How do you even begin to write a story? All I can tell you is what works for me. Just today, for example, my publisher asked me to write a short story for inclusion in an anthology, of which the details don’t matter.
Start at the end, or end at the beginning. As long as there’s a decent middle, this thing will wrap itself up nicely regardless of chronology. You’ll find yourself at the END at precisely the most opportune time.
Before long, you’ll stop asking questions, cease pulling it to pieces, and find yourself lost in your own pen (or i-pad, being that it’s no longer 1833). You’ll stop worrying about the mechanics of the thing and SUDDENLY….you realise you’re finished.
Consequently, I reckoned it might be nice to take you along for a ride in my little thought-process vehicle as I write the thing.
My brief is this: When? 1910. Who? Well, my protagonist has to be a chick and she has to be aged 20. (Oh – and she also has to bump someone off).
Niiiice: the black-and-white era means that my story can remain uncomplicated by unrealistic forensic technology and computers beeping EVERY goddamn time they get a DNA MATCH within three seconds of the sample being run through the database. (Note to CSI producers – you know what I’m talking about – knock it off).
Whilst I forbid myself from getting bogged down with tiny weeny particulars, I never quite know how things are going to turn out until I start writing – hell, I don’t even know what I’m THINKING until my fingertips spell it out for me onto whatever device (or quill and parchment) is nearest at that particular moment. And before too long, there comes another moment when everything just starts to flow and fit.
First: the name. Joan? Margaret? Nah.
(I did also mess around with a Beryl and an Enid, but quickly binned them off because I just wasn’t…y’know – feelin’ it). Hmmmm…..EVIE! Yes: Evie. Perfect. And now – to see how her story evolves.
Here’s Evie. She’s 20. It’s 1910. I SERIOUSLY cannot be arsed dreaming up creative ways to crowbar-in the inconsequential specifics so I’ll just state them as FACT. Just go with it. You can imagine her for yourself anyway. That image in your mind’s eye right now? THAT’S her; the details don’t matter.
She’s a bit of alright, don’t ya think? I mean – for a lass of that age to be out on the streets alone, she HAS to be a bit of alright or nobody would want to buy her wares. (Wait – did I not already mention her habitual hookery?)
Let’s start again: It’s 1910. We meet Evie, a 20-year-old prostitute (don’t feel sorry for her – she’s a killer, remember? She’s probably a slut, too – it’s right there in the job description. Although….she has to make money SOMEHOW, I guess. OK – let’s not be too harsh on her).
She kills a dude (except he probably wouldn’t have been called a dude back in 1910, but whatever). He’s a punter – and the set-up is the obvious guy-treats-hooker-like-shit-hooker-gets-revenge one.
Keep reading. You still with me? Good.
So Evie’s with this bloke – he’s had her before. MINTED, he is. Absolutely MINTED – he always seems to have his entire fortune upon his person, being that his wallet is two-planks thick. She and he are in a bedroom. (Well – I say bedroom, it’s more of a skanky cupboard at the back of an old Edwardian boozer). There’s a blanket-covered crate thing pretending to be a bed, so technically it’s a bedroom, ok? Stay with me, people.
He asks her to try something new. Demands it, in fact. For the purposes of the story, it doesn’t matter what IT is, that’d just be word-count padding. In any case, she doesn’t fancy it, so he flips his lid.
“You WILL do it”, he yells, as he kicks something irrelevant across the room.
She has a plan. And at this stage, this plan of hers comprises the simple “no” approach. It rarely works, but she’s gonna try anyway.
“On yer bike, guv’nor” she says. (I’ve watched “Oliver” more than once – does it show?)
He forces himself on her, and we’re appalled. So, now, we’re WITH her. We ARE her. We forget our prejudices about her dodgy career choice, and we want him OFF us. He has to die.
We ARE her.
So – how do we do it? Let’s look around the room. As he slaps us across alternate cheeks, our rapidly-flipping head allows us to see various objects dotted around the room. But we’re STUCK. He’s ON us. He’s heavier and stronger than we are – fucker. SHIT! How are we gonna get out of this?
OK – deep breath. The easiest way out would be to simply allow him to do what he wanted to do in the first place. But we can guess that he’s already past that point – doesn’t WANT it any more. He’s ANGRY now.
We can’t throttle the bastard – we’re too weak. Also: tiny hands, damnit. We could reach for the blunt object (doesn’t matter what) that’s at fingertip-reach upon a neighbouring crate. We might consider the SHARP object that we’ve rather astutely stashed within our undies earlier that day just in case it ever came to this. We pick one – and, despite our supposed fairer-sex weakness, we succeed. The details don’t matter.
Aaaaand he’s OUT. We’ve taken him out. He’s not restin’, not stunned. He is no more. Murder, manslaughter – you decide.
Evie goes home to her London flat (we don’t need the “journey” section) and pops into the kitchen to make a sweet, calming cuppa. She swigs – just the once.
In 1910, our female protagonist, aged 20, takes the money she’d emptied from her would-be-killer’s wallet not ten minutes ago. She walks into the only other room in this, her London flat – and stuffs it under a cot mattress.
“This is for you”, she says as her eyes bleed saline onto her baby’s sleeping eyelids.
“There was nothing else I could do….but this is for you”.
Evie kisses her tainted finger to enable transference of lip-to-cheek.
“You can’t know how. You won’t know why. The details don’t matter”.