Some rambling writerly (and readerly) thoughts while walking

By Maria Haskins
May 4, 2019 · 914 words · 4 minutes

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From the author: On my walk with the dog this morning, I was thinking about my story "Big Bad", flash fiction in general, and picking story ideas to turn into stories.

(In this post I'll be talking a bit about my flash story "Big Bad". You can read it here at Curious Fictions.)

I do a lot of my story-thinking while walking the dog in the morning. And today I was thinking about flash fiction and picking story ideas to turn into stories. 

When I was younger, I often struggled with which story I should write. I had lots of story seeds and ideas, but I felt as though I had to pick the "right idea" to get down on paper. And since I was scared of picking the "wrong idea", I often ended up paralyzed, not writing anything at all, or never finishing my stories.

A few years ago, I went to one of Cat Rambo's workshop about turning story ideas into stories, and one of the many useful and good things she told us was "anything can become a story". Meaning, you can write about anything, and any idea you have can be turned into a story. As obvious as this sounds, this was sort of revolutionary for me. There wasn't "A Single Right Idea". I could pick ANY idea and turn it into a story. 

Of course, the real work is just that: turning the idea into a story, but this advice helped me focus on the "turning the idea into a story" part, rather than on which idea to pick. This advice has  helped my productivity and has helped me keep on track and finish the stories I write.

This thinking has also helped me a lot when I write flash stories for R.B. Wood's Word Count Podcast. Since 2016 I've been writing pretty much one flash story per month for this podcast. R.B. posts some kind of story prompt, either a word or a phrase or a photo or theme, and then anyone can write a story, record it, and send it in to the podcast. It can't be longer than 7 minutes, so that makes it flash fiction by default. The podcast is a non-paying venue, btw, but it's a great creative outlet, and it has been a fantastic way for me to try new things in writing, and to have a place where I can play around with story ideas, voice, styles, etc., without worrying about anything else than the word count. I don't have a write-club or writer's group, but I'd say this podcast has become my write-club.

Some months I have a hard time coming up with stories for the podcast, other months a story just pops into my head. 

Recently, I posted my story "Big Bad", the story I wrote last year for the podcast, here at Curious Fictions and it was the featured story of the day. (Very cool!) That story was easy to write, but it took me a long time to come up with the idea. I struggled a lot. The theme was "horror of the mind", or psychological horror, and I just couldn't find an idea in my jar of ideas that fit the theme and that I really liked.

What sparked the story was a realization that I wanted to tell a story in second person POV (where the narrator tells the story to another character using the word 'you'), and I also had the idea of it being sort of like a First Person Shooter game. The kind where you're dropped into a setting and have to figure out what's going on, where you are, and what your mission is. (The original title for this story was actually "First Person Shooter".) 

That structure and POV was the idea, and that was an idea I could stick with and develop, pouring the setting and the character and the plot into that structure. All this to say, that sometimes story ideas are "I want to write about dragons that sing opera!", and sometimes a story idea can be "I want to tell a story in second person POV, like a FPS game".

Picking second person POV helped me in profound ways when writing this story, because once I'd written the first few paragraphs with the character waking up in a car wreck and finding a shotgun, I began to think about who the narrator (within the story) was. Who was talking here? And once the idea of who it was clicked into my head, then I also had the ending.

Some people don't like second person POV. They find it jarring and strange, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it's supposed to be. But for me, second person can be a great thing when you tell a story, because who the narrator is can really help give the story its own voice, and give it a strong voice. So even if I don't immediately let the reader know who that narrator is, I find it can help me as a writer by anchoring the narrative and help me write the story.

One great example of second person POV is in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy where parts of the book are told in second person, but we don't find out until later in the series who that narrator is, but OH BOY, when you realize who it is, it really adds a new layer to the story. (That whole trilogy absolutely blew my mind.)

Anyway. Those were some of my rambling writerly (and readerly) thoughts this morning. 

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Maria Haskins

Writer of fantasy, scifi, horror, and things in-between.