Please Folks, Don’t Try This at Home
Posted by jmdattilo
Where do ideas come from? Mostly, they seem to appear out of thin air, but sometimes they can have far more real sources.
Picture this: A man and a woman are hiking in a park. The man suggests leaving the trail to climb up the side of a waterfall. The woman is dubious. The man assures her he has made the climb before and it is safe and easy. Against her better judgment, the woman agrees to give it a try. They begin to climb. Halfway up the steep, slippery, safe and easy side of the waterfall, the woman slips. She dangles from the rock above, the man gripping her hands. Below her are some very large, very pointy and very solid-looking boulders. She looks up into the man’s eyes. “I love you,” she says. “But if you drop me, I’m going to love you less.”
Yes, this really happened to us when we were dating. Years later, this event became the inspiration for a scene in Time’s Edge. The hero and heroine wind up dangling off a suspension bridge over a rocky gorge. Not an exact translation, but the spirit of the original adventure is there. And it wasn’t the only time a real-life situation inspired us.
On another pre-marriage outing, we decided to go to a local beach. The tide was out and we wandered far from shore collecting rocks and shells, blissfully unaware that the tide was not going out but coming in. By the time we did realize what was happening, there was a large channel of water between us and the shore. As the tide rolled in, we frantically hopped from one shrinking sandbar to the next before Joe finally pointed out it was time to sink or swim. We plunged into the icy waters (it was April on Long Island Sound, not a warm time of year for a dip) and made it to shore, soaked and freezing. As we stood on the shore waiting for feeling to return to our bodies, Joe said, “That would make a good scene in the book!” He nearly got tossed back into the water. However, years later, our icy swim has resurfaced as a scene in Time’s Illusion, the third book of our series.
Does this mean we have fallen through mysterious dark doorways into other times or that we’ve been accosted by a seven-foot tall monster? Nope. Our imaginations work just as well as any other writers. However, real-life events do have a way of working themselves into our tales, albeit in a roundabout way. We’ve been lost in the woods, trapped in an elevator, stuck on a cliff ledge and stranded on a roller coaster. (We hope our mothers aren’t reading this.) And do these things happen to our characters? Not exactly. What we tend to do is latch onto the feeling of the event, the emotion and adrenalin and underlying humor that always seems to infuse the mishaps of our lives.
Of course it’s not just outdoor adventures that inspire us. Mary’s close encounter with an MRI is a good example. There she was lying on the board that slides into the closed tube (no open MRIs in those days!). She had been injected with a strange substance by the evil attendant who then ran away to his safe, radiation-free booth. His voice crackled over the microphone that he used to communicate with his victim…um, patient. He cheerfully told her that if she began to feel uncomfortable she could just squeeze the blue ball that was attached to a wire. This would let him know there was a problem. She had the ball in her hand and lifted it to make sure it was connected. It wasn’t. As she realized she had no way to communicate with the owner of the voice, she looked up to see a yellow smile face sticker grinning down at her from the top of the tube, which seemed at the moment to be a fine sadistic touch. She stoically endured the session and emerged from the tube with red, blotchy skin because she was having a reaction to the injection. The attendant came out from his room with a big smile and proclaimed, “That went well! By the way, you seem to have a sinus infection.” She prudently left before she gave in to her desire to punch him in the nose.
This experience became a scary scene in Time’s Secret. The MRI became a torture device in a place called the Inquisitor’s Chamber, and the attendant became a villain who is eager to demonstrate how the machine works. (For those who are wondering, the smile face sticker didn’t make it into the scene.) All the emotions of the actual event are there and the resolution… Well, the book isn’t published yet, and we don’t like spoilers, but we will say that getting even with evil MRI attendants can be fun.
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Tags: plot ideas for writers, real life inspiration for book plots, science fiction, science fiction series, Time's Edge, turning real life events into stories, where do plot ideas come from, where to find plot ideas, writers and inspiration, writing inspiration