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

ASIN: ‎B09NXMRHV2

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.