“Where do your ideas come from?” If you’re a writer, this line is familiar to you. It’s a rather complicated question posing as a simple one. It’s like asking someone to explain where their dreams originate. Infinite answers are possible: your imagination, your life, your anxieties; your unconscious mind metabolizing and reinterpreting the couscous salad you had for dinner that evening.
True Events: Catalysts For Storytelling
Recently, I found myself exploring some of my muddled inspiration behind my publication, ITCH. I’m delighted to share that ITCH was released last week as the feature story in the Canadian lit mag, Dreamers Magazine.
Dreamers’ focus is “heartfelt writing,” and ITCH is a tale about a struggling contemporary dancer who makes an unsettling connection with a homeless man outside of her favorite coffee shop.
Like much of fiction, the overt inspiration behind ITCH came from a mélange of things, including true events. Some of these “moments” I experienced first-hand; others not. (Warning: spoilers ahead! If you are thinking of picking up the issue, you probably want to wait to read the rest of this post.)
The first event that sparked my idea for ITCH came from my Facebook newsfeed. A few years ago, a friend of mine posted about encountering a man in the city; he was begging for money for food. So she bought him a bagel and offered it to him—or she tried. He told her off. Needless to say, his aggressive reaction to her good intentions upset her.
I’m not sure what it was about this post, but it stayed with me. It was like a provocative byline about humanity and conflict. Without consciously intending to at the time, I mentally clipped it and stowed it away.
It seems logical then that this “bagel conflict”—which inspired the inciting incident in ITCH—complements another real-life event about a homeless man that I experienced (albeit, in a secondhand way).
Years ago, I worked as a box office attendant for the National Ballet of Canada. On one particular evening, as the audience filed into the theatre, a memorable moment occurred.
It was a sold-out performance in the fall or winter; cool weather outside the theatre doors. Word spread from the front of house ushers to the box office attendants: A homeless man had been admitted into the theatre, and those patrons seated closest to him were appalled by his stench. Audience anger and complaints ensued. He had to go. The next thing we heard, the ushers had thrown out the man—even though he’d held a valid ticket to attend the ballet.
We speculated a passerby must have donated their ticket to the man outside on the street; or maybe someone had dropped it and he’d picked it up. The alternative scenario, that he’d actually saved up and paid for the pricy ticket himself, was too heartbreaking to entertain. Either way, it wasn’t fair he’d been tossed out.
I remember how bittersweet, angering, and sad this moment felt for me. I loved the idea that art transcended social classes. For whatever reason, this so-called homeless man had wanted to attend the ballet. I couldn’t help but romanticize it: his choice was driven by more than a desire for warm shelter. To experience art is a human need. The moment became engrained in my memory, and I drew on this second event for my story’s climax.
So there you have it, two points of inspiration that worked like bookends for my short story—at least two that I’m consciously aware of. For the remaining points of inspiration behind ITCH, I’d likely need a therapist, a hypnotist, and a sage.