Monthly Archives: March 2012

Imagination and Inspiration – Which is What, and Works How?

Fire and Fuel

Beginning novelists are often confused about imagination and inspiration, unsure of the specific roles each one plays and unsure of how the two interrelate.

Think of them in this context: imagination can be compared to fire, while inspiration can be compared to the fuel that feeds the fire.

Be A NovelistIn the times of our ancestors, before the common matchstick was invented and developed, preserving fire was of utmost importance.  What good would it do to have a fireplace full of wood all neatly stacked, and  have not so much as a spark of fire to get it going?

Likewise, what good to have a match or lighter flaming up, but nothing to feed the fire to keep it going?  (Ever read Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire”?)  Fire with no fuel is fairly useless.

Imagination is the Crux

Imagination is the crux of all story telling (i.e. novel writing). We novelists get a smidgen of an idea (should I say spark), and from there the imagination plays with it and begins to turn it every which way to examine it and see if it does indeed contain solid story material.

That little idea could have come from anywhere.  Sometimes we can hang it on the peg from which it emerged. (See my blog on respecting ideas.)

Other times that idea seems to have come from nowhere.  Somehow, some way it was submerged in the subconscious waiting for the just-right moment to surface. Who can explain that process?

Write What You Know?

Ever hear the advice: Write what you know?  (I never for a moment believed that statement – but I won’t go that direction just now.  I’ll save it for a later post.)  The saddest thing about this flippant piece of advice is this:

We don’t know what we know!

It’s true. We do not know all the thoughts and ideas that are stored away in the subconscious mind.  (Check out this video on our storehouse of ideas.) The active, well-fed imagination revels in having an idea to work with.  The interesting thing about the imagination – the more it’s used, the better it works.  So give it lots to work with!

But now I’m moving out of my fire/fuel imagery.  (We writers do love rabbit trails!)

Inspiration More Heralded

Unfortunately, inspiration is much more heralded than imagination when it comes to the Be A Novelistwriting process.  Personally, I had rather have fire and need to search for a tinder box, than to have a pile of wood (wet wood perhaps?) and no spark or flame.

My story idea, conjured up by my imagination, may be inspired by an old familiar love song, a moonlit night, the softness of a baby’s face, a secluded stream trickling through a wooded vale, an individual whom I admire, or even one whom I do not admire.  Inspiration can fan the flames and fuel my imagination, but inspiration will only take me so far.  I want to cherish inspiration, but not bank on it.  I will bank on a healthy imagination every time.

The two are then inextricably held together by discipline, hard work, and a deep understanding and appreciation for the techniques of the craft of novel writing.  Think of how a burning log in the fireplace glows due to the heat of the fire within it.  You cannot at that point separate the log from the fire, nor the fire from the log. The same applies when inspiration and imagination work together.

The Fire Will Go Out

How I pity the aspiring novelist who writes only when inspiration hits.  That individual has a weak and much-neglected imagination.  Sadly, the fire will go out.

Imagination is the essential ingredient.  Maintain your imagination, feed it often, exercise it daily, and it will serve you well.  When you do, inspiration will take its proper place and do exactly what it is designed to do – feed the fire.

Be A Novelist

There, There Now – What’s Wrong With There?

Be A NovelistTricky Words

A number of tricky words lie in wait to trip up even the most diligent novelist.  That list may include clichés, weak verbs of the to be family, overuse of certain conjunctions (and for example), and the list could go on and on.

For this blog I will focus on the tricky word there. There is wily and sneaky and will most assuredly reach out and bite an unsuspecting writer, regardless of his or her grammar proficiency.

As I began writing the very first sentence in this blog, what words might you guess popped into my head? If you answered, “There are a number of tricky words…” you are 100% correct.  Give yourself a gold star.

Why did that particular phrase pop into my mind?  Because, quite obviously, that’s how we talk.  But the spoken word and the written word are vastly different.  Or should be.  I’m not known for editing my words in casual conversation. (Although I have been guilty of editing others. Oh, for the need of restraint!)  This is why the professional novelist is not content with the first words (phrase) that pops into one’s mind.

Keeping Bad Company

Let’s take a closer look at there.  In and of itself, the word there is not such a bad fellow.  However, he keeps bad company.  There likes to hang out with weak verbs such is, was, are, have been, had been.  Being verbs are lifeless, colorless, and void of strong action.

Be A NovelistThere will be an auction at the old farm house later today.

Take a good look at this sentence.  If there is edited out, his buddies will be must go with him.  How might the entire sentence be edited?  Try this:

The auction at the old house is scheduled for later today.

Ah, now weak verbs are gone and a stronger one – scheduled – replaced it.  Good work!

Sometimes it requires a mere change of word sequence.

There is something strange happening here.

Something strange is happening here.

That was pretty simple, but it’s not always that easy.  Some instances require more skill.

Time to Re-Word

There was a car wreck. 

Eliminating there won’t work. Change in word sequence will not help either.  It’s time to re-work and re-word completely.

Suddenly there was the sound of metal grinding against metal and glass shattering.

A little better, but not much.  Notice we are still encumbered with “there was.”  Suddenly isn’t that bad, but it can become a clutter word as well.

Let’s try again. It’s time to stop and think exactly what it is we are attempting to say.  The Be A Novelistprofessional novelist wants to do more than express a thought.  The professional novelist wants to impress.  Or said another way, the professional novelist wants to leave an impression on the reader.  How about this one?

Two cars careened into one another as metal scraped against metal and shattered glass sprayed across the asphalt.

Now we have action-packed verbs: careened, scraped, shattered and sprayed and vivid word pictures.  (With a little alliteration thrown in for good measure.)

Word Power

You may be thinking that we rid ourselves of a few weak verbs and wrote a long sentence instead.  True. The point here is not word count; but word power.

There is a reason why I wanted to write this blog. There were several reasons actually.  There is a lesson contained within this blog for each novelist (and all writers) to grasp.  There is a pressing need to be vigilant when writing.

I hope you’re getting the point!  Smile.

Seriously, it’s the lazy novelist who does not take the time and effort to tend to editing details.  It’s the lazy novelist who is not willing to go on a search-and-destroy mission when it comes to weak words such as there.

I think you’re getting it. There now, that’s wasn’t so difficult, was it?


I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a Be A NovelistnovelistFor more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.


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