‘Write a story,’ my mentor said. ‘Today.’
I took a deep breath and picked up my pen. ‘Any suggestions?’
Mentor gave me one of those old-fashioned quizzical looks.
I said, ‘You’re thinking about that ‘finish the story’ flash competition I saw yesterday.’
‘Exactly. Only 400 words. It’s time you put all that wise advice you dish out into practice. This has to be a perfect story-trigger: a ready made character with a situation to be resolved.’
‘Don’t call me hypocrite,’ I muttered, as I pulled the magazine out of the reading pile, and studied the 400 words already written. It had a good hook, and finished on a cliff-hanger that implied a variety of possible outcomes.
Where do I start? With setting I think.
A man visits a woman in a nursing home. Her son’s been missing 48 years, and this man speaks as if he knows something about it.
Well, if the story is present day, the back-story is 1969.
How old are they both, these characters? Initially, she mistakes him for her son, so I need to play around with some numbers, fix his age, then add on at least sixteen years for hers.
She’s alone. Was she a single parent? What’s happened to the boy’s father?
Each answer raises another question. It’s like being given a jigsaw puzzle without a picture for guidance. I match up pieces, and try to guess what the colours mean. There’s a lot of gold, maybe a sunset? But what about the jewel-bright flowers, perhaps it’s an impressionist corn field.
Working up from the bottom straight edge, I need to put a lot of it together before I reach an ivory ankle. That’s what happens when you keep adding pieces, the picture begins to make sense, and once that happens… I’m flying.