I am very interested by this question: Where do stories come from?
The answer, of course, varies from writer to writer.
As Timothy Hutton’s character (in the brilliant film The Kovak Box) said, ‘a good story is a virus’. It plants itself within its intended host, and then it begins to reproduce. At some juncture a ‘tipping point’ is reached and the unwitting host at last surrenders to the virus, bringing it to full-blown life.
My first three published novels were born from my teenage role-playing days, during which I learned to tell stories with my best friends.
My later full-length novels were actually less complex in their origin: They were all born out of varying single, over-arching philosophical concepts. Once the concept dujour became cemented in my mind, everything else (as the late, great David Bowie once put it) was ‘just structure’. Characters, scenarios, foreshadowing, settings… Everything falls into place once one has developed a clear concept around which to build a tale.
But those are my novels. My short stories…?
Dreams. They all come from dreams, every single time.
Sleep – or lack thereof – is my eternal curse. Chronic Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep Apnea… If it’s a sleep disorder, I have it! A local sleep specialist actually said this to me (after a couple of overnight studies): ‘You don’t go into deep sleep. Like, ever. How, exactly, is it that you’re still alive?!’
I’m still alive ‘cuz the Good Lord wants me to be. And I ain’t gonna croak ’til He damn well feels like I should! ‘Nuff said.
I don’t really sleep; I just change realities. Asleep or awake, my mind hums along at ninety miles an hour. It sucks, but I’m used to it.
That means my dreams are brutally vivid, and more than a little bizarre. Every short story that I’ve EVER written (including the ones on this site) was born from a dream. I wake up in a cold sweat, grab my bedside notebook, and begin feverishly scribbling down an outline before the memory of my latest dream fades away. (To read my short stories, by the way, go to the above menu and click on ‘Fiction’)
What’s great about being me is that my personality is rare dichotomy: I’m a 50/50 split between Melancholy and Phlegmatic. That means that I am moody and artistic, and yet I am also capable of sorting out my maudlin visions in an orderly, logical fashion. I’m a strange cross between a hippie and a lawyer. (Ironically, I despise both hippies and lawyers!)
But ya know what? That works for me!
Writers are a strange breed, and every writer has a different system within which he/she works. Mine is ‘have a weird dream, jot down the outline at dawn, let the idea fester for a week, and finally write the story at three a.m. after a few beers’. Other writers have different methods, but that’s the beauty of writing: Authors are like flowers. No two are alike.
So yeah, I’ve shared MY method…
Now go find yours!