Where do you begin after you decide to write a short story? What is the process? Do you have a plot in mind or do you start with a character?
I've found that when I don't have a plot in mind, which is most always, since I'm a writer who lets the characters pull me through the story, I use a gimmick to get me going. One of the best is to make a list of 10 words, then start a story incorporating those 10 words in the first paragraph. It actually works. Gets you going.
But for my latest short story, a nightmare ignited it. An honest to goodness nightmare. Here is how the nightmare translated to the page:
I was awakened by the most horrifying, blood-curdling screams I had ever heard in my life. At first I wasn’t sure if it was real, maybe I was having a nightmare. But no, I was wide awake and my worst living nightmare had just begun.
These weren’t the usual cat wails of animals mating. This was something more terrifying - long mournful high-pitched screeching.
Soon my own pitiful, painful screams were added to those of precious Princie, my beloved ten-year-old cat. I pushed past my parents who were rushing down the hallway, the blood splattering thuds on the outside of the door’s etched glass panes. It took all my guts and strength to fight the fear as I reached to open that door.
There, writhing violently as he hung from the Christmas wreath hook was my once beautiful, fluffy Princie, now a bloody blob. A thick wire had been wound around his neck and looped over the hook.
My sobs intensified when I saw all four of his paws had been chopped off; the bloody stumps gyrating in the air, slinging blood everywhere.
I couldn’t bear to have Princie live with the memories and pain of the merciless assault, although I was left with the memory. As my father drove wildly to the animal hospital with me crying and cradling Princie tightly in a blanket, I knew he had to be put out of his misery. My heart was laden with anguish and agony, he was my baby. He slept with me.
I’ll never forget it. Never.
So, I began with that verbatim ... and then did a fast-forward to 20 years later. My protagonist is twenty years older and living unhappily in Los Angeles.
There we go ... the nightmare got me started. It totaled 3500 words and I submitted it to a Good Housekeeping Magazine Short Story contest. We'll see what happens - results in February.
So that's one way to be inspired ... dreams and nightmares. Another is through the listing of 10 or more words and incorporating them into a story, and another is through ideas that come to mind during your everyday activities.
Ray Bradbury wrote a short story almost every day, he talked about it at a book festival I attended. It was a daily exercise for him. He'd spend hours upon hours at the library, in his day before computers, reading and coming up with all sorts of ideas. And he's considered one of the most prolific short story writers of our time. He's still at it, by the way. In a wheel chair now.
When I was writing articles on assignment for a magazine five or six years ago, I found that once I sat down and began writing, it would flow. But I was a champion at procrastination. I'd dread having to write the article, even though I enjoyed the interviewing and all, but the actual writing sometimes took me right up to the deadline to begin the article, and I'd knock it out in an hour. It's the same with short stories or any other writing ... ya gotta sit down and start writing, not just think about it.
I guess I'm lucky for I never seem to be without inspiration. I believe I could write one a day like Mr. Bradbury, if I were of the mindset. It might be a fun exercise to see what spills onto the paper (or computer screen in my case). Besides, it's almost time again to compile another short story collection ... my third.