Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Story Behind Your Story

I have a friend at the office who admires fiction writers. She often says something like, "I find it fascinating to see where authors come up with their ideas." I honestly feel the same way. Since I never know exactly where a story will seed or how it will grow, I'm constantly amazed when a good idea finally takes root.

The Your Story Competition #26, which finally completed its process (and yes, I'm the winner), is a perfect example of not knowing where the next story idea will come from. About two years ago, I sat in my house contemplating people and religion, and how sometimes religion is perverted (or even subverted, if you will). At the time, I considered what the Scriptures had to say on the matter of prayer and prayer closets, and a small germ of an idea started to form. I played around with that idea for a while and eventually gave up on it, thinking it just didn't have the right feel.

The idea never gave up on me. Every now and then, I found myself turning back to the same concept, my mind leading the way. Let's take another look, it would say. Maybe we'll find the right answer this time. Still, the time never came. That is, it never came until the day I opened up May/June edition of Writer's Digest and found the following prompt for the Your Story contest:

You wake up to find a dead body on the floor -- and a bloody knife in your hands. You can't remember exactly what happened, so you piece together the clues.

I took a moment to think about that and suddenly my mind raced back to the idea of a prayer closet gone terribly wrong.

As many of you are writers, I'm sure you can relate to the strange, and almost always wonderful, process of writing a story, and how the story turns out completely different from where you originally thought it would go. Such was the case for my entry to the contest. As I sat down to shape and mold the story, a new idea came to me: What if the dead body was the MC's father? I took a moment to explore that idea and liked what I found. As I continued to write, more questions, and then ideas, flowed from that initial thought. At the end of the story I eventually made my way back to the corrupted prayer closet; however, the road I took led me across a better landscape than the one I had originally considered. While the closet remained a place of misguided religion, the backstory behind that ill-conceived notion became deeper, and richer, than I had ever expected it to be.

Over the years of writing, I came across a piece of advice. Only now does it make sense. And only now do I find myself wishing I could tell you where I read it. It goes something like this: For every story, throw out your first idea; it's probably not the best. In the case of "Yellowed Kodachrome", I can honestly say that was exactly the course I took, and I'm pleased with the results.

For those who don't read Writer's Digest magazine or know about its competitions and forum, my story will be published in the November/December issue later this year. I can hardly wait. When it hits the local bookstore, I may walk in and grab a dozen or so copies, just so I can keep them locked away in my special place.

Other News:

While I can't say for sure, the story I sent off to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine might just have received the fastest denial I, and probably the editor, have ever seen. Less than a week after mailing the darn thing off, I received a nice little Doesn't-work-for-me letter in response. Considering that it takes at least three days for postal delivery (both ways), I gather the slush reader took a quick look and sent it right back out the door. So that's that. Nothing ventured and all that jazz. Just to pick up my spirits, though, I quickly searched Duotrope for another possible fit and sent the story right back out.

I'm still doing some research to gather my arrows together before launching into the re-write of my novel. A full quiver provides many more chances to hitting the mark. As part of that process, I'm currently reading through Hell's Angels, written by journalist Hunter Thompson back in the nineteen-sixties. Gauging from it's title, I have no doubts that you'll know the subject matter.

Until next time...