by Cary Christopher and Lisanne Harrington
This month’s theme is “New”. Hmm. How do you come up with something new, especially when you’re writing about monsters? Haven’t they pretty much been done to death?
Nope, not at all! While it isn’t exactly easy, finding new and interesting creatures, or characters, if you’re not into the whole monster thing, to write about isn’t all that difficult. You just have to let your imagination run wild.
Finding New Monsters
For example, Lisanne’s current WIP (work in progress) is about a Chinese mythological monster who terrorizes every generation of a particular family. She wanted to do an homage to her best friend, who is half Chinese, so she began by researching Chinese myths, which lead her to why the Chinese celebrate Lunar New Year.
Hint: It involves a monster…
So Lisanne tucked her hair up underneath her tinfoil hat, rubbed her hands together, hunched over the keyboard, and created a new creature. All it took was a little research and a LOT of imagination.
In Cary’s case, he’s currently working on a series involving a character he co-created. The character has supernatural abilities, but he needed a worthy opponent and wanted something completely out of the ordinary. His solution was much like Lisanne’s. He started poring through books like A Field Guide to Demons by Carol and Dinah Mack and Fallen Angels by Bernard Bamberger. Pretty soon he found something close to what he was looking for and with a few tweaks, he was able to create something original, gigantic, and powerful, but still rooted in classical mythology.
Once they had their monsters, they each came up with the typical story elements: plot, human characters, scenes, tension, etc. Easy peasy, right?
<insert maniacal laughter here>
What About Characters?
For those of you who are just starting out, or are looking to create a character instead of a monster, forget that tired old adage of “write what you know.” After all, that’s what research is for. You can find new and interesting things to write about by people-watching. Be sure and take your laptop, notebook or just use the memo app on your phone. Go to the mall, McDonald’s, the park, anywhere that people gather, and sit back and let the fun begin. Observe those around you. Jot down everything and anything you find interesting.
In Murder in the Family, Lisanne’s most recent book, there is a scene set in McDonald’s involving a family who obviously favored one child over the other. It’s based on her observing such a family…ten years ago.
In 2018, Cary spent two weeks in Tokyo with his family. One day, he ended up with a couple of hours to himself, so he took his phone, a store-bought sandwich and a beer (yes…a beer) and sat in a park near where he’d planned to meet back up with his wife and daughter. As he watched the people coming and going on their lunch breaks, he also started noticing the cats.
There were cats everywhere and people seemed to be coming to the park just to scratch them, watch them, and occasionally feed them. He found this fascinating, especially as he is seriously allergic to cats.
Out came the phone and pretty soon he had riffed out seven story ideas based on scenarios that could happen in or around the park. Some were supernatural in nature, others were just slice of life meditations, but all of them are now captured in an “ideas” document on his computer.
That beer was worth every penny…or yen as the case may be.
Don’t Be Afraid To Get Weird
Newspapers and online news venues are also a good source of inspiration. We’ve all heard about books “ripped from the headlines.” World and local events have a cornucopia full of possibility.
Even fake news works…
But, if you can’t stomach today’s headlines, look back further. For instance, Cary recently heard about a story from the early 1900’s involving a ghost mongoose who was a regular visitor and helper to a family living in a farmhouse on the Isle of Man. The story is actually listed in Wikipedia (another great source for odd ideas), which references newspaper articles about the animal. Reading that story sparked an idea for a much bigger tale.
What’s the weirdest place that Lisanne and Cary have found inspiration for their stories?
While the “cat park” in Tokyo is certainly an exotic location, the oddest thing that ever inspired Cary to write a story was a piece of graffiti. While in Bristol, UK, for work, Cary spent any free time he had walking around the city. Bristol has a thriving street art community that is actually sanctioned by the local government. It’s an effort to add some color to the typically blocky, gray buildings that remain from the industrial housing construction of the 1980’s. There are whole streets where giant murals cover walls that are half a block long.
It wasn’t one of the big ones that inspired him though. He noticed that among all the flashy, huge artwork there were occasionally little stenciled birds. They were painted in flight and looked kind of like swallows. More importantly, they seemed to be all over the city, not in big groups but just one here or there.
Soon the wheels in his brain started turning and he started wondering if there was some sort of secret the swallows were trying to convey. If you followed them in the direction they were flying, would they lead you somewhere? If so, where?
Before he got back home to California, he’d already begun working on a sinister short story about a man more curious than cautious.
Lisanne’s most unusual inspiration came from a series of clown sightings reported across the globe in 2016. While the majority of accounts were simply about weird clowns spotted near schools or in woods, there were a several reports of knife-wielding clowns and even a few outright assaults. She began to wonder if several people had gotten together and decided to incite fear in their communities or if there was something actually sinister, something supernatural, involved. She researched clowns all the way back to Joseph Grimaldi, the first actual Clown. From there, her imagination kicked into high gear and her novel, Everyone Loves a Clown, began to take shape.
The point being, inspiration is out there. It’s everywhere you look. You just have to tap into it and be sure to keep all those notebooks, news reports, and/or digital files. You never know what you will end up using or when an idea will become relevant.
Cary Christopher was born and raised in Florida and Georgia but has called Southern California home now for almost 20 years. He’s written extensively about music, movies and pop culture online and for various publications around SoCal. Now he primarily writes for his blog (www.carychristopher.com). His new novel The Wash is available on Amazon.
Link to my Amazon Authors Page: https://www.amazon.com/Cary-Christopher/e/B076FD8MJ3
After sixteen years as a paralegal, I staged a coup and left the straight-laced corporate world behind forever. I now pander to my muse, a sarcastic little so-and-so who delights in getting the voices in my head to either all speak at once in a cacophony of noise or to remain completely silent. Only copious amounts of Diet Cherry Dr. Peppers and hamburgers will ensure their complicity in filling my head with stories of serial killers, werewolves, and the things that live under your bed.
I live in SoCal, in the small town I fashioned Moonspell’s Wolf Creek after, with my beloved husband and persistently rowdy, always-has-to-have-the-last-word Miniature Pinscher, Fiona.
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