Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Baby Steps

By Martha Reed

Writing is a funny business. I can get an idea and let it stew for years before somehow it magically connects to another interesting bit and suddenly the two ideas link together and I have the suggestion for a story. People ask me where I get my ideas, and since I’ve been working on a short story lately I thought I would dissect the process a bit, to share the writing life.

For this story, the title came first. I was walking the beach in Florida when I saw a funny tree. It looked sort of like a mangrove tree with a palm tree sticking up out of the top. Like this one:

I asked a friend what kind of tree it was and she said: That’s a Strangler Fig. Well, you can’t give me a name like that and not expect me to use it.

Next, since I write crime fiction, I had to imagine the crime. I wanted to set the story in Florida, which is full of retired folks living in gated communities feeling all protected, so I imagined the one thing furthest from their minds, a home invasion.

I decided to contrast the generations by putting an elderly couple in their home with the invasion coming via a teenager for contrast. I had to make the teenager the bad guy, so I had him abandon his friends, leaving them to take the heat while he split with the loot. The story was shaping up.

I started casting around for character color. This is where I wanted to play with the readers mind a bit. I decided the elderly couple would be retired ex-Navy, but decided that the medals on display, which included a Purple Heart would belong to HER. Ah, twist #1.

I’m not going to give you any more, because then you won’t need to read THE STRANGLER FIG, which I’m hoping to have it polished up and ready to go by the end of the year.

Here’s today’s questions: What’s your process? How do you start a new story? As I'm sure you've heard before, where do you get your ideas?


Gina said...

Martha -
For me, ideas appear by magic or, like your fig experience, come from something that just happens to be in front of me. I got the idea for a short story, NIght of the Squirrels, when I was stopped at a traffic light and looked up to see a squirrel running across an electric wire. The final line, "Squirrels are nuts!" just popped into my mind and I had to write the story to lead up to it. I find I often get the ending first, then have to trace back to figure out how these characters got to that point. BTW, Strangler Fig sound like it will be really interesting to read.

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Gina. It's funny that you got your ending first. That makes it almost like a game of Clue; you got the cosmic hint and had to take it from there.

Thanks for sharing!

Ramona said...

3rd attempt--Wassup, Blogger--in a bad mood today?

I'd love to read your Strangler's Fig story, but I'd more than love to hear you read it to me. You're the best storyteller.

Ideas? Those little suckers pop out of nowhere for me. I have no one process, but my favorite is when I get hit by an opening line. A few times I've been able to sit and free write the short story from that one line. THE BEST!

Patg said...

Actually, it's things like this where I would never have taken the same mental route as the author. A strangling fig and no pure scare tactics or aliens?
Different strokes, but I like your first twist.
Ramona, are you referring to how few comments blogs are getting these days? Is the party over?