Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quest for Fire: Finding and Nourishing Your Creative Spark

Anybody remember the movie Quest for Fire?

Quest for Fire was a low-budget Canadian movie. Ron Perlman and Rae Dawn Chong headed an ensemble cast of cavemen -- er, people -- who, in the dawn of (our) creation, do not know how to actually create fire. They use fire, but instead of baking it from scratch, they use what they find in nature: lightning strikes, forest fires, and other naturally occurring phenomena to 'capture' the spark they need to supply their cooking, heating and safety needs. Their tribe had one rule: never let the fire go out. And if by some disaster it did go out, a team was sent to 'gather' more.

A fire tender was appointed to guard the tiny flame they could coax out of nature. This fire tender had to endure sleeplessness, cold, rain and mortal danger to keep this little-understood thing alive.

When that flame returned to the home caves, its keepers were treated as heroes.

How does that translate to the world of writing? Or painting, or drawing, for that matter?

Creative sparks occur all around us. A scene in a movie, a piece of wisdom from a friend. The way your husband tripped over the kids' shoes in the front hall. A turn of phrase, a glint of light in amber-coloured eyes. That peculiar thing your best friend does with her head when she's in the middle of telling you a story. The fabulously gory method of murder that blasted you in the brain, hot on the heels of a traffic near-miss.

It is these small idea fires that can ignite true creative energy. Those sparks, with hard work and a lot of time and attention, become bonfires of brilliance, forming the heart and soul of a written work.

Tell me: how do you find these bits? Where do you find them? What are your favourite places to open yourself to ideas? To sparks?

Now tell me: how do you hold onto them? Is it a notepad? A tape recorder? Do you simply thwap your spouse on the arm and exhort them to remind you of your own brilliance?

How do you go further than that? How can you, the most enlightened and least caveman-like of modern humans, call forth creative fire... from nothing at all?

Can it even be done?

Kate Burns
The Ophelia Trap


Written Words said...

Great post - what sparked it?

There are all sorts of things that spark ideas for stories and novels. I have more "sparks" than I can ever possibly write. But some of the most common for me are news stories, bits of documentaries on TV or radio that I hear. I hold them in my brain, which, if you know me, seems like holding soup in a colander. But sometimes, they coalesce into an idea.

For example, I learned at times that must have been fairly close together that someone had worked out that King Arthur and Beowulf died in the same year, around 535 CE; that a new theory proposed that King Arthur's knights were Sarmatians drafted into the Roman Legions and sent to Britain (an idea that eventually led to the movie King Arthur); and that Krakoa, the volcano off Java, exploded about the same year and touched off the plague. These came together to become the first novel that I finished, The Bones of the Earth.

Sometimes, I think up a phrase that strikes me as a creative opening line, but these ideas generally don't go anywhere. Facts, events and interpretations have more legs.

Kate Burns said...

That's amazing! I'm always in awe of authors, particularly of historical fiction, who take real and disparate events and weave them together. How did you come up with your title, Bones of the Earth? It's fabulous. I think there's a 'spark' story there, as well!