Short Story Ideas and Inspirations (4)
As writers, coming up with ideas for stories is what we do, and if we're lucky, they ping into our heads whenever we need them - just like email. It isn't always like that, though.
What I really love is to feel that sudden burst of inspiration thrusting its way out of my chest like an alien life form (though without the deadly acid and the busted ribcage). And when an idea does burst out, I want it to be easy to grab hold of so I can bang it down on the paper before it disappears into the ether.
Okay, so enough of the monster/space imagery.
Here's a few of explanations of stories that came out easily, and some that didn't.
The Charity Worker Story
This was a story called Thank you for Your Support, which appeared on Flash Fiction Magazine's site. So where did it come from? Well, the story starts off with...
He should have said no. If it had been anyone else, he'd have done exactly that. But he hadn't. Because she was young. And blonde.
Except, that's not entirely true. It wasn't just that. It was also, perhaps mainly, because she smiled, was friendly, engaging, chatty.
This is an odd one, because it actually happened to me. Not word for word, exactly, and I worked out a new ending, but it is, on the whole, true.
See, this young woman turned up on my doorstep looking like she was selling something. I pointed this out and she laughed, saying she wasn't selling anything. So later, when I'd filled in her form to donate money to her worthy cause, it got me thinking. Because, like I say in the story, she was selling something. So did I think she was lying, or was it just a matter of semantics?
But as it turned out, she was, actually, selling something. Not a product, admittedly, not double glazing, roof insulation, a handy set of brushes. No. She was selling charity, and that's why it had been hard.
I spent a few weeks thinking about this episode and wondering if there was an actual story here, or if it was just me with my writer's head on thinking there had to be a story because it had happened. And even if it was a story, was it a story worth telling?
So I wrote it down, and to be honest, what I wrote is pretty much what Flash Fiction Magazine accepted as the finished piece, but I had a problem with it: it felt like a rant. It felt like a rant because I was annoyed that this young woman had somehow got one over on me and if I'd seen it coming I might have reacted differently.
Anyway, I wrote it down and then left it for a while. Simmering. And then I sent it off somewhere. And it was rejected. Okay. But then it was rejected again and I wondered if maybe I'd got it wrong and the thing really was just me ranting about something that wouldn't interest anyone else.
But then I got an acceptance.
And That's Good, Yeah?
So was I right or was I wrong? I don't know. Having seen the thing in all its glory on FFM's lovely website, I think it must be a story or it wouldn't be there, but there's still that nagging doubt that this one somehow got away from me.
The Dead Man's Boots Story
This one started a long time ago with two friends I knew back in the early Eighties. I'll call them Bex and Tony. I didn't know Tony very well, but I liked his wife Bex a lot, and since I was probably ten or so years younger than her, I sort of looked up to her. She was an artist and very articulate and clever and, you know, all the things I thought I'd like to be.
A year or so after we met, Tony was killed in a road accident. Me and my then partner went over to help Bex out with and her young daughter. I was struck by how Bex's attitude had changed - when Tony had been alive, it seemed like she wasn't very concerned about him and didn't care much about what he wanted. But after his death, she was suddenly transformed into this immensely caring woman who loved her husband and couldn't bear to be without him.
Clearly, we all react differently in these situations and until it happens to us, we can't know exactly how we'll feel about things. So while I thought Bex was maybe exaggerating how much she missed him, I also knew that his death had given her a terrible shock and must have forced everything into sharp perspective for her.
Tony had a pair of work boots that he'd left by the door at home and for weeks after his death, Bex wouldn't move them. After we left, I wondered how long she'd leave them, if they'd just be there for all eternity, a sort of shrine to his memory. In any case, the image of those boots stayed with me for many years.
At some point, I wrote a poem about those boots. Thirty years later, what I remember of the poem (I no longer have it) re-emerged as a piece of flash fiction.
The boots were by the door where he left them.
Which I think is pretty much the first line of the poem. Trouble is, I didn't want this to be a poem - I wanted it to be a story. But somehow the original imagery I still had going round in my head was all I could think about and I could not keep the language from having that sense of poetry about it, an almost rhythmic structure and word play:
After a while, she swept around them, carefully, consistently, respecting the hallowed ground and the mouldering dirt-crusted soles, which spawned tiny creatures as if the boots themselves were giving birth, even in death. But still they stayed, rotting into the stone floor, like some site-specific piece of art, forever changing.
Where He Left Them appeared on Flash Flood, and though it still feels more like a poem to me than a story, I like this version better than the poem.
The Man in the Cafe Story
This is about a few different things, and unfortunately, I can't explain exactly what they are. Why? Because I don't really understand the story. It's called Murder in the Orient Espresso and (so far) it hasn't been published.
It started with a name - Bax. Now, for reasons that escape me, I have no idea why I thought this was a great name. It certainly doesn't seem like a great name now, but it first occurred to me a long, long, long time ago, and I thought it was perfect.
However, the story I first started writing (about this guy called Bax) wasn't set in a cafe. It was set in a big house and was about a man who wanted to die. He kept having these dreams about being in some sort of game show where he had to challenge the Devil.
Of course, it was crap.
Some years later, I started a new story with this same guy (Bax), except that this time he was in a cafe...
He gazes through the high arched windows of the cafe, across the rain-spattered street to where an old woman stands panting beside a huge grey holdall. He suppresses a smile. Actually, he doesn't. Why should he? On second thoughts, he grins broadly. Considers this idea for a second then scribbles a few words in a small, leather-backed notebook.
I thought maybe he's a narrator of some sort, commenting on the scene from some invisible vantage point. But that seemed like more crap. So then I changed his name to Mr Weeze, and wondered if the story was about a guy writing a story about a guy, writing a story about... You get the picture.
But no, it wasn't that either.
The snap of her sandals on the hard wooden floor force him out of the daydream. Perhaps she really is that badass woman? But no, the change in her manner from earlier is almost eerie - she approaches the table and slides one stockinged leg between it and the chair Weeze occupies.
But still I don't know what the story is about. So a few months on I write some more, and a few months after that a bit more, and so on, until eventually I actually finish it.
And I like it. I really like it.
Trouble is - you guessed it - I still don't know what it's about.
And My Point is?
Well, I'm not sure I have a point, except to say that as well as being writers, we are also scientists (mad scientists, admittedly, but scientists nevertheless). And as we fiddle about, mixing a myriad of smoky, bubbling chunks of language, genres, metaphors and ideas, we hope that eventually, we might end up with something that makes sense.