Turning an Idea into a Story

by Amy S. Cutler, author of A Shadow of Love

A spooky story that gets your heart racing and your spine tingling

Imagine walking down a street – any street – just taking in the sights and enjoying the day. There are people around, maybe a few dogs, a cat, a mouse heading into a drainage pipe. The scene may be interesting, but most people just pass by, thinking about their day or what they will say to their wife/husband/child/dog when they get home late. A writer thinks about these things too, with a few more thoughts piled on top. Thoughts like, “Boy this day really is beautiful, I wonder what would happen if the sky opened up and aliens took over the street?!” or, “That dog is trying to get to the cat, who is trying to get to the mouse. Why is that happening? What if there is a secret society happening on the other side of that pipe, and only the mouse can fit, but if the dog reaches the pipe first maybe he will shrink down to mouse size and run through, locking the other two out?”

In other words, being a writer is fun. Stories can come from anywhere, and the ideas are almost unstoppable. Taking an abstract idea and creating the first bits of a story around it is the fun part, playing the “what if” game until there is enough juice to fuel the creative fire is a great way to spend any day. The harder part is getting to the center of the idea and discovering if there is enough there to create an actual story, whether it be a short story, novella, or novel.

Sam Rebelein, author of Edenville which will be released in 2023 and The Poorly Made and Other Things in 2024, is a horror and memoir author whose work has appeared in a number of speculative fiction publications, such as Bourbon Penn and Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. He said if he can hear a good enough voice, he knows he can pull a whole story out of an idea. He explains, “If the idea is just an image or scenario, I usually have a much harder time figuring out what’s on the either side of that image or scene. But if I hear a specific voice that has a story to tell, I can typically follow it pretty easily from one sentence to the next.”

If Rebelein hits around five thousand words and feels like the voice he’s following is just revving up, he can tell that he has a longer project. “It tends to be about the size of the backstory for whatever image I have, and the word count. If I have just an image or scene and NOT a voice, that’s when things get out of hand, because then I’m trying to over explain myself to get to know that scene.”

Of course, there are key questions to ask before pulling a story together. For Rebelein, they include what is the urgency and beat of the story, and what is the best way to lay out all of the important information as soon as possible. “For instance, if I have a first-person narrator, how can I get them to reveal their age, gender identity, and name on page one?”

In 2016, Lisa Cron wrote a book titled, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere). It is a writing guide that gives an alternative to the typical pantsing or plotting methods of writing a first draft. In it, she says that a story is about how the things that happen affect someone in the pursuit of a different goal, and how that person changes internally as a result. “What happens in the story is the plot, the surface events of the novel. It is not the same thing as what the story is about. Not by a long shot.” She goes on to explain that the internal change is what the story is actually about, “How your protagonist’s external dilemma – aka the plot – changes her worldview.”

There is endless advice on the best way to write a story: there is pantsing and plotting and anything in between, or outside of those boxes. Whatever your style, it is important to keep the very basic five W’s in mind: who, what, where, why, and when. Of course, the how is of equal importance in storytelling. After the idea is solid and the beginnings of the kinks are worked out, it’s all about sitting down and getting the words out. Writing can be quite cathartic, and when we are lucky, the voices in our heads come out through our words and create a story. As Rebelein says, “When some part of me has something to say, it says it! And I just follow along.”

First draft process

First draft process

by Amy S Cutler


Nicholas Sparks once said, “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” This is so, so true. There is no feeling like getting to the end. Even knowing the hours of revising and editing that is lurking around the corner, finishing the first draft is liberating.

There are SO many ways to tackle a first draft. There are pantsers and plotters and everyone in between. Some people outline and plot out every and turn, organizing either in a document, through a software program just for this purpose, on sticky notes, whatever works for them to get the key points of the story worked out before writing. Other people, the pantsers, just letting the words flow with no formal outline or solid idea of where the story is going.

I fall in between these categories. Usually when I get a story idea, I just sit down and write the first few chapters. After that, I sit back and think about where the story is going, how long it is going to be (many times, I find that I write the idea as a short story and am happy with that), and what I can do to make it better. If I outline too much, I get stuck trying to fit the story into the outline, rather than let it lead me. So often, I have no idea what is going to happen until it happens. I love when a story takes me by surprise, sometimes I cry right along with the characters as the story progresses. Other times, I will write a short story in a few hours, and someone will say to me, “where did that come from?” Truly, I have no idea.

There is software out there that is so helpful in planning a story. I am currently using one for a novel idea, and just the character sheets alone are priceless. The scene and details are much improved because of the software, but I do find that the actual story isn’t getting done, I’ve spent so much time playing with the details and no real time on the actual writing. This is kind of an experiment for me, so I can’t say if I love this way of creating a story or not.

Usually, I like my chapters to be at least a little polished before I move on. I know plenty of writers who say just sit down, write the story, and worry about fixing and editing and polishing for when the story is done. Personally, I find that the longer I work on a chapter, the more ideas I get moving forward, but I really think that a first draft is so personal and unpredictable, that writers should just do what feels good for them in the moment, and go with it. In this case, I believe that any first draft is successful as long as there are words getting down on paper.

As long as my fingers are going clickity clack on the keyboard and words are growing on the page (and not straying to social media or anything.com), I am happy.


About the Book

When Annabelle flees her abusive husband and moves into an 1860’s farmhouse, she soon learns that she is not alone; she shares her home with Christian, the ghost of a poet who killed himself in 1917. Christian, wanting nothing but solitude, tries to scare Annabelle away, but once they come together while she is dreaming, they fall in love. The clock is ticking for Christian, for moments after his hanging his fiance magically cursed his spirit to be stuck on earth for one hundred years, and his time is almost up.

With Annabelle’s ex threatening her and the spirit she has fallen in love with on the verge of disappearing, Annabelle becomes obsessed with staying with Christian, and will do anything to be with him.

Being in love with a ghost is bad enough, but for Annabelle, discovering that her true love will be crossing over at any moment pushes her over the edge of reckless behavior.

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

ISBN-10: 1684339402

ISBN-13: 978-1684339402


Print length: 163 pages

Find out more information about Shadow of Love on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

With love, the crow

by Amy S Cutler

What is this?

Who’s this I see? Walking under my maple tree.


A man, he appears to be all alone, fresh funeral clothes, so far from home.

Head in his hands, a crack in his heart. Emptiness, loneliness, so far apart.

He has staggered here under the full moon, right near the spot she met her doom.

No gun for her, no tears left to cry, just a tiny razor to help her die.


Caw caw, caw caw! I watched her die, called out to her, to say goodbye.

She smiled at me, gave a tiny wave, the final act she would take to her grave.


The man, he sees me in the trees, stops for a moment, falls to his knees.

He cherished her so much, I can hear in his cries, love lost forever, he doesn’t know why.

So full of grief, he cannot see, her hands outstretched, but he sees me.


Why did she do it? He shouts my way, I wish I could tell him, can’t find a way.

I don’t know why she did it, but she’s still here, right behind him, shouting in his ear.

I’m sorry, so sorry, my love, she tries, but he can’t hear her, the whisper slowly dies.


Caw caw, caw caw! I flap my wings, her voice to me sounds like when an angel sings.

How can he not hear, the voice so sweet, she tries but only meets defeat.

A sound so small, he may never hear, what a shame because she is so near.


The man holds his knees and is sobbing now, knows he has to move on, but doesn’t know how.

With his true love gone, he seems lost inside, better to stay here. Better to hide.

He curls up on his side on the soft forest floor, finally falling asleep, he can take no more.

She comes to him then, puts his head on her lap, cuddles up close and watches him nap.


I can feel the sun’s warmth, it is starting to rise, it is time now for her final goodbyes.

When he opens his eyes, for a moment he sees, and the angel before him floats off with the breeze.

He embraces the wind, there is joy on his face, and in a whirlwind of pleasure they share an embrace.


I’m so sorry, she says, and this time he can hear, for when you are a part of the breeze you are impossibly near.


The reasons don’t matter, you left me too soon, and I couldn’t find you in the light of the moon.

He hugged her, and kissed her, and held her so close, only he didn’t realize she was already a ghost.


Caw caw! Caw caw! It is time to go, for someone important is watching the show.

Her granddad is here, to escort her home, once again leaving the man all alone.


But he’s not all alone, I’m high up on my branch, so I go to him, I take a chance.

I softly land, he pats my head, he tells me how his dreams are dead.

I wish I could help him, and maybe I can, for even a crow can be a best friend.

Together we move through the forest, the trees. He smiles at me, and I know he is pleased.


Hope grows where the light can shine, and in my small amount of time,

I’ll love him ‘till it’s time to go. Until the end.


With love, the crow.

Under the Bed – a children’s rhyme

by Amy S Cutler

Have you all heard the tale

of a little girl named Gail

who, asleep in her bed,

she didn’t know to dread

the man under there,

with the long grey hair,

and the skinny white nose,

where his overgrown toes

stuck out a little more

where her bedspread hit the floor.

The nails were so long,

and he hummed a little song,

as he licked her hand,

which had her summer tan.

And she giggled, ‘cause she thought

it was the little dog she bought

at the corner pet store,

but that was all before

she found her dog dead.

He didn’t have his head.

His eyes were gouged out.

He was even missing his snout,

and his paws were bleeding,

his little hair receding

where the bite marks dug into his fur.


Poor little Gail

found her dog and turned so pale.

Knees shaking in dread,

she looked under her bed.

She pulled at her hair

in complete despair.

And she picked at her toes,

and tore at her clothes,

while she rocked on the floor

before she tried the locked door,

and heard the little song,

that now sounded all wrong.

She scratched at her tan,

and realized the man

was there when she bought

the dog that she sought,

but that was before

everything turned to gore,

and he lost his head –

Wait. The man’s still under her bed.

She kicked his huge snout

before passing right out,

her breathing receding,

her memory all in a blur.


And that is the story

Of how little Gail killed him –

The man with the hair and the skinny white nose, and the overgrown toes, who killed her new friend right under her bed, tasting Gail’s tan while licking her hand, and making her giggle while humming a song which is so wrong and now he will never taste anything again.

Please look under your bed.

Not to fill you with dread,

but to have sweet dreams

instead of blood screams.

Which for Gail will always, forever occur.

The Ad-Van-Tures of Johnny Five

by Amy S Cutler

The flight to Virginia was uncomfortable for Brian. After two back surgeries and years of overuse, he was almost always in pain.

It was a quick trip, a flight to Virginia to pick up the van – a 2017 Chevrolet Express 3500, converted by Quigley into a 4×4 – a night at the Marriott on the beach, and drive home. Brian’s wife was with him, not only as a second driver but because hell would freeze over before she let him go to the beach without her. Brian didn’t care about going to the beach. He had been looking for a van just like this one for over a year and could hardly contain himself.

When they finally pulled into the Vans of Great Bridge, the sales team had everything ready to go. Temporary plates, two sets of keys and a few signatures, and Brian and his wife hit the road with Johnny Five.

Johnny Five was the name that Brian gave the van as soon as saw a photo of it on Facebook. Grey, with a top rack and black accents, he named his van after the robot in his favorite childhood movie.

Poor Johnny Five had to sit in the parking garage for the night so that Brian’s wife could enjoy the beach. At barely 45-degrees, it was hard to enjoy anything outdoors, but she wanted to see the ocean and that was her concession for making the trip. It was bad enough for Johnny Five, but worse for Brian, who suffered insomnia, and had to wait up all night to see the van again. One long night and a few hours in the morning of waiting, and Johnny Five, Brian, and his wife set out for New York. “Are you ready for some great Ad-Van-Tures?” Brian asked his wife, as they took off in his new wheels.

Brian was everything that Johnny Five ever wanted in a human. He cared about the dirt on his paint, made sure his tank was full and the tire pressure was perfect, and kept the inside clean during the long drive home.

During a normal drive, Brian’s back would be screaming at him to stop driving after about two hours. It wasn’t until five hours into the trip that Brian noticed his back didn’t hurt. After that, his wife wanted to drive so he decided to lay down in the back to see if the seats were comfortable -and he slept for two hours. Johnny Five seemed to rock him right to sleep.

When they got home later that evening, Brian was pleasantly surprised to find that he was in no pain at all. No backache – even his legs weren’t sore, and he had been sitting for ten hours straight.

He went to bed that night happy as a lark, and he kept his grin right past the ten o’clock news and as the clock ticked past midnight. By around 3 a.m., Brian’s grin was gone. He was tired, yet his insomnia had kicked in. Peaking at his wife, sleeping soundly as usual, he decided to go lay down in the van. What’s the worst that can happen? He thought. Another Ad-Van-Ture.

Well, Brian did sleep that night. As soon as his head hit the grey cloth wrapped armrest, his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep, not waking until after 7 a.m. when his wife texted him asking, “Did you go out for beer and cigarettes again?” It was a joke between them, whenever one thought the other was being a little weird, he or she would say, I’m just going out for beer and cigarettes – I’ll be right back. Sure I will.

But one would never leave the other, they both agreed that they were in this marriage until death.

Brian and his wife had a few Ad-Van-Tures together, mostly day trips, and he did on occasion stumble out of the house and into the vehicle on a sleepless night. He back never hurt during their trips, and Brian did marvel that it would start to ache as soon as he would hop out and shut the door behind him.

The outings were fun for them, and for Johnny Five, who liked to be a part of a family, and was happy to help Brian to feel good and sleep well. Johnny Five was happy, until one day, when Brian’s wife was getting out and was heard saying, just before she slammed the door shut, that perhaps the next time they went to the shore for the day they could take the Subaru.

After that, Johnny Five started to act up. At first it was an alignment, then the tire pressure signal kept dinging, then the motor would stall. Brian was unhappy. Johnny Five was unhappy. But Brian’s wife seemed to be just fine, and Johnny Five saw her smirk a few times while getting in the Subaru.

It had only been a few months after Johnny Five came home with them that the arguing began. It wasn’t always about the van, but it usually started with the van – about how much money it was costing, about how a newly converted van shouldn’t be acting up like this, about how if Brian loved the darn thing so much, he should just go sleep in it every night.

Johnny Five heard all the arguing, as the van was tuned into the frequency of the Smart Hub that Brian and his wife had in the house.


Bright and sunny Saturday mornings in the early fall should always be happy times. This particular Saturday morning was not a happy one, not at all. Brian and his wife were having an argument, and they were doing it while taking a drive, ironically, to see the beautiful views. Johnny Five doesn’t remember what they were arguing about but does remember Brian throwing the shifter into park after quickly pulling off the road, and letting out a howl that would have woken the neighbors had they been parked at home. His wife tried to get out, but Brian grabbed her and pushed her into the back of the van, holding her down in the front row of seats. Then, as calmly as one can appear while committing murder, beat his wife to death.


When Brian started the engine about thirty minutes later, after cleaning himself up and pulling his wife further into the van, securely buckled into the second row of seats, Johnny Five started right up. Purred right to life, as they say.

They went for a long drive, Brian and Johnny Five, as the day wore on and the sun began to set. By the time they pulled into the parking spot at home, it was dark. Brian was feeling more like himself, and he knew that he had to clean up his mess and face the music.

When he looked over the seat to see what he had done to his wife, Brian cried out and fell backward, right into the shifter. Scrambling, looking but not sure he wanted to see, Brian sat in the front row of seats, facing the rear. He peeked over the top of the seat to look over, which reminded him of a game he used to play with his siblings when they were young. He peek-a-booed over the seat and saw that the seat from the second row had half-eaten his wife. She was not only sunken into the seat, but it looked like the upholstery had formed a mouth and was sucking her in.

Suddenly so tired that he couldn’t keep his eyes open, Brian lay down on the front row seat, the one that wasn’t eating his wife, and closed his eyes. He slept like a baby all night long, and when he opened his eyes again the sun was just beginning to peak through the windshield. Slowly, Brian peered around the seat to investigate the back and was not so surprised to find that his wife was almost entirely gone. Only her right foot and left shoulder were still sticking out. The rest of her was … gone.

He noticed something else, as well. There was no blood, not even a metallic scent, not a rot, not a gut. Later, he found two earrings and her wedding band in the cup holder. Other than that, the only noticeable change was that Johnny Five now sported a red, shiny leather-like second row seat. Leather-like is what Brian would call it, not quite cow hide or even synthetic, but most certainly not human. No, not human. That would be gross, unheard of, and suspicious.

Just like that, Brian started telling his friends and family that his wife finally went out for beer and cigarettes for real. The Ad-Van-Tures continued, and Johnny Five ran just perfectly from that day on. Brian ran fine, too. No more back pain, no more insomnia, and no more headaches. Life was great, an Ad-Van-Ture at every turn.