Where do you get those ideas? Wide-eyed, mouths open, kids ask me this at least five times a day at a school visit. Let's face it, so do my friends. Until they read my books. My friends, that is.
The answer I give? Ideas are all around us. You just have to listen and choose the ones that speak to you.
You might be a writer if, well, if...you pilfer.
I'm not talking about stealing. That's called plagiarism. Okay, some authors steal, but then they also get caught and, say, outed on national television to such burning shame that they slink away never to be heard of again...or go off and write an even better, non-stolen book under a pen name. It's a toss up.
But what's all this pilfering about, you ask?
Ideas. Characters. Quirky personality traits. Settings. Mannerisms. Colloquialisms. Everything.
We authors are the worst. Like a magpie or a pack rat, we'll nick just about anything that catches our eye. My office cubbies are stuffed full of them. They flow out in reams across the floor of my study. These shiny baubles mesmerize me. I must have them, and once I do, I don't like to part with them. Ever. Until I need them in a book. And then, whoa Nellie. Get me some glue and a bedazzler. I'm going to work to add the sparkle.
Let me give you a few examples I have filched over the years.
Goofy way that third cousin of mine looks, the one I can't believe I'm related to = the way I describe the oddball member of either the squid, shark or dolphin family when I'm presenting at schools on my aquatically themed picture books. Believe me, we all have that goofy cousin, even squid, if you can imagine that.
My kids trying to kill each other with pointy pencils? Okay, first I removed pencils and made sure all eyeballs were still in functioning order, scolded for at least five minutes on how they shouldn't try to kill each other with pencils, and then guiltily snuck away to my office to write that idea down and used it in my latest middle grade novel which has twins who are major rivals.
Kid in daughter's class who has normal, everyday name, but insists the world call him Boo!? Oh yeah, totally appropriated for future use.
The list goes on and on and on and on.
Reactions from friends and family that find parts of their lives, their mannerisms, their pet dogs in my work?
Varied. Mostly, though, it's pretty positive. That's because we authors don't just use these things as is. We change it up. The baubles are hunks of coal waiting to be crunched, smashed, chiseled, shaped, molded, turned inside out, upside down and formed into something entirely new, alluring and very sparkly.
Which is why it's pilfering, not stealing.
Although I have to say my brother's been giving a wee bit of cheek lately. He is with the military and travels all over the world for work. He generously brings me back presents from said corners of the world. Lately, I've started hitting him up for contacts in all those corners because these things he brings me are such sparkly pretties they've given me ideas for children's magazine articles. But my brother's not returning my emails. Hmmmm.......yet another way to drive my brother crazy.
Oh yeah. Filing that tidbit away immediately!
So there you have it, authors pilfer. Pilfer, filch, appropriate, snag, purloin, pluck, borrow, cop, crib, liberate (personal favorite in the taking without permission verb list), requisition, walk away with, snatch, snare and moonlight from the lives of those around us.
Be careful friends and family. The worst part isn't that we pilfer. We're also notorious recidivists. Can you love us anyway?
The Ministry of Ghosts, by Alex Shearer
11 hours ago