Where did my science-fiction short story & its sequel ― Poof! and Poof! 02: Princess ― come from?
A cute-as-a-button four-year-old girl. A jellybean-shaped alien gizmo. A reoccurring vortex into which anything as small as a grasshopper or as vast as a city might disappear, sucked in like a dust bunny vacuumed up by a Hoover.
All three of these things popped into my head a couple weeks or so ago while I was reading a classic science fiction short story from the 1950s. The story contained nothing remotely like them, but you know how writing works ― a little inspiration and your imagination goes wild; your muse starts flinging words or phrases or images at you. No images for me right then, just two separate story prompts. The first: a little girl finds an alien gizmo. The second: A small, swirling vortex with a man inside, clinging to the edges by his fingertips. Nothing more came to me, so I filed them way for future reference.
Then, a few days later, I was working on my newest crime fiction novel, which has only a first chapter so far. At the end of the last scene, a new character arrives ― a medical examiner who is into the 1960s hippie look. Among other things, she drives an old VW Beetle and tie-dyes her own shirts.
And as I read it, I didn't see her, I saw a little bitty girl with blonde curls, wearing a grownup's orange, tie-dyed t-shirt with a purple peace symbol on the front, so big on her that she had to keep hitching it up to avoid tripping over it. She was standing in front of a swirling vortex ― a frightening hole-in-the-air ― watching curiously as a desperate man inside tried to hang on.
Not two separate stories after all.
I wrote Poof! in a few days. But I had so many leftover ideas, I just had to do a sequel, which took more like a couple weeks. Now I'm thinking that doing another sequel ― focusing on the suspicions of police detective Ryan Lee and the further disappearances caused by the reappearing vortex ― would enable me to eventually combine all three phases of the story into a novella.
And it all began when I was reading those old sci-fi stories.
Reading, reading, and more reading. It's not always easy to find the time, but it's still the best and easiest way for a writer to feed their imagination until it bulks up like The Hulk.
I know, we've all heard the quote from Stephen King about reading and writing, and if you don't do the former, you can't do the latter, yadda, yadda, and there have been times when I was so overwhelmed with work and taking care of my house/property, shopping, and of course, CATS, that I felt like saying, Hey, Steve, easy for you to say -- I'll bet you don't have to waste your time and energy scrubbing the toilet. Just for a second. No more than that. Because, after all, he is my favorite author, his MISERY inspired me to try writing my first novel, and I have a warm place in my heart for him. He rocks.
Plus, he's right, of course. Reading is the fuel that feeds the fire.
Anyway, back to how I wrote my story. Basically, the little girl in the story pretty much took over, writing herself, making her less the little innocent I originally pictured and more of an accomplice to the alien behind the everything-gobbling vortex. Such a tiny, dimpled cutie-pie, causing disaster wherever she goes.
So, a discovery for me. If your character knows who and what they are (even if they're so little that they sleep with a Spongebob Squarepants nightlight), let them run with it and see where it leads. That's what I did this time, and I'm extremely happy with the way it turned out.
By the way, If you haven't read Poof! or Poof 02: Princess, just click on the "My Short Stories" tab above. And if you'd like to read my crime thriller chapter with, yes, the hippiefied medical examiner,you can read that by clicking on the "Nails, newest crime thriller" tab.
Oh, and I actually OWN that orange, tie-dyed t-shirt, although the peace symbol is white rather than gaudy purple. I didn't tie-dye it myself, however. I have no clue how to do that, and let's face it, I'm too lazy anyway. I just bought it off the rack last summer. But, given that it helped inspire my favorite piece of writing (ok, a writer's newest is always their favorite, their baby, that's true), it's now my favorite t-shirt. Yes, I like it even more than the shirt with the gargoyle on the front. ;-}