You think characters vanish just because you ditch them from a story you plan to write? They don’t. They continue their travel from one writer to another begging to be heard: What am I to be?
Imagine you sketch an idea for a story on a yellow Post-it about an author who, while giving a presentation on a stage at the city’s Grand Hotel, suddenly sees a lady dressed in red being forcefully removed from the room by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin and taken away. She desperately turns her head to the author and he reads her lips: Help me! Then you sigh in resignation: O-M-G ― and put the Post-it in the drawer, stacked on top of your other Post-its outlining half-hearted ideas, and forget all about it.
Meanwhile, the abandoned author makes it his mission to find the lady in red and begins his journey from author to author. Sometimes he makes a brief appearance in a story, maybe standing on a crime scene looking for her. Sometimes he is brought in for interrogation before he is released and disappears from yet another story.
This is all unbeknownst to you until one fine day, a new book makes the headlines as a debuting author releases a crime novel called Lady in Red. Critics and readers alike are overjoyed: “Sensational!” “A new Mankell!” The novel is about an author who travels all over Europe searching for a lady dressed in red who was forcefully removed from his reading gig at the city’s Grand Hotel by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin. “Lady in red?” you mutter to yourself and a vague memory of a character on a yellow Post-it surfaces.
It can happen.
Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Doppelgänger
When a sentence like this pops into your head:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,
you better have a napkin or notebook at hand. It might be the start of something luminous. You never know.
I’d got an enormous pile of exam papers […] and was marking school examinations in the summer time, which was very laborious, and unfortunately also boring. I remember picking up a paper and nearly gave it an extra mark, or extra five marks actually, because one page on this particular paper was left blank. Glorious! Nothing to read. So I scribbled on it, I can’t think why, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’.
— J.R.R. Tolkien in an interview with BBC in 1968
WordPress Daily Prompt: Luminescent
When I opened the closet, a story fell out
and started to flow through my fingertips.
WordPress Daily Prompt: Restart
Today’s prompt from WordPress, sympathize, triggered a scene in my head: A man, years of harsh street life imprinted in his face, not quite sober, but sobered up the best he can, his hair freshly combed, approaches a house and rings the bell. “You have my sympathy,” I hear him say to the man who opens the door, “Your father was a good man.” He is invited inside but declines. “No, I wouldn’t impose on anyone.” As he walks away I notice two guys waiting for him on the street. They each put a hand on his shoulder as if to say, “Well done, mate,” and a bottle comes out of a pocket. It must have cost him a lot to come here, I think to myself. I’m glad to see that he has backup.
No man is an island entire of itself.
— John Donne
WordPress Daily Prompt: Sympathize
I hate glockenspiel and I love Beethoven and it was like beast meets beauty when the glockenspiel in the town hall bell tower started to play “Ode to Joy” to mark noon. In that precise moment, I slipped on the icy sidewalk.
Just another everyday moment to put in the writer’s notebook, maybe to be worked into a short story that begins with “It all started at noon on Monday, January…” Then follows a chain of events that leads from the glockenspiel to B to M or Z, maybe culminating with another glockenspiel at noon. Beethoven, too, in all his brilliance is somewhere in the mix.
Or maybe our character falls on the ice and blacks out to the tones of “Ode of Joy” and in her head, the glockenspiel turns into the mighty choir singing “Ode to Joy” at the very first performance of Beethoven’s 9th, with the deaf Maestro himself on the stage, a singer turns him towards the audience for him to receive the standing ovation. When our faller comes to, the glockenspiel is still playing and she sings at the top of her voice.
The options are endless. I like the title “Glockenspiel and Beethoven at noon.”
WordPress Daily Prompts: Brilliant
On the bridge over the highway, some preschool children were waving at the cars passing by underneath. A truck driver spotted them and honked his horn, and the children jumped up and down in delight. I jotted down the story in my notebook.
At the grocery store, my eyes caught a young woman with a long shopping list and a story started to spin in my head on my way to the milk shelves. Notebook time.
From snippets of everyday moments like these, great stories can be born. Maybe the truck driver is transporting red apples from Italy, and maybe the young woman with the long shopping list will buy some for her apple pie. There’s a line running from a family’s apple farm in the south of Europe to a truck driver spending endless hours behind the wheel, honking his horn at a group of children while missing his own, to a woman with a desperate look in her eyes at a Nordic grocery store shopping for a family dinner she’s not capable of making.
Of course, the beauty would be to write the actual stories of the people we meet. Like the one of the man who stood bent in a 45-degree angle over a garbage bin he used as a stand for his beer cans, hacking and hawking and coughing up a slimy glob that landed a couple of feet away from him. He gave me a friendly “Hello” as I walked by. I waved back. I wonder what his story is. He’s in the notebook, too.
Great ideas thrive in a great notebook. I have checked out five: Hunting for the perfect notebook
WordPress Daily Prompts: Snippet