I’ve shared in other posts how I receive inspiration for a story. The most common way is from an image that pops into my mind. Many times, I can’t remember what I was doing, reading, thinking when the idea came to me. I gave up asking myself, “Where did that come from?”
One story I’m working on right now, Mr. Latham’s Lincoln, is with a prospective agent. The idea came to me over ten years ago. On this one, I remember what I was doing when I received it. I was lying in bed about to go to sleep.
It was the image of a man around sixty years old. He was fumbling to put his cowboy boots on. Then he was fumbling to connect the lights on his flatbed trailer to his truck. He wasn’t drunk or under the influence of anything. He was flustered and in a hurry. It was late at night, after midnight. Don’t ask me how I knew this. I just did.
I fell asleep.
The next night, it was the same image. By that time, I’d learned enough to know I had to go further with it. My question was, “Why is he doing that?” “What’s going on?” My story questions took over and my imagination—the boys in the basement, as James Scott Bell calls them—came alive.
“Why is he doing that?”
The answer: It’s the middle of the night and he—his name is Charlie Latham—receives a phone call from his adult son. The son’s wife’s car was found off the interstate in Oklahoma City. And they cannot find his wife. Charlie is hurrying to get there to help his son and is bringing a flatbed trailer to carry the car back.
More questions told me more about Charlie. He’s a horse rancher in the North Texas town of Justin. He loves Jake, his only child, and his daughter-in-law, Amy. Charlie is a strong Christian, a rock in his church. His wife left him and Jake 30 years earlier for another man. Charlie never remarried and has avoided any serious relationships with a woman like the proverbial plague.
Essentially, that’s all it took to get me started. From there, it was following Charlie around, writing about where he goes and what he does. What happens? What actions does he take? Why does he do one thing and not the other? It’s getting to know Charlie on his terms, on letting him show me who he is through what he thinks, says, and does.
Next came the story questions:
What does he want? What is his goal? He wants to find Amy and restore her to the family.
What obstacles prevent him from achieving his goal? They find evidence Amy planned her disappearance. More questions arise. Why? What is she running from? Or running to? How does he overcome them?
And the big question: Where is God in all this?
Charlie answers these and other questions over the course of the story. This is where writing by the seat of my pants is fun. Without an outline, Charlie is free to go where his heart and the story lead him.
How about you? What inspires your stories?
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