Starting a story III

Hi, Gang. Craig here again, and I’m back on the topic of starting a story. I also want to weave in the importance of a good notebook. For reference purposes, here are the links to the previous posts. New Story and Media Res.

I get ideas all the time. Most of them are pretty worthless. Other times, I jot a line or two into my phone or iPad and store it away. These can become stories all by themselves, but more often will appear as a situation in something I’m already writing.

Occasionally, I’ll share a vignette on my own blog, and this is what happened back in November. The value goes beyond just entertaining my followers. I have a category in the sidebar called Short Stories and Vignettes. Surprise! It’s another form of notebook for me.

This little story doesn’t even have a title. It’s very short, so I’m going to post it here, then we’re going to poke it with a stick and see what we can do with it.

I’ll post it between some section breaks for clarity.


Cybernet Library Access Point……………………

General Public Profile…………………..


I stole this computer from an abandoned library. Dogs are howling down the street, so I don’t have much time.

Wind is from the west, but I can’t smell them yet. They must be east of me. I hope they’re east of me. I won’t let them get their tentacles on the baby again, I promise you that. Little Bit is fine, but she misses her mommy.

I’m going to head north, then veer west. We might make the safe zone in three days, two if we’re lucky. Whatever you do, stay in the safe zone.

The howling is getting louder. We’ve got to go. Love you.

PS: Hope they aren’t monitoring the library sy

2001 A Space Odyssey GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


For the original purpose the spacing, partial word at the end, and flashing light was important. If we expand this story, most of that should change.

Remember, we need a person, in a place, with a problem. I think we have that covered, but it’s a little thin. We need some tension too, and we’ve got that covered.

So what could we do with it? One of the important things is to assess what we don’t have right along with what we already have.

We don’t know who the writer of the email is. This could be a spouse, but it could be a sibling, parent, or lover. Maybe it’s a wanna-be lover. We don’t know if the writer is male or female either. At this point it could be a robot servant of some kind.

This deserves some serious consideration if we want to make this into a “real” story.

Another fun thing to consider is placement of the letter. This could actually be Sarah’s story, and we are using an epistolary style to weave two stories into each other. Maybe she’s already left the safe zone, and is tracking her lover’s progress via these emails in an attempt to find them. As authors we could open every other chapter with a new email. This would be a great way to build tension. The writer has Sarah’s baby, and she’s worried. As the letters get more intense, the tension builds to the breaking point.

If we go down this path, there is an added bonus of keeping the lovers apart. This builds tension for the reader, and makes them happy when they finally reunite.

If we were to write Sarah’s story, we need to drop the cheesy parts about logging into the Library System, because she wouldn’t experience that.

Might be fun to turn the whole thing on its head and have some of the words in the email be code. This could be the story of the resistance leading the invaders into a trap. They know the aliens are monitoring the emails. Maybe Little Bit is actually a bomb of some kind and not an actual child. Maybe Sarah invented the bomb, and the writer of the letter is on a suicide mission to get it into the heart of the invaders’ territory. Sarah has to set it off remotely, killing the person who delivered it. Talk about tension.

The added bonus in this version is the twist. I love a good twist, and think most readers do. Don’t give up the secret code too soon. Give the reader a chance to decipher it themselves.

We talked about Media Res in a previous post, and you could certainly use it here. Open the story with this vignette, then walk our readers back and tell the story of how we got here.

We placed some foundation stones, but we haven’t completely settled on a genre either. While this screams science fiction, it could be urban fantasy pretty easily. Tentacled monsters could have a paranormal background. This could also be romance or horror with a background of science fiction… or paranormal.

This is the kind of thought process one author goes through; me. I think it’s a fair process. It’s also important to have bad ideas too. This prevents us from going with the first thing that comes to mind and helps us avoid what I call Low Hanging Fruit.

Bad Idea Example: A director yells, “Cut.” The whole thing is a movie set and we’re going to tell a completely different kind of story.

That will piss off a bunch of readers, but it’s nice to think about this stuff before we start writing. I read somewhere once that in order to have a good idea, you have to have a lot of bad ones.

What do you guys do to start a new story? Mine rarely come fully fledged. I jot down a cool name and save it for years. I awaken in the morning, and make a note or two. Sometimes I write a vignette. My morning commute helps me flesh out the worthy ones. This is where I poke and prod it to death or into something better.

Tell me about your process.

28 thoughts on “Starting a story III

  1. Great story start! I shared on my author Facebook page. I feel sort of like a slacker here. I’ve gotten pickier with my ideas anymore. If one comes, I don’t write it down. If it wants me to write it, it has to pester me until it grows so much, I can’t ignore it.

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  2. Pingback: Curated Content 12/15/17 | Story Empire

  3. I like your ideas, Craig and really, a wonderful way to brainstorm. I have a notebook(s) and loads of papers everywhere which I use to jot down scenes and thoughts, whatever seems interesting – almost like taking random snapshots with my iPhone and then use something interesting further along in a blogpost. I type off the notes which are really sketchy and develop things from there.

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  4. I have a folder on my computer called “Inspiration” where I save articles that interest me and might be developed into a story. I’ll tuck images in there too, or jot out snippets of ideas. Every know and then I revisit it. A lot of the themes I use in my books are threads from notes that I’ve expanded on. That’s when the poking and prodding really begins. You’ve got me thinking I need to go do some of that now, because I’m kind of stalled on my beginning.

    Great post for discussion, Craig!

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  5. I have dozens upon dozens of ideas saved in my notes file. (I keep it there because I always have my phone with me, and I can type in the middle of the night without getting out of bed or turning on a light.) Sometimes, an idea comes to me fully-formed, other times it’s just a vignette (like what you posted) that I have to either expand on or use somewhere else.

    And in this case, I love the idea of starting with the scene as-is, then starting the next chapter with, “38 hours earlier…” They do it on TV all the time; no reason printed fiction can’t benefit from the same device.

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  6. I get a general idea, do a brief outline, then let the story take on its own life. Most of my ideas come when I’m not thinking about writing. I like to observe people and situations, read or listen to intriguing true stories, and often get ideas from there.

    BTW, please don’t kill off Little Bit. (That’s my cat’s name!) 😉

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Another excellent post on story writing, Craig! What wonderful creative inspiration and processes. I too have lots of ideas jotted down or in my ideas folder. Some of them never see the light of day while others end up as part of something else or a full novel in their own right. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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