People often ask me where ideas for my stories come from. They come from everywhere and from nowhere. By everywhere, I mean just that: from a story on television, a sentence in a book, a line in an overheard conversation, an old remembrance. By nowhere, I mean from my head; A pair of the remaining brain cells will shake hands and a glimmer of an idea will form. In my book, “Nicky, Sasquatch, and Pink Elephants” I wrote a series of events from 45-year-old memories, based on a kernel of fact that evolved into a story.
What I feel to be more interesting are the decisions that are made prior to actually writing, and while writing, a story. This story came from a very short (six word) comment I made on a friend’s Facebook post. I’ll present the story, then discuss some of the decisions that had to be made.
Bobby ran as if the devil was after him. His nine-year-old legs pumped as fast as he could make them go. It was two hours before closing time on the last night of the county fair and the grounds were packed to capacity. He dodged between lovers holding hands, kids running amok, whole families walking side-by-side and filling the street. The devil had accosted him at the carnival and he had to get to the ag building where he knew his brother would protect him.
He turned the corner of a building and ran down an alley behind the gem and mineral building and had to force his way through a mass of pick-ups loading up for the return home. He finally arrived at the ag building and burst through the barn doors at full speed. An arm wrapped around his chest. “Where you goin’ in such a hurry?”
Bobby Looked up to see the arm was attached to Johnny, his older brother. Bobby was short of breath from the run and had trouble getting words out of his mouth. “Mmary Alice.”
“What did you do to her?”
“Nnothin’ but she said if she caught me she wwas goin’ to kkiss me.”
A friend posted a photo from a sixth grade dance and I commented something like, “You danced with gurlz?” When I was in sixth grade girls had cooties and I think I was allergic to them (the girls, not the cooties.)
So, first decision: write a story around that four-word quip. For the second decision, I had to determine the length: saga, novel, novella, short story, or flash fiction. I wanted it to be short and sweet so flash fiction was obvious, although to build tension, I wanted it to be a little longer than the 55- or 100-word ultra flash fiction. Next came the location. I lived in Antelope Valley, an area that could have doubled for “American Graffiti,” from second grade through tenth, so I elected to use the AV County Fair.
Character names can be tough. Do I want a masculine name (Remington Steele comes to mind), a redneck name (Bubba is always easy), a noble name (Charles Emerson Winchester III)? Cultural names can be difficult since many readers will automatically assign their own prejudices to that character; I avoid them unless I am using a character who runs counter to the stereotype. For the main character I invented a kid named Bobby.
Once I have the front-end decisions made and I know the ending, I figure out how to start the story and begin writing. “Interior” (or writing) decisions are constant and will require another discussion.