Sunday, December 19, 2010

1 + 1 + 1 = Story

By Pat Cunningham

(Note: this post originally appeared on Shapeshifter Seductions back in January 2010. The book in question, under the title "Belonging," was recently accepted by Siren. That's how long it takes me to write something. E-pub date is tentatively scheduled for May 2011. In the meantime, check out the action with the Guts and Butts Gazette over on It's a howl!)

I can’t remember the book or the author now – it was either Damon Knight or Ben Bova, I was writing SF then – but one of the many how-to-write texts I studied in my early writing years offered this advice: for a good story, you need more than one idea. A single idea is a sketch, a scene, a vignette. A story needs at least two ideas to play off each other. Not too many or the story gets muddled – I’m looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – but enough to provide weight and depth, and give the characters, and the readers, something to sink their teeth into.

I got to test this theory recently when I was inspired by a TV show and started fiddling with plots. I found several ideas that fit together and gave me plenty of grist to put my characters through all kinds of angsty hell. Isn’t that’s why we write in the first place?

Idea #1 – a couple months back I guest-blogged on the bizarre ideas my mind keeps throwing at me, like where a shapeshifter’s clothes go when they change and would a vampire’s fangs be considered concealed weapons by the police. One question dealt with a vampire’s sex drive; can the undead get it up? This led to the theory fresh blood in a vampire’s veins makes them horny, and sooner or later some enterprising brothel owner would catch on. Originally I’d planned to write about a prostitute and the vampire she falls in love with, but … well, you’ll see in a minute.

Idea #2 – I try to write every day. When I don’t work on a WIP, I jot a few lines in a notebook. Sometimes it’s flash, sometimes it’s a scene or a character sketch or a dialogue exchange. Recently what came out of my pen was a bit about a human who’d been raised by vampires. That’s not a story by itself, but if added to something else …

Idea #3 – okay, this one’s embarrassing. It stems from that TV show, and the fan fiction that’s grown up around it. I’m familiar with fanfic – I’m a Trekkie from way back – as well as the interesting phenomenon known as slash. So I went poking around on a fanfic site, and – well, as the pistol-packin’ preacher said, Holy shoot. I don’t remember Trek slash being quite that graphic. There was stuff on there that would make Ellora’s Cave editors blush. And so MUCH of it! You wonder where these guys find time to actually fight evil. Inspired, as it were, by this, I decided to try my hand at a M/M story. I couldn’t use the TV characters, of course, but there’s nothing to stop me from “casting” the actors in the roles. I find it’s easy writing dialogue when you can hear a particular voice. (I put Stone Cold Steve Austin in a novel once and his dialogue just flowed. Not bad for a wrestler.)

Adding the three ideas together, I had my plot and characters: a young human man, raised by a nest of vampires, who becomes a prostitute in a bat brothel and the object of affection of one of his male vampire clients. Both come with hefty baggage, especially the vamp (idea #4, which I can’t divulge because it’s a plot twist) which they have to wade through to reach their HEA.

None of these ideas could really sustain a full story, let alone a novel, on their own. Put ‘em together, though, and I just might have something. I’m still working on the draft. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

By the way, I’m not going to say which TV show it is. Bad enough I start laughing whenever the one actor comes on screen because I can’t help thinking, “Hey, it’s the man ho.” I don’t need any defamation lawsuits. Writing as a profession is risky enough.


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, I think that's one of the reason's I love writing novels... putting all those intriguing ideas together.

I know what you mean about 'hearing voices'... though usually, my heroines and heroes have their own unique voice... unless, I write a Flash about Adrian Paul as the Highlander.

CONGRATS! On your upcoming, if down the pike release!

Pat C. said...

I just posted over on Shapeshifter Seductions and I've directed any interested parties over here so they don't have to go digging through the archives. Maybe we can get some extra traffic on this end.

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, great idea. I wish I had time to develop this blog site. For example, having guest authors that have paranormal/magic elements in their novels, or want to blog about those topics. As well, as doing that myself... but...