I Have an Idea – What now?

I have an Idea – What Now?

 Whether you are an aspiring writer or a published author, you might be asked where you find ideas for your fiction.
 Typical sources are newspapers, magazines, television shows, movies, and works by other authors. Many times I’ve read a book or watched a movie and an event or character will spark an idea for a story. One time while driving down the street, I observed a man standing on a street corner and wanted to write about this character.
Hundreds of creative writing books exist in various formats. I own at least four such books. My first mystery novel, now in the rewrite phase, arose from a writing exercise. (You may read details on my website, https://jstrandburg.wordpress.com, under On the Horizon tab.) For the cost-conscious, you will find a wealth of free help on the Internet. I typed “Creative Writing Prompts” on Google and received almost five million hits.
 You can choose from any number of software programs for writers, such as WriteSparks Lite, which generates random phrases, words, clichés, and what-if-situations to stimulate writing. I wrote a flash fiction piece using three words (housewife, motel room, necklace) generated by the free trial download of WriteSparks Lite. You can read A Web of Lies on my website.
 Songwriters tell a story using music, and you can use music to tell a story. A few weeks ago, while exercising on the treadmill and listening to music on my IPOD, the song Hollywood Nights by Bob Seger started playing. The first two lines of the song follow:
She stood there bright as the sun on that California coast
He was a Midwestern boy on his own
 My work-in-progress short story titled The Monogrammer, is based on those nineteen words. I hope to publish the work in one form or another, even if only a blog entry on my website. Who knows? With a lot of work, it might become a novel.
 A story consists of nothing more than words, and a “one-stop shop” exists with all the words we need – the dictionary. It contains everything – people, places, obstacles, crimes, emotions, motive, and more. It’s a matter of finding the right combination for your story idea.
 The truth is; we don’t need to look far for ideas. The roadblock looms when determining how to move forward because an idea is nothing more than a starting point. You have a character or two, an event, a situation, and a place, but what comes next?
 Most of the advice I read from books, magazines, articles, and software programs recommend the writer just start writing. I believe what stops many writers (it caused me to procrastinate more times than I care to admit), is they don’t see promise of a story beyond those first few sentences or paragraphs. Without a middle or an end in mind, a writer might be hesitant to answer the bell for Round 1.
 This occurred with my short story The Monogrammer. My idea centered on a woman living in California and a man from the Midwest who comes out to the coast. Two characters in two places with little else kept me from writing because I lacked confidence the story would surpass fifty words.
 But these two characters insisted on imposing their will on my subconscious until I gave in and started asking questions.
  • What does the man do for a living?
  • Why is he going to California?
  • Is he leaving the Midwest for good or perhaps for a vacation?
  • Does he know this woman or do they meet for the first time?
  • Is he running to or running from something?
  • What events in the lives of these two characters are significant to the story?
  • What relationships (family, friends, and lovers) contributed to who these people are today?
This is a starter list, and the answers to these questions will likely generate more questions.
 When I found something with real “meat” I wrote a snippet or scene, even if it didn’t appear in the final version of the story, but I was making progress by writing actual dialogue and narrative. Sure, the story might eventually stall and be trashed, but such is the writing life. Find a different character, event, situation, and place, and then repeat the process.
 Consider my example of the stranger standing on a street corner.
  • Who is he?
  • Does he look familiar?
  • Is he waiting for someone or something to happen?
  • Does he belong here?
  • Where did he come from?
  • Why is he standing here?
  • What is he doing the moment you see him?
  • Is he a lookout for a crime occurring or about to occur?
  • Is he a diversion?
  • For those of us drawn to supernatural themes – is he visible one second and gone the next?
Answering one or more of these questions should start the pen moving (or the keys clicking).
 I prefer to keep it simple because in writing, more complexity often promotes procrastination and could produce a lack of confidence. A story consists of character, plot, objects, and setting. Events (plot) happen to people (characters) with goals in a place (setting), and interaction between these characters produces conflict – all found in the dictionary.
 Here’s a starter: A man posing as a doctor walks into a hospital and removes a patient from their life support system. You can start writing or start asking question, whatever works for you. If all else fails, remember to ask . . . Who, what, when, where, why, and how.
 Just remember – a starting place doesn’t need to be the beginning of the story.

A Web of Lies

A Web of Lies
By Jack B. Strandburg
 Note: This Flash Fiction was composed from a three-word creative exercise: housewife, hotel room, necklace
Detective Nathan Trask, Chicago homicide Inspector, sat across from Jake Timmons in the interrogation room at police headquarters.
“Have you found the man who killed my wife?” Timmons asked.
Trask pulled out sheet of paper from a manila folder on the desk and placed it on the tables. It was a photograph of a necklace.
“Have you ever seen this before, Mr. Timmons?”
Timmons’s mouth fell open.
“My God, that looks like the necklace I gave Marian for our third wedding anniversary! It was stolen last year.”
“We found this under the bed at the motel where your wife was murdered,” Trask said. “Did you report it stolen?”
“Of course,” Timmons insisted. “I needed to file a report for insurance purposes.”
“It looks very expensive,” Trask said.
Timmons nodded.
“It cost me over twelve thousand dollars. We were devastated when we found out we’d been robbed. Marian treasured that necklace.”
“Robbed,” Trask repeated, sitting back in his chair. “That’s interesting.”
“What do you mean – interesting?” Timmons asked.
Trask removed another sheet from the folder and placed it in front of Timmons.
“You ever see this man before?”
Timmons looked at the photograph and shrugged but his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat was not lost on Trask.
“Never seen him before. Who is he?”
“That’s Joseph Landry; he works for Johnny Reeves, a known loan shark. We found his body last night not far from the motel where we found your wife.”
“What does he have to do with all this?”
“His fingerprints were all over the necklace.”
“Are you saying Landry killed my wife?” Timmons asked.
Trask slowly shook his head.
“One might assume that was the case, but we’ve talked to a known associate of Landry’s who told us Landry got the necklace from a man as payment for  a loan owed to one Johnny Reeves. You know anything about that, Mr. Timmons?”
 Timmons bit his lip and his eyes went from the photograph of Landry back to Trask.
“I can only assume whoever stole the necklace from our home owed money to this man Reeves. That’s obviously why he stole it – to pay the loan.”
“You design websites for a living, don’t you Mr. Timmons?”
“Yes, that’s right, why?” Timmons asked with a frown.
“I imagine you need a creative mind to be successful in that business, don’t you?”
“I suppose,” Timmons said haltingly.
“I have another photograph for you to look at, Mr. Timmons, but before I show you, I have one more question. I want you to think long and hard about the answer.”
“What is it?”
“Have you ever met Johnny Reeves or Joseph Landry?”
Timmons hesitated, looked deep into Trask’s eyes, and then shook his head.
“No, sir, I have never seen either of these men before.”
Trask smiled, removed another sheet from the folder and placed it in front of Timmons.
The photograph clearly showed Jake Timmons sitting in a booth at a restaurant talking with Joseph Landry. On the table between them sat the necklace.
Timmons stared at the photograph for a while before looking back up at Trask.
“Where did you get this?”
“Johnny Reeves is more than just a run-of-the-mill loan shark. We’ve been building a case against him and Landry is one of his collectors, but,” Trask pointed to the photograph, “you already know Landry’s association with Reeves. So what was it, a gambling debt, an investment? Why did you take out a loan with Reeves?”
Timmons lowered his head.
“Yes, it was a gambling debt, like you said.”
“Well, you certainly don’t lack for creativity, Mr. Timmons. That’s another lie.”
“What are you talking about?” Timmons asked, and his head shot up. “And what does all this have to do with my wife? Aren’t you supposed to be looking for her killer?”
Trask shook his head.
“We found him.”
Timmons narrowed his eyes to slits.
“What are you talking about?”
Trask picked up the photograph of Joseph Landry.
“This man’s real name is Phillip Marconi, Lieutenant Phillip Marconi. He’s working undercover on the Timmons case.”
“What do you mean – the Timmons case?”
“You sold the necklace to Lieutenant Marconi for twenty grand as down payment for a drug deal, Mr. Timmons, and don’t bother to come up with another lie because we have the entire conversation recorded.”
Timmons sat back in his chair and spread his arms.
“So if you have this on tape, why didn’t you just come out with it? Why dance around with all this loan shark stuff?”
“I’m just trying to find out how much more you’re prepared to lie, Mr. Timmons, because I’m lead investigator on the case involving the murder of your wife. Why did you kill her?”
Timmons shot up from his chair and pressed his fists against the table.
Trask kept his cool, just looking into Timmons’s eyes and smiling.
“She was having an affair with one of her co-workers. They met at the motel just about every week. Is that what you wanted to hear?” Timmons screamed. “Are you satisfied?”
Trask raised a finger.
Don’t forget she also found out about the drug deal, didn’t she?” Trask said and then slowly got up from his chair and nodded to two officers who came into the room when they heard the chair hit the floor.
“Take him away.”
The two officers took Timmons by the arms and escorted him to the door.
Timmons turned back to Trask.
“You’re just as big a liar as I am.”
Trask raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
“I prefer to call it creative interrogation.”