Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Birth of a Story

I always love hearing  how writers come up with the things they write. Some people seem to have endless ideas gurgling in their heads and not enough time to write them all, and others seems to have one really necessary story to tell, and then must work to come up with more. I admit I've felt like both ends of that spectrum.

Currently I have a folder of ideas on my computer with more books than I will probably ever have time to write. But those ideas are all novel ideas. Stories that are too big to be told in a few pages. And this past month I needed to write a short story for school.

Enter the joint brainstorming of my husband and I while sitting in traffic one day.

Me: I need to write a short story but I still have no idea what to write about. I want it to be fun to write though. My current novel is bumming me out.


Me: Once, in a writing class in college, the professor said in order to get a great conflict throw a few very unlike characters into a place where they can't easily get out and make them interact. You know, like Speed where all the people are stuck in a bus. Which was pretty smart of him, because that was before Speed even came out.


(You might be noticing that my conversations are sometimes a bit one-sided.)

Me: Where could I trap people? A bus was already done, and for that matter, the cruise ship thing in Speed 2 also.

(Can I take an aside here to say that while writing this conversation I've just come up with FOUR more story ideas?? Trap them in a mine! A carpool lane with an accident blocking the road! The line for a bathroom in a mall! A city tour!)

Me: Also, the people would have to be fun to write. What kind of great characters could I throw together?


Me: And I'd need a really catchy title. A fun one.

Him: How about So a Priest, A Rabbi and a Prostitute Walk into a Bar?

(See???? He may be a man of few words, but he is BRILLIANT!!! Who would NOT want to read that story???)

Me: That is BRILLIANT!! So why are they there? I mean, why would those people end up in a bar, and why can't they get out?


Me: What if they are escaping something? Something terrible is going on outside the bar and they use the bar as a place of refuge from it.


Me: What do you think about the Occupy movement? Maybe the characters are all downtown for different reasons - some protesting, others not, and then they are thrown together when the police come in and the protests end up in violence and chaos!

Him: That sounds like something you'd write.

Me: I could tell it from the four different points of view!

Him: The four?

Me: Yeah - the priest, the rabbi, the prostitute, and the bar. Okay, the bartender.

Him: Or a beer's.

Me: I think I'll stick with the bartender.


Me: But I don't know much about rabbis, so that might be a really hard voice to capture. 

My Son: (yelling from the back of the van) What's the title Dad came up with that you're laughing so hard about?

Me: ummmm...

Him: Maybe you should change the title.

Me: Nooooo! The title is the best part!

Me: Hey, if the rabbi comes into the bar unconscious because he got hit with something in the protests, I wouldn't have to have him talking. That would solve that problem.

Him: So the others carry him into the bar to get him out of danger?

Me: YES!

And that, my blogging friends, is how "A Preacher, a Rabbi and a Prostitute Walk into a Bar" was born.

I broke the story into four points of view, each person's story picking up where the one before let off, so there is a general story arc as well as four sub-stories. Of course, I ended up still having to do the rabbi, even though he was unconscious the entire time.

I have no idea how the story will be taken at school, but I'm proud of it. Not in the "I'm sending this to a magazine to get published right away because it's so brilliant" kind of way. More in the, "I wrote and revised (five times) a short story in less than a week" kind of way. And also, because I did what I set out to do: have fun writing it.

While I never loved short stories before, and would much rather write novels, I can say it's so fun to try something new and risky, to branch out and do something I'd never spend a whole year and 350 pages doing. I got to incorporate a bunch of techniques I've learned through school that weren't applicable to my novel. And did I mention how fun it was?

So all the credit goes to my husband, who came up with the title that made the story fun.

Have you tried anything risky lately? Come up with any good ideas in weird ways?  And do you have any more ideas of how we can trap characters in a small space with no way out??


  1. I came up with my latest book when my mom mentioned the name of a girl she went to school with then I added a news story and threw in some sci-fi and there you have the book titled All Things Sunny.

    I have to say your husband is way more helpful at helping you brainstorm than mine. And I love your title.

  2. As many reasons as persons might be present in asking why anyone writes; it coul be from wanting to be loved, to developing proficiency in this craft, which is the hardest, to find your best voice and style once you know how to write.
    How do you make it improve?
    Being witty suffices at certain levels, or finding an interesting subject, but I believe that starting with an acceptable amount of talent you must also work very hard, and do many mental searches, research, and comparisons, to truly position yourself into the elete club of the truly brilliant.

  3. The point you delve on is so diverse, you could say endless.
    People might have a need to comunicate, or maybe to develop their writing into more proficient ways, which I believe is the toughest.
    (this was my previous comment, sorry about missing d on COULD, in the other comment)
    Be welcome to read,

  4. OKay.

    Tell your husband he is a man of few words, but at least he makes them count ;D

  5. I love how you both brainstormed this together:)) Awesome!
    I actually love writing short stories more than I do novels. I love the to-the-point plots and how we are challenged to say a story in so many words,

  6. Carlos - working very hard is definitely key to being good at anything!

  7. I'm like Terri, and do like short stories although I mainly read novels. I've been working on a novel but realizing each chapter is a short story really. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Ha!

    How about a metal rock musician, a librarian, a gas station attendent, and a life-coach speaker stuck in pizza pick up place because...

  8. I am increasingly a fan of your husband.

    Love this story of a story!

    I like Lynn's idea. How about a metal musician, a grandma and a teenager with a face full of piercings get stuck in a hotel elevator! This is fun. We could make a game of it.

  9. Man! I wish you could print your story here without it counting as "published." It sounds like such an interesting story!

    And nope, sorry no risks lately. But when I thought about being trapped in small places, for whatever reason one of those tube things that you find in indoor play areas for kids popped into my head.

  10. I love the to-the-point plots and how we are challenged to say a story in so many words.

    British Food