When I tell people I'm a writer there's one question that sooner or later will get out of their mouths and that's: "Where do you get your inspiration?" This has to be the most common question a writer gets and I bet at some point it must turn pretty tiresome. Most writers have a "scripted" answer that they'll regurgitate at parties or interviews but in my case, having very few works to my name, sometimes the question really sends me into thinking for an honest answer.
Case in point, the other day a guy not only asked me the famous question but also added something to the effect of: "I guess you're always thinking of horrible things and expecting things to go bad; killing people in your mind or seeing ghost everywhere, don't you? Always surrounded by darkness"
WOW. I was flabbergasted. It's true that I write about awful things but that's not what's popping into my mind when I'm talking to a friend; it's not like I'm thinking -Wouldn't it be great if her head exploded right now?- C'mon people! So where do I get my ideas??
Well, I like to think that like most adults I ponder things and think about the worst case scenario. Kids in general, but primarily teens will decide to do things without much thinking about consequences; that things can go wrong and cause some life-altering events is not ingrained in their minds. Adults, on the other hand will always think about this, or at least they're supposed to do.
If a friend is telling me about this stupid thing she did when she was younger, I will think about those consequences and throw into the mix something that scares me. I think that what makes a story scary is the human possibilities; is thinking it can happen to us, is throwing through the window every safety net our society provides us and look for the chaos that ensues; the common things are our blanky and where they're pulled off our hands, it sends us into panic. It's for these reasons that I always develop the human aspect of a story, the characters, their motivations, what scares them; and only when that is established and the basic story is enough to give me the creeps, will I think of a supernatural turn of events and add it to the plot.
The supernatural event is the easiest part because it lurks everywhere. Who doesn't love a great ghost story? There are THOUSANDS of sites dedicated to spread the word about "real" haunted places, haunted people, ghost pictures; and if that's not enough every other person out there knows a story, personal or otherwise. I, myself, have my own experiences, most of them product of a young scary feverish mind but there are a couple that even to this day baffle me. So there you go, not at a lost for inspiration in this area but also not the easiest to find an original twist; which sends us back to what I call the "Human Aspect".
A ghost story is a ghost story and most of them are formulaic; it's very rare to find a different one. Think about "The Shining"; it's pretty much the story of a haunted hotel with ghost terrorizing the leading characters... not that we haven't seen that before. Now, think about the backstory, how the alcoholic father is fighting his personal demons of frustration (he's unable to write a new novel) and shame (for being an alcoholic and for breaking his son's arm in a fit); how the son and the mother create this little world of their own in the aftermath of surviving the abuse of a sick and cruel father and husband... it sounds a lot better, right? It's the human side of the characters and how we relate to them that drives the story and when you add ghosts you think -Gee, what other horrible thing will they have to go through!-
There it is, in a nutshell, how I conceive my stories. It is always based in what frightens me and if at least once in the process of writing it I get a nightmare, I know I'm in the right path.