Out Of Thin Air

Previously from the category On Writing


Whether you’re reading this on a plane, underneath a bridge, in a busy office, inside your school’s library, or just sitting at home, I want you to take a good look at your surroundings for a moment. Take into consideration the smallest of details. Maybe the plane has an abnormally small amount of passengers on it. Maybe Jan, the office manager, has spilled her coffee because she looks incredibly nervous. The librarian that would normally be seen shelving books has not been present at all today, too.

If you’re somewhere where your surroundings are abnormally bleak, the result will be even better. Since you already know the surroundings, close your eyes and start molding the walls any way your heart desires. Whatever the surroundings may hold, make a hasty and out-of-this-world conclusion from the evidence gathered.

Is this flight the one I’m supposed to be on?

Could Jan the manager be holding secrets to imminent discourse?

Did my school really get rid of the nice librarian because she wasn’t as evil as they?

As hasty as all of these things are, they are the small and dubious imaginings that begin to form the elements of a story. Most know that any good work of fiction is derived from reality to a certain extent; this extent is what makes a good story believable, and it’ll be more apt to cause an emotional stir, hooking the audience.

Random Inspiration

Inspirations from the random occurrences in day-to-day life have always held a large place in my own work as well as the work of many good writers and artists alike. George R.R. Martin once said in an interview, “As a kid, I lived on First Street, and my school was on Fifth Street. This was my world, but comic books were my ticket to a wider world. I often thought, ‘What the hell was on Eighth Street?’” When any artist envisions something for their pieces, there is a great chance that it has been conjured out of a past experience and mixed in with  a little imagination and what’s happening to them here and now. Having such a skill will enable those of you that have uneventful lives to re-imagine your surroundings and start using them to your advantage.

Let’s take George’s life into account for a moment. Although he is known for his work on A Game of Thrones and its predecessors, his earliest memories were writing about the vast reaches of the cosmos. It’s safe to assume that he had a lot of influence early on from those comic books that pertained to the adventures and exploration of space. So, say for instance, and this is purely fictitious speculation, he had read a comic book early on and the elements of the story that stuck out to him were the principles of right and wrong. It’s a very common element, but a good element nonetheless. He begins to form the idea of what right and wrong meant in a darker time when honor was protected with shields and swords. Now he has a glimpse of what will later be A Game of Thrones. I’m pretty sure this is not how his books came to be, but the idea of taking something, whether literal or figurative, and recalling that memory when something new comes to light in your mind or in your day-to-day life is some of the best inspiration that you, as an artist, can conjure out of thin air.

Recalling Past Memories

So think back to the first examples in the post. The plane, the office manager, and the librarian are all examples of things that can be easily recalled by almost anyone if they held any amount of significance within that person’s mind.They were vague examples based on my personal recollection of common events that could change in a dramatic way. Recollection of past events is something we do on a conscious  and subconscious level. These recollections or any stories tied with them can be resurfaced at any given moment by the spark of an event. Whether or not the event was good or bad is up to you, but the most important part of these recurrences, as an artist, is all in how you shape them to your advantage.

With the idea of being on a plane, Stephen King Published a great collection of short novellas entitled Four Past Midnight. In the first of these four stories. The Langoliers, he talks about a plane that had entered a wormhole of sorts and transports only the sleeping passengers  to the past.

The idea of the office manager was a mixture of any past movie having to do with an office setting. Managers are typically favored as targets in the office for anyone explaining why they hate their job. It’s usually the case with any boss, however office managers seem to get a bad rep where most office settings occur.

With the librarian, it was a small recollection of my adolescent years in high school, and remembering how great my librarian was. The library seemed to stay empty for the most part except for the librarian, but if she went missing there may be a story on your hands. She may be out sick, but  your creative mind says otherwise.

What are some of the places you originally read this post from, and what are some of the things you drew a hasty conclusion over? Drop them below in the comments and we might all benefit from another person’s perspective.

The Rabbit Game

The last bit of this article I’d like to touch on something that has helped with my inspiration in the past, and it may help yours in the future. This is where ‘rubber meets the road’ as far as conjuring out of thin air is concerned. Let me preface by saying that this was really just a silly game that was thought up in the mind of my ten-year-old self, but as time passed it became a way to make a boring reality much more interesting to the attention deficient mind I possessed in my younger years.

Think about a rabbit for a moment, and if for some reason you don’t like rabbits, think of anything that’s relevant to you (If I’m not mistaken the rabbit was only significant to me because the halls of my elementary school were drape in terrifying printed rabbits scribbled with crayons for Easter at the time). Now I want you to think of a number between 5 and 10.

Let’s say you picked the number 7 and you stayed with the rabbit. Now, think of things that are related to the rabbit. after that think of something that related to whatever it was you chose to be related to the rabbit and so on and so forth.

For Example:

Rabbits like to eat vegetables (This is the first of the seven things connected to the rabbit)

Vegetables grow from getting water. (Then you continue with water)

Water makes up 75% of the planet. (Number 3 of 7)

The planet is mostly comprised of oceans. (4 of 7)

Oceans contain whales. (5 of 7)

Whales are mammals. (6 of 7)

Mammals also include rabbits. (7 of 7)

The idea of the rabbit game is to associate certain things with others based on past experiences or knowledge that you are able to recall immediately.  Of course, this could be a very small and rudimentary tactic when trying to conjure a new seed or even an element of a story, but it has always been a good way of pondering ideas for me as a young writer. The idea with turning these things from fact to fiction should be a blurred line rather than a steep drop-off when it comes to story building as well. Remember you want certain amounts of realistic quality to hook the audience. Typically, you shouldn’t have to set a number for yourself when trying to put this idea to use either. Just let the imagination flow freely until something hooks your attention.

For example:

Jan is the office manager. Office managers typically aren’t like by the majority, if not all, of the office. What does the office not like about her. She is very sneaky in trying to get a leg up on everyone when it comes to the higher-ups. Today those higher-ups had a conference call with her. She now has a look of worry. This is not a typical look of worry as she normally has for herself, but a general worry from the likes of which I’ve never seen before. She looks as if she’s worried for the entire office. That worry would not, or should not, be present from an office manager because they practically have immunity, even if everyone else bites the dust. So, why does she look like there is imminent danger?

From the root of knowing that Jan is the office manager and giving her a characteristic of fear for the entire office you could speculate that something imminent is coming, whether it’d be bad news or the office having a bomb in it is completely up to the writer in question. (If you did see your office manager with this odd look of concern, fret not; she was probably told the entire office gets to do her performance review this time around.)

The whole basis of the rabbit game is a way of assessing something that causes a sense of recurrence in a creative beings mind and drawing conclusions that could form a new element or even a new story. The process is very simple, but sometimes the simplest things will inspire someone in the need for those creative juices to start flowing.

All-in-all, conjuring something out of thin air is typically something that causes the best creations. It is a small part of reality mixed with a large amount of imagination and sprinkled with a bit of past experience. So, the next time your in front of a blank canvas, trying to think of a rhythm for a song, or even just staring at a blank word document, just look at your surroundings and start drawing some hasty conclusions. You never know what your rabbit may turn into.


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