Whispers and Running Starts

For me, the hardest part of any story is figuring out where to begin.

I think everything you write, whether it be a short story or a novel or even a chapter of a novel, has multiple points of entry. The challenge is finding that introductory sweet spot that both grabs the reader and gives you a running start into the rest of the tale.

It’s hard. And in my experience, it takes a bit of time to get there.

Even if I know what a story is about, I have to let it cook on some back burner in my brain before I can write it down. I’m usually not thinking about some plot point or trying to figure out the twist. I’m waiting on one of the characters to say something that piques my interest.

It’s often a piece of dialogue. Sometimes it’s the opening line. But it almost always tells me a little bit about the person who’s talking.

A good example of this came a couple months back when I wrote a piece for the Cafe called “Neighborhood Watch.” Our writing prompt was a painting, and I honestly had no idea what kind of story I would write.

I moped around for a while and wondered what the drop-dead date was for telling the editors I would not be contributing that week. Then, out of the blue, some guy in my head whispered, “I’ve always liked watching my neighbors.”

(And no, it wasn’t my own voice. As far as I can tell, all of my neighbors have really thick curtains.)

The first thing I thought when I heard that line was that it sounded kind of pervy. I still think it does. But that singular thought launched an internal discussion between me and this guy during which he tried to justify his actions and explain how it didn’t make him a degenerate.

It was honestly a lot of fun, and there were complete sections of that discussion that went directly into the story. But one of the most important takeaways was that I got a sense of this guy’s character.

There were a lot of things wrong with him, even though he was completely oblivious to it. He was neither likable or reliable, and he was a world-class bigot, but there was still something interesting about him.

He had a viewpoint all his own that allowed him to justify his obsessive, antisocial behavior, and it was intriguing enough to build a story around. So off we went together. 

As far as I can tell, this seems to be my creative process. Large amounts of freak out and brooding, followed by thinly-veiled schizophrenia and frenzied writing. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating. I both love and hate it.

But once I hear the voices, I’m good to go.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

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