this is a little snippet from the wonderful Isabel Allende’s website:
How does inspiration work?
A. I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don’t talk to anybody; I don’t answer the telephone. I’m just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I’m creating a world that is fiction but that doesn’t belong to me. I’m not God; I’m just an instrument. And in that long, very patient daily exercise of writing I have discovered a lot about myself and about life. I have learned. I’m not conscious of what I’m writing. It’s a strange process; as if by this lying-in-fiction you discover little things that are true about yourself, about life, about people, about how the world works.
I’ve been thinking of how Ms. Allende referred to herself as a medium.
Many famous authors have readily claimed their ideas came from outside themselves. One, Robert Louis Stevenson, said Brownies visited him at night and gave him story ideas.
Do our stories come from within ourselves or are there other beings out there, searching for “sensitives” open enough to hear their tale and then tell it? (There are many fictional works which have explored the latter)
It brings us to that classic question: “Where do our stories come from?”
Why does a line of dialogue pop into my head when I’m walking down the street. Or while answering phones at work? If this only occured when I was in the midst of a WIP, (and concerned those characters and situations related to it) then I would naturally sum it up as my subconscious. But when such moments occur when I am not in the midst of a WIP or the thoughts have nothing at all to do with the current WIP- I do wonder.
I mean, when I’m walking home and suddenly in my mind I envision some middle-aged woman say, “I had to do it. I hated her, you know.” Of course I have to stop and think, “Uh-who are you? And uh- what did you have to do? Did you kill her? Why? And why are you dressed in modern clothes? I need to finish my 19th century ghost novel. Sorry- I can’t do your story now!”
It does feel at times that several beings want me to tell their story all at once.
And every writer has many incidents of characters insisting they change their name. Or, putting their foot down: “I refuse to do that! You’d better change the story.” Non-writers no doubt think writers are being silly or dramatic when we speak like this- but it’s true. Very, very true.
Or is it just an overactive imagination? It could also very well be our subconscious telling us the original name we chose isn’t clicking. Or, that we must change the story line because it simply won’t work.
I’m fascinated by this question. I doubt we will ever know the answer. My personal guess is that it is usually our subconscious, but at rare times there really are other beings who want us to tell their story.
Who knows? Maybe someone gets the idea to tell a story of a woman who killed herself because that spirit wants her story told. She wants people to understand why she did it.
In the end- it doesn’t matter where the story comes from. Only that it is told truthfully.