Where do you get your ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas?” the woman in the audience asked one of the writers on the panel of the Writer’s Conference.

“Oh, I have some fairy dust,” he responded. “I keep it in a gold box right next to my computer. I open its top and reach in with my index finger and thumb when I need an idea. I take out only a few particles because I want it to last as long as I can.”

A second writer, Marsha, a bestselling author from Texas, leaned forward and commented, “I used to use that stuff but I finally got rid of it. I’m here to tell you it was addicting.”

“You did?” a third writer, a Ph.d. candidate from the School of Hard Knocks, asked. “I sure wish you’d shared it with me. It would have saved me a lot of pain. My gosh, six months on that last novel almost killed me.”

The woman in the audience, whose name happened to be Alice, smiled. “I want to be a writer. But I can’t seem to come up with an idea.”

Sam from the other side of the room stood up and addressed Alice. “I have ideas but I can’t write worth a toot. Maybe we can get together.”

The first writer, let’s call him Joe, laughed. “That’s how I ended up with my first divorce.”

Bestseller from Texas looked at him. “I thought you looked a little familiar. It’s been twenty years. The beard sure hides that s. o. b. face of yours.”

Joe was surprised. It was his first wife. He leaned forward, looked down the row of panelists and asked, “Marsha? Marsha.”

“You still with that little tart?” Marsha wanted to know.

“I caught her with a bestselling novelist. She was after his ideas too. It was a coitus interruptus. I shot the bastard before he could do a complete coitus and kicked her butt for three blocks. That was how I met my third wife. She was the arresting officer. Come to think of it. He was from Texas just like you. Anyway the judge said I had every right to do what I did and he let me off scot free.”

“It’s a big state. Guess that serves you right,” Marsha said. “Hope that cop keeps you in line.”

“She does. She’s the lady in uniform at the back.”

Everybody turned and saw this six-foot-three female cop standing at attention beside the door. She saluted the audience.

“You always did like uniforms,” Marsha said.

“And you never would play in one,” Joe said, then went back to the original question. “Where do we get our ideas, Alice? Life I guess. In fact, I just came up with an idea. Writer meets his ex at a writer’s conference.”

The female cop at the back of the room took out her handcuffs and headed toward the panel. “We’ll be having none of that,” she said.

Where do you get your ideas to write?

Doodleboggery

We writers are a peculiar breed. A downright eccentric lot. Many of us live inside our heads, out there in fantasy land where the most interesting things are going on. Which doesn’t make us the most socially adept folks.

Get a bunch of us together in a room and we can go one of two ways. Half of us will talk your head off. The other half will go to a corner and observe. It’s not that half is shy. It is just that they are writers. And there seems to be nary a middle ground between the twixt of the two.

Some of us will let any ole word flop all over the place like a chicken with his head cut off. Some will make the one hundred yard dash for the word el perfecto. Our desire for literarydom can be the difference between digging for treasure or hunting for the holy grail. Some of us are Indiana Jonesys while some are Kid Galahads. Then there are others who would give anything and everything to be the Muhammad Ali of language. But he earned his heavyweight title, and so must we.

When thinking about my own eccentricities, I must admit I have a bit of all these. There are times when I would prefer the corner while other times when I can be the life of the party. Mostly I like to see words stand up and tap a little Fred Astaire across the room. It is a bit of a disease I call Doodleboggery.

When I first invite a character into a story, it’s no Charlie nor Watt nor Janice for me. I go a little funky and call the character something like Doodlebug whether it be a him or a her. I’ve used Mucker, Willy McWhack, George O’George, Helluvagoy, Puddlewhack, Blowfish, Hermittitus, Actina, Elephantitus just to name a few.

Bet you can guess what the Elephantitus is like. His ego fills a room so much that the room explodes and I have ka-blooey all over the place. Yuck. Then I have to clean up the mess. I want you to know it isn’t pretty.

I’ve used Expletive Deleted. All that came out of her mouth was a purple so prose I can’t repeat it here. Shortly after she walked on stage, I did an Elmore Leonard to her. She had her little butt kicked to kingdom come and she hasn’t showed up in any story since. Course there’s always the danger that she will return and be a major nuisance. You just never know.

Characters have a mind of their own and they can Rasputin all over the place. It took the Russian nobility an amazing amount of effort to kill him off. First they poisoned him, then they stabbed him again and again. But he just wouldn’t die. Then they drowned him. The rumor is that didn’t take either. Some say he’s been seen out in Siberia causing major mischief. Maybe we should check with Putin on that one.

That is what I am afraid of when I think about E.D. Had another character with those initials. Just can’t remember what those initials stand for but it’s not Erectile Dysfunction. He had a completely different set of issues. Had a real bad case of the casanova that caused problems up the ying-yang with all the ladies in a story called “Church”. A number of the women in that story, including the minister’s wife, showed up pregnant. I gave him the condom lecture but since when do characters listen. Last I saw him he had a husband after him with a shotgun. He was jumping out of a bedroom window in nothing but his altogethers.

Now this eccentricity that I have to suffer through doesn’t stop with names. It has a tendency to propagate into sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs when I am not sure what should be taking place. Some examples: “She stood on his lawn and hitchcocked her ex, then she went looking for a place to drop his corpus dilecti into.”

Of course, this honors the great director Alfred Hitchcock and the next one refers to the director Francis Ford Coppola. “He performed the coppola early that day, then he took a ride south to his favorite eatery for some pasta.”

You can imagine what a character might do if he spielberged or david-finchered across the planet. I am not quite sure but you can imagine.

Here’s some other ones.

He bonnie-and-clyded his way into the liquor store, pulled his gub and demanded a fifth of scotch from the clerk.” “Gub” refers to an article called a gun mentioned in the Woody Allen epic, “Take the Money and Run”.

“The artist started sloppy but he grew better. Later he found that sloppy was the way to go.” The artist in this one happens to be Jackson Pollack-ing all over the place.

“He grabbed hold of his life and shook it loose of the blues.”

“After six months, Perky broke off her romance with Hunkie. It wasn’t that the sex wasn’t peachy keen. It was. Lots of bodice ripping and muscles rippling. She just couldn’t take any more of his love for mirrors.”

“She’s the Starbucks of my life/I’m the Krispy Kreme of her heart.”

“She sprawled onto the lawn and kissed the ground he walked on. It tasted like chocolate and she had way too too much of a sweet tooth to not take a good bite out of the grass. Over the years that tooth had carried her from Hershey to Giardina to Rocky Mountain Chocolate to the Wee Willy Wonka in search of the perfect elixir. And here it was, in the footprints he left behind.”

And so forth. I know. This eccentricity sounds a little strange as all eccentricities do. That’s why they’re called eccentricities. But what can I do? It keeps my Muse amused. You see, she gets bored easily. And I do not want to bore her. No, sirree. She has a gub too and it is a big one. It is never pretty when my Muse takes over and does a sharknado to my prose.

Anyway all this doodleboggery sometimes leads me out to the edge. Unfortunately this is where it recently led:

“Jan Horstafeller vas a mighty fine fellow. He ate his haggalogen on Vod’s Day, Tor’s Day und Freya’s Day. As he scarfened down his haggalogen, his capagaggas growed to ten feet vide und twenty feet large und Jan Horstafeller vas only a vee bit of a Horstafeller. Haggalogen has tat effect on der person. It enlarges one’s capagaggas enormously. Yah, tat it does.”

I am so sorry but I couldn’t help myself. It’s just a little Doodleboggery.

Murder for writers

Consider this:

Every story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End. Every mystery has an Investigator, a Killer and a Victim. Three points of view. Without one, the story is incomplete.

For a Mystery, the story does not come in that order. The murder is the End of the Story for the Victim, the Middle of the Story for the Killer, and the Beginning of the Story for the Investigator.

Someone somewhere finds a dead body. Half of the Police Department shows up, giving the Scene of the Crime a very thorough once over. It’s the darndest thing. It looks like the Victim had a comb and a large hair brush. But the Victim was bald. Turns out that the corpus delicti was not the owner of the apartment.

So the cops do what cops always do? They go in search of back story. They ask questions. Why was said Victim spreadeagled on the bed and pumped full of chicken feathers? Just whose apartment was this anyway? And that question that always comes up when there’s a dead body: “Did So-and-so have any enemies?

So what do the cops do now? It’s as the Carpenters used to sing, ‘It’s only just begun.” They keep asking questions.

The Victim had friends. They had a mom and a dad. They had co-workers and business associates. They had a wife or a husband. And they are all saying the same darned thing, “Everybody loved him. He was the gentlest of souls.”

It’s enough for the police to say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Of course, the corpse had enemies. And more than likely it’s going to be someone who had a grudge against So-and-so for years.

Perhaps the deceased man stole the Killer’s homework in the sixth grade. She’s been carrying a grudge for years. That F she received from the male teacher for the missing homework ruined her life. The police won’t know this until they bring in a therapist to tell them. The therapist will discover that the murderer has a deep psychological grudge against men. That incident forced her to never trust a man again.

Recently the Killer worked for an online website that provides research papers to students to turn in as homework. One of those assignments had triggered her unconscious obsession to get even with the victim.

And the Killer will spend the rest of the story trying to send the police on a wild goose chase of misdirection.

That homework theft led the Victim to a lifetime of cheating. Cheating on his taxes. Cheating on his wife. Cheating his business associates and embezzling  money from the business. By the time the cops get through, the Victim won’t have a friend in the world. And it’s possible that the Killer will get off scot-free. Unless.

Or the Killer may have been traumatized by the simplest of things. Like not getting that cookie her mother promised. Or not receiving a valentine from her sweetie. Or it could be something much more traumatic.

So what was the Victim doing, sleeping in somebody else’s apartment? He was staying at an AirBnb while his house was being tented for termites. The owner of the apartment was off in Spain, playing footsey with the Victim’s wife. And the murder was a case of mistaken identity. The Killer thought the Victim was the owner of the apartment.

It only goes to show you there may not be any justice by the end of the story. There may only be a crime solved.

Near 500 words: Prompt City

Are you looking for a new type of prompt for your writing? Here’s a method that can work for both stories and essays:

1.Choose the first sentence (or the closing line) of a story or novel you enjoy.
2.Write that sentence as the first line of your essay or story.
3.Continue writing two or three original paragraphs that originated from that opening sentence.
4.Drop the opening sentence.

EXAMPLES
(The first sentence will be underlined)

1.Opening Sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times,” the President addressed his the college students.
“You lie,” a woman yelled out, then stomped out of the gathering.
Watching this demonstration on his TV, he turned the remote off and turned to his wife. “I can’t stand this anymore. Insulting the President like that. I’m going to do something about it.

In this example, you might want to change that “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” to another line of dialogue.

2.Opening Sentence from Moby Dick by Herman Melville:
Just call me Ishmael,” Detective Hamilton introduced himself to his new partner.
His partner reached over shook Ishmael’s hand. “Morris. I was in Vice for three years.”
“Hope you’re aware that we do things different around here, Morris. Do I have to call you Morris.”
“My friends call me Mo. Hope we’ll be friends.”
“Friends have not got any thing to do with things around here. And you can call me Ish.”
Ish and Mo headed out to their unmarked car.
“Where we going?” Mo asked.
“To arrest a suspect.”

3.Closing sentence from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Our boat slips easily through the time tunnel until we reach our destination in another time, another century, another long ago. I study my watch as the hands run backwards at super speeds. We pass the dock for 1900, then 1800, then 1700, then 1600. We move the oars ever so slightly till they’ve turned the boat into an alley where we pass 1590, 1580, 1570. We turn into a new alley.
My partner stops at the dock for the year1664. “This is it.” He steps onto the pier. He grabs my hand and pulls me out of the boat.
On the dock are twelve doorways, one for each month. We walk through April, then step on the mat that reads twenty-six.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small locater. Types “Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.” A flash of light and we find ourselves on a dirty street.

As you can see, this can be quite a lot of fun. And who knows? Your characters might end up kidnapping Shakespeare and bringing him to the twenty-first century.

Near 500 words: The What-if Principle

What if you are stuck starting a story? Or what if the dreaded writer’s block has attacked you in mid-sentence? You are siting in front of your computer and there’s that monster of a blank screen. As the Ghostbusters used to sing, “Who you gonna call?”

Well, I have a simple solution to those dilemmas. It’s worked for me hundreds of times. it’s called the What-if Principle.

When you can’t think of what to put on paper, write the words “What if.” Then think add a phrase to that. Like “What if the boat sank” or “What if Mr. Darcy told Elizabeth Bennet that he was gay” or “What if your character got hit by a bus” or “What if I wrote a funeral from the corpse’s point of view.”

Once you have written down that What-if phrase, then ask Why. And keep doing that for as long as it takes for you to start writing a scene. Here’s an example of the process:

1.What if my character, Joe, doesn’t get out of bed on Monday morning.
Why? His girlfriend DeeDee dumped him the night before.

2.What if DeeDee hears Joe didn’t show up for work and she calls him.
Why? She’s having second thoughts about dumping Joe.

3.What if Joe doesn’t answer the phone.
Why? He finally drags himself out of bed and takes a shower.

4.What if Joe’s sister, Marsha, shows up at Joe’s house.
Why? She is worried about Joe because he was dumped.

5.What if DeeDee drives to Joe’s house and leaves angry.
Why? DeeDee doesn’t know Joe has a sister. She see’s Marsha’s car and thinks he has a new girlfriend.

By the fifth or sixth What-if, there’s at least enough to provide momentum for the next few scenes.

Try it and see if it works for you. I know it does for me.