I know, it’s a great line from the movie Hot Fuzz (totally fun/ awesome movie by-the-way). But I assure you, there won’t be any actual heads getting bashed in here today, purely metaphorical.
How is everyone today? I hope the New Year is treating you well so far. It’s been mighty fine for me, thanks for asking. 😉 Now, you may be curious why I chose such an interesting and graphic line for the title of the post? Well, I thought it might be fun to explore the bits and pieces inside my head!
“Where do you come up with the ideas for the stories you write?”
For writers, the above is a question we’ve all been asked. For readers, the above is a question you may have asked or thought about. Now you should understand that we all have a different thought process, a unique way to go about everything, that’s one of the things that make our planet so much fun. So with that in mind, here’s how I go about playing with words.
For me, the biggest first kick I get when writing, is from the title. A good title tickles my brain and sends all the little sparks shooting. It just so happens that I’ve got a short story (the first bit of which you’ll get on Thursday) that I’ve nearly finished that we’ll use as an example today. The title that grabbed me is: Dance of Skin and Bone. I should point out that I constantly jot down titles; I have a small book I carry that is filled with things that would make a great story. I flip through it now and then and when something grabs me, I go with it.
This title hit me as something that might perhaps be dark, maybe horror, yes! Then I thought what if it’s a metaphor? Is it a real dance? No clue, so I move on. Then I think about who’s important for this story? Again no clue. So I literally just start typing to see what happens. I stick the title at the top of the page and go.
Paul Sumner had always been a simple man.
Okay! Paul Sumner! Great, I have a person! Who is he? What does he do?
In his most adventurous dreams he could never have imagined the events that had led him here, huddled in the darkness and afraid.
See, I had already thought it sounded like a horror so I was aware that fear was going to play a part in the story. So he begins somewhere in the dark… To some, digging in from a title with no planning may not work. I’m not a planner; I take a small idea and run with it. My first published book, Beggars in the Streets of Time started out as a poem by the same name. That’s it! That one poem built everything else that followed in the novella.
I get just as excited to find out what happens next as anyone reading it, because honestly I don’t know most of the time. Sometimes I think about it, maybe I have a scene in mind and then I hammer away at the keyboard like mad trying to figure out how to get there.
But in any story there needs to be conflict of some form. Being huddled in the dark isn’t enough, how did Paul end up there? It needed more, so I played with it…
Even now he could hear the ruffling footsteps of Thomas Younger searching for him in the dark space. The two were friends, business partners, conquerors in a world of Insurance Claims. Then she happened, Elizabeth Sanderson and her quiet and dying brother Karl. What a pair, what a tragic story, what a complicated ruse. What a nightmare.
Poof! Just like that, I’ve got more people and a conflict I don’t yet understand. Who are these people? What are they like? To drum my own title, they need skin and bones. So I start to work on their character, they need to feel like real people. They need quirks, they need flaws.
From their first meeting, Paul had found it difficult not to follow the curves of her hips with his eyes when she walked in, her breasts when she sat at the other end of his desk, and her ass when she left.
Okay, so Paul is maybe a perv or shallow. He might be a womanizer, a total douchebag. I can work with that even if I don’t agree. You see, as a writer you don’t have to condone your characters behaviors. Everyone has flaws, when creating a character it’s better to just accept that you may be writing a total dip-shit of a human being. What else can we drop on him?
“I can hear you breathing, Paul. I told you those cigars were no good for you, no matter how distinguished you thought they made you look. Shame you’ll never know if that awful wheeze is emphysema.” Tom’s laugh was dry.
Cool, so Paul is definitely self-absorbed and thinks about how he looks to others. And he’s a smoker too.
I start to apply the same thoughts to all the characters that fill the story. I don’t want to give too much away for Dance of Skin and Bone so I’m afraid the examples have come to an end. Apologies, but you’ll have to wait until Thursday. 😉
For character traits, I refer to every person I’ve ever met or come in contact with. Whether standing in line at the coffee shop or grocery store, or hanging out with friends and family, everyone has little quirks and mannerisms. I pick and choose and mash things together and before you know it, the random name on the page starts to feel like a real person.
As I work through a first draft, I constantly ask questions. What does each character want? Why are they going there or doing that? I re-read their dialogue, out loud, to see if it sounds natural. It may sound silly, but it really helps to make dialogue flow like a real conversation. I play with the words each character uses. Does it sound like something a douchebag ass-hat would say? Is this how a woman from Louisiana would phrase this? Don’t be afraid of looking things up. Use Google or whatever search engine you’re familiar with. But be careful not to get stuck in research land, there’s a story to write!
Well, I don’t want to keep you guys from the rest of your day so I’ll wrap this up. But don’t worry, I’ll continue this little adventure through my thought process next week on Tuesday. As for Thursday, swing by and check out the first part of Dance of Skin and Bone.
Thanks for stopping by! Have a great day. 🙂
* * * * *
Available worldwide in Print and on Kindle from your “local” Amazon site.