, on her Barbie doll. I’ve read that many psychologist/psychiatrist watch children playing with dolls as part of their assessment of them. A barbie doll would know all of a little girl’s secrets.

Of course, I wasn’t consciously making any of these connections sitting in my cubicle. No, I was simply thinking of a Barbie doll in the midst of a tortured little existence. The image persisted, despite my efforts to draw my mind elsewhere, so I wrote it down. As soon as my pen hit the paper, the image expanded. Now I could see different indignities poor Barbie had suffered at the hands of her tormentor, including having her long hair shorn from her well-shaped head. The thing was, this Barbie wasn’t bitter (hello, alliteration; how are you today? :D); she felt she was better off than the little girl who owned her.

All of a sudden, I could see her: my teenaged recovering addict as a little girl, acting out her agression on a defenseless Barbie, as others brought their rage down on her equally defenseless head. I saw, clear as day, her mother, hinted at in Candy Apples, and knew her occupation, where she lived, how she was raising her daughter, and why she was raising her that way. I began to get a picture in my mind of what made this woman tick. The picture went from a close shot of a tortured Barbie’s painted on smile, to a wide angle view of a childhood.

Many times throughout the day, I have thoughts and ideas that seem to have no correlation with the things I’m concentrating on. Sometimes, as I said in Potato Chip Writing, they have to do with other stories I’m working on, or fresh stories I’ve yet to write. But sometimes, when I follow a stray idea down the rabbit hole, I come out the other end right in the middle of the piece I was supposed to be working on.

Sometimes it pays to take the path less traveled by. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Have you ever had an image or idea turn out to be the start of a piece you were trying to write, offer you insight into a character, or spark a sequel to a work? Do you follow ideas down the rabbit hole? What are some of your best “rabbit hole experiences”? 

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The Gang’s All Here

Themed birthday party, ca. 1910-1915, likely i...

Image via Wikipedia

When I was a little girl, about eleven years old, I had a birthday party. I was allowed to invite anyone that I wanted to. I invited the requisite family members and all of my best friends to my house for a party overflowing with pizza, ice cream, and buttercream frosting covered yellow sheet cake. This was going to be the greatest birthday party I’d ever had. It wasn’t going to be like the time when my younger cousin (birthday two days before mine), sitting on my lap to take a birthday picture, rammed his face and chubby little hands into the cake, destroying Ms. Piggy while leaving his Raphael Ninja Turtle unscathed. It wouldn’t be like the time when four people came with the chicken pox and gave me the disease. It wasn’t going to be like the time there was a blizzard and all the guest who managed to make it got snowed in at my aunts. Yes, I was still sharing a party with my younger cousin (four years younger) and my little brother (eight years younger), but my friends would be there this year.

Only, none of those friends came. I was so diappointed. While my little brother and cousin took pictures of them with their birthday booty, I pouted in a corner. All of my friends had baulked at coming to this “baby party.” I was, once again, the only one not having fun at my birthday party.

This isn’t an example of the worst birthday I’ve ever had. I’ve been in many a more awkward situation (hanging out with drunks, for example) on my birthday. It’s not the best birthday I’ve ever had either (that would have to be the weekend my boyfriend came to visit and took me to FISS, to dinner, to parties, to church, and bought me new shoes!). But, looking back on that birthday, I took away a valuable lesson.

There are times when I’m outlining, writing, or just living when I think of great characters. These characters are funny, daring, interesting, smart, beautiful, rich, elite. Of course, they must go in this story. Oh, I just have to befriend her. I invite them to my “literary” “writing parties.”  It’s very strategic. I know they will liven things up, open up old wounds for a character, push a character into doing something they really shouldn’t do, or provide the reader with a few good laughs. I just have to have them at my party.

Only, they don’t show up. Instead, I get the characters that I knew would be there, the family of the fiction world. I get the over protective aunts, the fashionable older aunt, the bad cousins. I get the people you have to prepare for by hiding your purse and putting away anything breakable. I get the people you never really invite but who always manage to find the party.

The thing is, though, in fiction and in life, the people who should be there, who need to be there, all show up. Maybe the popular girl at school didn’t show up, but my favorite uncle who always makes me laugh was there to cheer me up. Maybe the catty high school nemesis hasn’t yet shown up in my story, but the best friend who always has my MC’s back and gets them into (and out of) a fair share of scrapes was the first one to show up.

If you look through my social media, email accounts, and cell phone, the people I wanted at that party are largely conspicuous by their absence. When I look back on that party, on the way I eventually had a great time with the people who really are important, I don’t notice their absence at all.

The same thing goes for a good story. No ones going to miss a great character who doesn’t fit. Sometimes the characters we want don’t show up to the party. But everyone who needs to get there will get there eventually…even if they do show up late, drunk, and without a present. 😉

So, I’m encouraging myself to trust my writing and not force the wrong characters into my story. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. Let that character, and yourself, go free. He might just show up in another story. This is my birthday present to myself, the gift to be free of my own outlines and get lost in the story.