The greatest thing about inspiration is its versatility. A monarch butterfly suddenly appearing, a frog, rabbit, deer or flower could all be inspirational. The sun, sky, moon and stars have been inspirational to a great many writers and will continue to be for years to come.
Intangible things can be just as important: feeling and emotions. These are much trickier to capture, but bring our writing to deeper levels that strike chords within our readers. An unusual person can become a perfect subject for a new character or even an entire story idea. We have to train ourselves to notice the little things and also what makes them stand apart in our minds.
Here is my example: one shopping trip after work, I deftly navigated the chaotic stream of carts in the grocery store much the same as everyone else. I like to believe that I navigated much more deftly than the other people at the store, but in fact I am sure I looked like a clueless idiot wondering what aisle contained the pasta and stopping the flow of traffic by staying in the middle of the aisles. Sorry, I digress. As I was avoiding collisions with pedestrians and carts, a man casually leaning over his cart and slowly moving towards his goal, peered straight at me from under his baseball cap at the same exact moment I glanced at him. Curiosity quickly followed my initial surprise. I did not know the person, there was no feeling of familiarity but he did not look away immediately and I wondered what he was thinking. Was I a faceless, nameless entity who was standing near the beef jerky and therefore reminding him that he needed to pick up some jerky for the upcoming sporting event? Did I seem familiar to him? Was he wondering what I was thinking, or why I could not seem to look away? I was intrigued and wondered why it was effecting me so strongly. I had to try and interpret the “scene” to accurately grasp all the elements. Here is my list:
1) Timing — the likelihood of the two of us making eye contact at the exact same second seems pretty low
2) Facial expression — I could not read anything in his expression, the neutrality irked me because I could not pinpoint any story or characteristic to assign to him
3) Contrast — he moved casually and leisurely through the crowds creating an extreme opposite to the surroundings
4) Uniqueness — most people shopping do not make eye contact, and definitely don’t hold eye contact for more than half a second (that is a guesstimate, not an actual factoid)
5) Emotion — the situation generated surprise, curiosity and frustration
Now I end up with some elements that I can use to reconstruct the scene in my writing in whichever way I choose. I may even begin a story with that as the opening scene, then backtrack to tell the reader how the person ended up at the store. I could tell the story of what happens after the trip to the store, or from his point of view. Pretty much anything can be inspirational. If I wanted to creep myself out for example, I would go find some bugs and use them for inspiration. Insects in general are awesome, but sometimes up close they just make me shiver. If I ever decide to write something more along the lines of a horror novel, I can almost guarantee that I will be using insects as my inspiration. As long as you try to “think outside the box” on a daily basis you will find plenty to keep you inspired for ages!