The Story Idea Box

On a shelf in my bookcase, there is an old shoe box, where I deposit all kinds of items that I find as I go about my day.  They are, to the casual eye, mundane in nature and unremarkable to anyone but myself, and range from a broken pair of glasses to a phone number that had yet to be assigned by the phone company. [1]  Each item is a mysterious talisman, a little bit of manna from heaven that can lead me down the rabbit-hole of a story.

But what is most intriguing to me is the brief note and postcard left inside a book.

While browsing the local library bookshop, I came across a hardcover edition of In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.  Having never read it, I pulled it off the shelf and opened it.  A folded note and a postcard featuring the Cartwrights of Bonanza! fell out.

The note was written to a woman named Leslie, in which the author expressed gratitude for the cost of a plane ticket (which she caught with twenty minutes to spare) and a wig.  The rest of the note mentioned a visit and some work via the computer, as well as reimbursement for the ticket.  There was no date, no reference to which side of the coast the author had visited, but the magic was done.

What prompted the author of the note to get a wig and why was she in a rush to catch a flight?

And thus, the beginning of a mystery – or a thriller – or even a tale of horror – has been set.

Where does it lead?

Only you, my dear writer, can answer that.

And now, it’s time to begin your own Story Idea Box.

 

[1] There’s a story behind that mysterious, unassigned phone number, but that’s for a later post.

Choose Your Words Wisely

When beginning his next novel, Stephen King will spend weeks, if not months, on perfecting the story’s opening sentence.  He does this to find that particular invitation readers will find too tempting to pass up.  When he has that perfect opening sentence, the rest of the story flows.

To craft that opening line, which establishes character and setting, you need to have something that hooks the reader.  To do that,  you need to find the right words to unlock the idea you’ve been haunted by into something larger.

Speaking of haunted – here’s an example of a gripping opening line by the incomparable Shirley Jackson:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. [1]

Immediately following that sentence is the introduction of Hill House, reputedly haunted, not lived in and still kept in pristine order by a couple from the local village.  Each sentence builds on the next and you are drawn into the lives of four people, determined to prove that Hill House is haunted.  Although it averages two hundred or so pages, it is tightly constructed, spare and ambiguous, leaving you wondering – is Hill House haunted or is it all a figment of Eleanor’s mind?

And neatly tying it all together, the final sentence of the novel echoes the final sentence of the opening paragraph – and whatever walked there, walked alone.

[1] The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

(The annotation below is brilliant.)

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