Honestly, if the vast majority of authors were confined to writing only about the kind of person that they are and only their experiences, most books would be a bit boring. Writers do not live the exciting lives that they describe in books. If they did, these constant adventures would drain them of the very energy needed to sit and record their feats for hours on end. If everyone could only relay their own experience, I would not have traveled the court of Kublai Khan, nor learned how the Nez Pierce mastered the “big dogs” that could be ridden, nor wandered through a recently abandoned Machu Picchu with a Quechua boy. I enjoyed these far flung people’s adventures, because people, who had not done these things, wrote about them.
As a young teenager I read the story of a fiction character who traveled with Marco Polo to China. Did the author actually do that? No. He wasn’t even from Italy. Most likely he read Marco Polo’s Travels which were recorded when this real adventurer was thrown in prison on his return to Venice. Basing ideas for new books on ideas gathered from old ones is a natural part of creativity. Authors, like other people, have an idea of what makes an excellent book based on what they have read. Most creative works—music, visual arts, and even movies—are inspired by other artists who have produced earlier works. That is not a bad thing, or something to be discouraged. However, being inspired by other stories does not mean that I should duplicate them. My book should show a definite difference and include facets of my own personality and creativity. Authors must give part of themselves when they write in order to connect with other humans.
So, how do I insert my ideas and my style into a book inspired by another person’s writing? My sporadic journaling is not terribly interesting. It contains events that occur to me and also my thoughts, because my thoughts are more eventful then the occurrences in my real life. However, when an occasional real-life event does become interesting, I have the details for a story. Often vague ideas float into my mind, unattached to all the little details necessary to write interesting fiction. I struggle to place this idea in a world perceivable by real senses. So, I often pull up previous journaling to gather such sensory details. Then, I can block out the world and try to imagine the scenes in which characters act out that vague idea.
Creating a story from the idea requires throwing problems at the characters and inventing logical ways to solve them. The challenge of writing is often about seeking out the problems. This is made more difficult because I usually don’t have one central villain trying to destroy my main character. The vague ideas give me a sense of who the characters are, my journal fills in the details, but the challenges and problems that I create for them are the gist of the story. Writing comes from my reading, my own experiences and my imagination. If my life was exciting, dramatic and stress-filled in the manner experienced by many characters in novels, I would not enjoy it very much.