You start out with an idea (and where does it come from? A topic for another day…). It’s a small kernel, something simple. But how does it grow, and just how do you take an idea from a kernel to an actual story?
Today, I thought I’d share how I did just that for Overtaken . In this case, the kernel was very simple:
There ought to be a boxer in it.
He’s in a worn-down old gym. It’s in the basement. I can see grime on the small, rectangular windows, the bare ceilings, the brick walls, the clutter in one corner.
Where does this setting come from?
I have no idea, really, but I’m a visual kind of writer and settings tend to spring to mind fully formed. Pretty useful, eh?
All right then, so there’s a boxer guy and a gym, now what? Well, there also needs to be agony and ecstasy in there, because that’s where I plan to send the story when it’s done.
So, agony, ecstasy, and a boxer…
If I sort of squint and look at him sideways, I can see the hero. His desires are “out of the norm”, too violent, and he doesn’t like that. Doesn’t like it so much that he tries to bury it deep down and pretend it doesn’t exist.
It’s not really working.
But what is a hero without a heroine? There’s got to be romance in there–I’m a sucker for it, and this is my story. I need a woman.
Here a more structured writer would no doubt plan the story out. Me, not so much. Instead, I write a little snippet where my boxer guy (still unnamed) spars with a friend in that run-down gym where he (I discover) coaches teenagers. He spots someone watching them, a woman.
It’s the cleaning lady.
She looks turned on.
This pisses him off.
I rather like this lady. I’m already getting flashes of her self-assurance and courage, and a no-nonsense attitude that’s put more than one puffed-up boxer in his place. But there’s not really much conflict yet. The boxer guy is annoyed… but not enough to do anything about it.
Another snippet written—the Meet. They talk! He’s suspicious. She’s pretend-wide-eyed.
It’s quite amusing really, if I do say so myself.
It still doesn’t seem to have enough ‘oomph’.
Boxer guy leaves—what’s to stop him? She asks him out… but he doesn’t listen. He’s way too stubborn, I’ve discovered, and not about to just let go of his inner angst just like that, not for some stranger.
Change of tack—let’s make it a little more dramatic.
(This is where, if I was one of those Stephen King-like writers in The Shining or something, I’d rip the page out of my typewriter and put in a fresh sheet. Alas, I’m in the computer era, and simply insert a page break in Word.)
I start back writing. Boxer guy is coming out of the shower now and when he leaves the dressing room he meets—ah ha!—his former girlfriend.
The woman he’s trying to forget.
I don’t have to squint anymore to see my guy (that sparring match really got him into the light), and the girl is the kind to stare me right in the eye, with her tight jeans and determined (and a little scared) smile.
She wants something.
It’s my guy.
The scene goes on… Sparks fly. They talk/spar. The scene unfolds… Not precisely in a flow of perfect prose, needless to say, but I push and prod the characters to yank truth and honesty out of each other. New Girl is really helpful here—she looks like a winner. And then… they end up in the utility closet.
How did that happen?
I didn’t really plan it, but he can’t get rid of her without talking, and it’s handy. I can see the gym, after all, and the brick walls in the corridor they’re in, the painted door behind them… They’re going to go beyond talking, and this is the place to do it. Even if it’s crammed, unromantic, and people pass by the door all the time.
And once they’re in there, it fits. The story unfolds…
And that is how you end up with sex in a utility closet.
One final note about the cleaning lady and the sparring match. What happened to them?
Well… nothing. They didn’t make it into the story. Maybe the next one, eh? But still, those snippets weren’t for nothing, because the story outlined above, you’ll note, is missing something. Or at least if you’ve read Overtaken, you know it starts not with a shower, but with her watching him from the crowd during a match. Getting turned on, just like my anonymous cleaning lady.
He still doesn’t like it.
But I do—it fits perfectly with the story, and it gives me an opportunity to set up my heroine’s story problem, so I recycle the idea, if not the scene itself, and plunge my characters into it.
Liz and John.
The names popped up somewhere in that closet.