A writer friend asked me “What was your personal inciting incident?” Like knowing where I got my first kiss, I knew exactly what made me do it – what made me want to write.
During my senior year in high school, I had an accident that caused me to be bed-ridden for months in traction; And, yes… from time to time I did look (and feel) like a mummy.
I was to write in a journal every day, read novels and write papers. Journal? Check. Read? Check. Write? “What Should I write about?” I asked my instructor. He sent me a series of articles he had picked up from various sources. He told me to choose one, and comment on the subject matter or write about how it made me feel.
I did all of them.
One in particular really awakened my imagination and opened my eyes to the world of the weird. It was a piece titled “Fire Walking in Ceylon”.
Wow! Everything about the story was new to me. Where is Ceylon? What’s fire walking? Why do people do it? Who had the idea to do it in the first place? What kind of magic or witchcraft is this – why don’t the ‘walker’ get hurt? This was totally new to me and exploded my complacent reality to smithereens!
My questions mounted, and I began to do research on these new subjects. For example Ceylon turned out to be Sri Lanka, a large island nation about 20 miles south of India. I was intrigued that a country would find it important to change its name while keeping its heritage intact. The strange nature of their monkey-told stories of evil magicians kidnapping princesses and free floating spirits in the air expanded my knowledge of far away exotic lands and culture lands;weirder still - they exist now. Thai dancers and royalty wore pointed hats of jewels and pointed shoulder pads, pointed fingernails and pointed this that and the other thing – kind of spooky, yet alluring. I had to know more. But first, the fire walking.
I was fascinated that people from all walks of life would endanger their feet with these red hot coals. For me, a paper cut is bad enough, but burning your feet?! It was all the more vivid for me at the time because I couldn’t walk, even with unburned feet. There was much more here than a dare. Finding out why, took me into the world of paranormal and spirituality, and I’m still intrigued by the genre of ‘Strange, but True’.
Lady with shopping bag walking on coals, behind Monk
I found out that some people believe if you can achieve a thing that you, at first, think is impossible, it can break the chains of fear that bind you. Meditation of various forms is suggested to get your mind into a state that it will believe anything you tell it, rather than believing what it sees and nothing more. This is what separates the human mind from the animal kingdom; a cat or dog would no more walk through a fire pit willingly than a human would deliberately cut off their own hand. I also found out that Westerner’s learn how to fire walk while on vacation – they say it’s easy! *shock*
The conscious mind must also take part; one must decide to do this, then the subconscious mind is contacted through meditation or suggestive thought, if you will. Then the body melds with the higher brain functions and allows the individual to avoid harm during the experience. I still wonder, after all these years, if I could do it. Investigating the supernatural can be a life’s work and still one would only scratch the surface. Being in too much pain to meditate, I decided to read up on Asian cultures.
I learned that history is always influenced by geography. I saw how a mountain range or large desert affects not only a tribe, or a nations travel but their attitudes, superstitions and religions. Take the Chinese and their dragon lore. It explained the mist rising from a crevasse that you wouldn’t want your children to play near, so you tell them this story that grabs their imagination and voila you have a traditional myth lasting hundreds of generations. Then someone includes gemstones growing between the dragon scales and now you have my attention! So I studied geology of the region, which in turn took me to gemmology. The gems of southeast Asia are plentiful and extensive. Apparently, one can take a shovel and, with eyes closed, drop it blade first into the ground and you have a gem mine! Topaz and moonstone; ruby and sapphires. I eventually became a gemmologist through the Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) when it was located in Santa Monica, and did further studies with the Fellowship of Gemmological Association (FGA) Great Britain. That’s inspiration!
The real purpose of this story was to answer my friend. It has become an illustration of how one can be bitten by the writing bug anywhere, anyhow and at any time. So beware!
From this English assignment on, I wrote about what I saw and thought, what I heard and read about and of course, I wrote about things I did, places I went and people I met. Now I write what the characters tell me to write; characters that I (almost) believe have found me and realize I can be a conduit for them by way of the written word, to tell their stories next to my own… like taking dictation from the spirit world.
So, if you are interested in being a writer and you find yourself asking “What shall I write about?”, then I’d say look for that thing that infuses you with a million questions, and read a lot looking for your answers. Don’t worry – your characters will find you. The rest is easy.