Yes, we wanted to finish off our Inspirations Posts in March. We didn't. Or, more accurately, I didn't. But that doesn't mean I don't have inspirations to share!
I am not one of those smart people who never watch TV. (Side story--when we moved from Seattle to Utah in 1998, we were in a new house in a new development that didn't have cable lines yet. We decided to wait, since we were promised they would be there any month now. I had three kids ages five and under and told my husband, "No, I don't need a satellite dish. I can wait. We've got a VCR and Sesame Street tapes and besides, maybe this experience will turn me into one of those wise people who realizes I don't need television in my life." HA! Nine months after moving in, with no cable lines in sight, the satellite dish went up. I regret nothing.)
In any case, I like television. All kinds. Reality competitions like Top Chef and Project Runway. HGTV series like Love It or List It and The Property Brothers. Modern Family. Sherlock. Vampire Diaries. Binge-watching older favorites like Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica and West Wing.
But wait, the better angel of my nature whispers, isn't that just wasting time when I could be writing?
Sometimes it is. And sometimes, it's inspiration.
I'm not going to mount my full-fledged defense of my TV choices in this post, but I have undeniably found inspiration in some of my TV watching. Good writing crosses all genres and forms of media. Character development is critical in both good comedy and good drama. (And speaking of characters, where better to find a cross-section of humanity under stress than in a show about renovating your house or a young fashion designer trying to sew a ball gown in twenty-four hours?)
Lately, my inspiration has been focused on the British spy series MI5. Called "Spooks" in the UK, the ten seasons of this drama cover every conceivable domestic threat of our modern world and the MI5 operatives trying to protect their country. Since my new trilogy deals heavily with Queen Elizabeth's chief intelligencer, Francis Walsingham, and the agents he used to keep his queen alive against multiple threats, there is inspiration galore to be found in MI5.
But how? you ask. How can a TV series set in the years just before and after 9/11 have any relevance to England in the 1580s?
Maybe it doesn't. Maybe this is just my excuse to watch. (Though, honestly, who needs an excuse to watch Richard Armitage as my favorite type of hero--tall, dark, and damaged?)
It's not plot lines I get from MI5. It's not specific details. It's mood and tone. It's atmosphere, the tension of life-and-death situations, how different personalities react and how those different personalities can be welded into a team. Elizabeth Tudor did not face the threat of nuclear weapons or suicide bombers or disruptions to the internet. But she did face the very real threat of England's destruction by the Catholic powers. They wanted her Protestant kingdom wiped off the earth, and rebuilt in the image of France or Spain. She had enemies abroad and enemies at home and every time she left her chamber she faced the possibility of assassination. Who did she turn to for help? In my alternate world, who does Francis Walsingham recruit? (The answer, as it was in real life, is--whoever he could.) And how might those young intelligence agents face the threats against their country and their queen and their own lives? Those answers are more easily found--for me--when I have lost myself for a bit in the dark world of MI5.
(Plus Richard Armitage. Just saying.)
A much more common source of inspiration for writers is music. (Yes, I make playlists for my books as I'm writing. Someday I'll get them on my website, so you can share in the weirdness of my mind which has everything from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Twisted Sister as a playlist for a book set in the 1550s.) There's a whole other post to be written about how I go about finding specific pieces for specific characters and moments in my books.
But today, I'm thinking more about how music itself can sometimes solve my problems. For example, I am nearing the end of the first draft of the first book in my new trilogy. I have a playlist for that book, and a jumbled miscellany of other songs that may or may not be useful in upcoming books. Because as soon as I turn in book one, I have to get to serious work on book two. They're due just six months apart, which is a rather short timeline. It means I have little time to cast about for inspiration for book two--I've got to begin writing the moment I can.
And that's been haunting me a bit, because I wasn't exactly sure what book two was about. It's been a while (six years, to be exact) since I've started a completely new project, and remember how this trilogy sold on the strength of a two-page synopsis? That's not a lot of skeleton for me on which to piece together an entire book.
I knew who the book was about. I knew something of the overarching plot for this middle book to fit into the trilogy. But I was struggling with tone, with atmosphere, with emotion.
And then I was saved by two disparate soundtracks.
As I listened to various pieces on these soundtracks--bought simply because I loved them and their shows--inspiration began to pour forth. I could see--and, more importantly, feel--my main character in several critical moments. It's betrayal and loyalty and doing what one feels is right no matter the cost. It's disappointing your family and learning that life isn't black and white. Once I saw Stephen (that's all I'm telling you about him!) in those critical scenes, then the story began to build around him and those moments.
If you're curious, here are two of those critical pieces of music:
Sherlock, Season 3, Addicted to a Certain Lifestyle
Game of Thrones, Season 3, A Lannister Always Pays His Debts
So, if I have any words of advice on inspiration, it's this: Go wild. Don't worry about being smart or cool or being inspired by the "right" kinds of things. Inspiration knows you. It knows how you live and what you like. It will come to you in a way that you will understand.
(Although Richard Armitage is a good place to start. For anything.)