Ideas and Inspiration
It’s the question you’re asked all the time at book readings: Where do you get your ideas from? Some writers will make a joke out of it and say they get their ideas from the Idea Depot on the corner near the grocery story. Other authors will say their ideas just come to them out of the ether. And yet others will try to avoid the question all together and change the subject.
The truth is, ideas for stories can come from anywhere. They can come from a news article that sparks your imagination in some way. They can come from an overheard conversation at the mall. Or from a song lyric that sticks in your head. From a funny story your friend tells you. Or a picture you see in a magazine.
In the case of my book, Swim the Fly, the idea came from something that actually happened to me.
For those of you who don’t know, Swim the Fly is the story of three fifteen year old boys who set a summertime goal of attempting to see a real-live naked girl for the very first time. Movies don’t count, magazines don’t count, the internet doesn’t count.
The goal proves quite difficult to achieve, especially considering none of the boys have ever had a girlfriend, and the three of them are the least athletic kids on the swim team.But believe it or not, the naked girl aspect of the novel was not the original germ of the story.
The swim team was.
When I was a teenager my mom would sign my sister and me up for the swimming team every summer. I was not a particularly strong swimmer (in fact, I have quite a few green fifth place ribbons to prove it) and I always chose to participate in the breaststroke events because I found the stroke the easiest.
One summer—when I was fifteen, coincidentally—my swim coach approached me and told me that, since our team’s butterflier had gone on to bigger and better things, I was to swim in the 100 yard butterfly event at our championship meet.
This absolutely terrified me. Partly because my swim coach was an imposing woman who you did not say no to. But mostly because I could not even complete a single lap of butterfly. Why she chose me to swim this event still baffles me to this day.
Anyway, I practiced and practiced the butterfly for the entire summer. As the championship meet approached, I was just barely able to complete four laps of butterfly without drowning.
On the day of the swim meet I stepped up onto the starter’s block and looked over at my competition. The only person I could see was this giant of a kid. He was the best swimmer in the entire league and he was enormous. Arnold Schwarzenegger enormous. With tree trunk legs, massive arms, and stone-cut muscles absolutely everywhere. I swear, this kid’s feet were ripped.
And here I am, this stick-skinny kid, a broomstick in a bathing suit, having to swim head-to-head with a gorilla.
Needless to say, I was terrified. And when the starter raised his pistol to signal the beginning of the race, I was hoping he would just lower the gun, point it at me, and put me out of my misery.
I’d written a very short piece about this incident at a writing workshop some time ago and promptly tucked it into a drawer. There it sat for several years until I’d decided (with some strong persuading by my wife) to write a humorous YA novel for boys.
I’d read over this two-page scribble and the seed for the book was planted.
And so, you see, ideas for stories can come from absolutely anywhere.
Even harrowing and embarrassing incidents from your teenagehood.
Maybe even ESPECIALLY from those times.