Casting Shadows and Making Monsters
By J.P. Jackson
Finding Inspiration in Likely Places
I can definitely say that the blank white of a page staring back at me from the computer screen is a daunting vision.
What am I supposed to put there? How do I fill it with words that elegantly describe the visions in my head? And make no mistake, they are visions. Everything I write is more or less a description of the internal movie that plays over and over in my mind. But stringing together the words to describe that vision is far trickier than I had originally thought when I first put words to digital paper.
Authors who have already been down that long winding road of unabashed creativity always spout the same two pieces of advice:
- Write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, just write.
- Write what you know.
Okay, I can get past the first one. Sit down, turn on the computer, under no circumstances launch an internet browser, and then do nothing but type. Sometimes I write with purpose, other times, it’s a hodge-podge of unrelated thoughts that I’m quite sure would make most therapists jump at the chance of offering assistance. Considering most of my writing would fall into the realm of Dark Fantasy with a smidge of Horror, my mind is constantly filled with twisted apparitions of leathery wings, saliva dripping fangs, and blood splattered rooms. Therapists unite - there are more than enough issues for you to dissect!
Filling a blank page with the danse macabre is a challenge, but eventually, with enough thought and time the words seep out like a spreading bloodstain.
But what about the inspiration? Where is that supposed to come from? That second piece of advice looms eerily over my head like a sharpened axe: Write what you know. How would I know about ghoulish fiends and dark scary things? I can’t tell you how many demons I’ve summoned in my basement, just to get a good look at them and observe their behaviour, but I find they are not housebroken, and they hate having their picture taken. Once those imps break free of my control - and they always do- the resulting damage is devastating. After all, insurance companies flatly refuse to acknowledge and pay out claims based on “acts of the ungod.”
How do you create eloquently drawn portraits of seething demons and ethereal fairies? I cheat. Catholic confessional booth acknowledgment time: I have many sources of the undead and otherworldly to pull from, and I’ll be happy to share with you some of my favorites.
- Tumblr (Visualizations) – there are so many wonderful images here, from artist renderings to wildly photo-shopped photography, that it’s absolutely impossible not to find something that will satiate your imagination for the wicked. Net surfers beware however, the internet can be an evil place and there are things that once seen, can never be unseen.
- Cemeteries (Environment & Mood) – I often find myself wandering through bone yards, where tombstones, grave markers and mausoleums tell me stories. Allow your mind to wander and soak up the haunted reasons behind lingering ghosts. I promise their tales will send spine tingling sensations down your readers’ backs once you harness the stillness of the atmosphere from a burial ground.
- A Smart Phone (Tools) – one of the wickedest inventions of this century, and nothing has done a better job of turning social creatures into walking zombies. I’m sure that traditionalists among us will always carry that pad of paper jotting down notes and ideas. I’d like to think that the smart phone can do one better. The camera function can hold images that you chance upon hostage, allowing you to see your own environment in a completely different way. Any number of various apps gives your classic notepad in digital format. Voice recorders can capture the creepy sounds of a city at night. Record videos, search the calendar for dates, use the internet for research, it’s just your notepad, but on steroids!
- The Shower (Reflection) – not just a backdrop for Psycho(s). Although I am regularly berated for the length of time I spend standing motionless while scalding water beats the redness into the back of my neck, I find the shower a soothing enclosure where I can steal quiet time to ponder while the steam rises. Sometimes I draw strange angel script and hex symbols in the mist covered glass shower doors. Other times, I simply look like a soggy corpse whose brain is fussing over how to avoid becoming possessed.
- TV (Ideas & Mood) – dear Lord, clutch your pearls and gasp. I know, TV. If there was one thing that sucked away endless hours of life that I will truly never be able to get back, it is this beastly device. Damn Reality TV. However, I have wizened to its life draining, brain rotting ways. I rarely watch any show as it actually airs. This way, an hour of my life is reduced to forty some odd minutes with the commercials removed (Marketing Executives, please look the other way – of course I have watched your advertisements). I have several personal favorites. The end result is that the stimulation sullies the inner workings of my mind creating the right moodiness to sit and write something devilishly clever and decidedly evil.
- Music (Mood) – How could I possibly have left music for number six on my list? It’s a rare sight to see me without headphones. My playlist is eclectic, with instrumentals and vocals that perchance invite dark gnomes to take up residence in the garden. Some arias are synthesized and mechanized, others are created using instruments from the medieval ages. All of them transport me out of my current reality and allow my imagination to create.
- Coffee shops/Malls/Airports (Character Generation) – Any place where people will congregate are great places to go so that I can sit and watch people. That homeless man that’s talking to himself? That’s actually the demon Legion, and his private conversation is a plan on how he’s going to steal your soul to add to his mob. See? Works great.
- A Tarot Deck (Plot Ideas) – Do a reading for your character. Every now and then you get to a spot where you’re just not sure what to do with a particular character. Stuck? Pull a card from the deck. Ah, yes, you’ve chosen the Three of Swords. Well, if you’re not proficient with divination, a quick Google search reveals this card’s occult meanings: heartbreak, betrayal and loneliness. You should put your main character through every horrific thing you can think of. Strife adds interest. The Three of Swords just killed off the significant other of your protagonist. Maybe the dead will come back?
- Travel (Ideas and Characters) – Getting out of your immediate environment is sure to place you into situations you’ve never experienced before. Experiences translate into adventure. Expose yourself to things you’ve never seen, heard, done, or eaten. What’s the worst that could happen? You might think twice however, of putting strange things in your mouth. Foreign parasites can do horrible things.
- Other Books (Technical Structure) – for the love of all that is held dear, read. Tear stories apart until nothing remains but a bloody mess. Understand how the author used words to bring you into their world, and identify the elements that ruined the story because you found holes in the paradigm. But beyond that, read to enjoy, read to inspire. Just read.
I do try to limit the number of hours that each of these activities consume. After all, your time is much better spent creating than it is watching someone else’s creations. Indulging in these pastimes has allowed my mind to enter the dark and forbidding places, where long-casted shadows act on their own, and malicious monsters are made out of seemingly nice people.
Now if I could just drown that irritating voice in the back of my head that constantly says, “That’s not good enough, and you’re not seriously going to say that are you?”
I hate that voice. But then, dealing with that annoying demon of self-doubt is a tale of exorcism, and some demons I cuddle quite closely. I’m not entirely sure I want to cast it out…just yet. He may come in handy.