Friday, May 8, 2009

Genesis of a short story: Baba Yaga vs. the Nazi Horde!


Like all writers, I'm often asked that most dreaded of conversational questions: "So... where do you get your ideas?"

It's difficult sometimes to explain to people that coming up with the ideas isn't the hard part - in fact, I'm finding that the more I write, the more ideas I seem to have. Nature, it's been said, abhors a vacuum, and that definitely seems to be the case when it comes to ideas - it's like fresh ones flow in to fill up the spaces left-over as soon as I finish a new piece. It's cool...

Just yesterday, I had an idea for a short story, which I've already finished. I'll run it past my amazing and wonderful review readers to see if it's any good - I really can't tell half the time any more. (My working title is "Baba Yaga vs. The Nazi Horde!". Don't worry - I'll change it before I send it out.)

The cool thing is that, due to the rapidity of the concept and writing process (concept to finished first draft in less than 48 hours is really fast for me), I was able for the first time in a while to actually watch all the pieces fall into place, like building blocks. Or Legos. So, I've decided to document how it happened, just in case it helps someone out there struggling with their own creativity issues.

Anyone who's been reading my posts for the last few months knows that I'm out of work right now. This leaves me time for my favorite past-time: catching movies I'd otherwise miss at my local second run dollar theater.

Also, dollar movies are about all I can afford to do right now. That and go to the library. And fret over my unanswered job applications. Sigh.



The other day, I went to see the WWII movie Defiance, starring Daniel Craig. the movie's about Jewish partisans in WWII Belarus, and was quite entertaining.

I also, quite coincidentally, have always been fascinated with the folklore character Baba Yaga, the archetypal witch/crone fairy tale character and prototype for just about every "mean old witch in a gingerbread house." According to legend, Baba Yaga, flies through the air on an enormous mortar and pestle, and lives in a wooden hut that stands on chicken legs. Oh, and she's also a cannibal.

Now, I've been trying to work this myth into one of my stories for years, you have to understand, but I mean, come on. How many stories are actually better with a mortar-and-pestal-riding witch and her dancing, chicken-legged house? Who is also a cannibal? It's a tough sell.

Cut to the other day. I'm sitting in the theater. Daniel Craig's running around shooting Nazis with a MP40 machine gun. People are tossing hand grenades. There are tanks.

"Hmmmm..." I say in my head. "I wonder what would happen if ol' Daniel there got lost in the woods, Hansel and Gretel style, and accidentally ran across someone like, oh, say, Baba Yaga?"

And bam... just like that, I had a story seed. A little watering (via my patented conscious/subconscious 'fret over it' process), and it opened its dark petals, becoming... well... "Baba Yaga vs. the Nazi Horde!"

Of course, not all of my stories are so easy. I'm *still* working on the novella set in Kirin's world, and I've had my fair share of manuscripts that seemed intriguing when I began, only to end up abandoned in despair, half-done, two weeks later. Most will never be picked up again, but at least I wrote enough of them down to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they didn't work and could be safely left beside the road.

So, in closing... If you're a writer, frustrated by a lingering inability to finish projects (I've been there, believe me), I'll say again what I've been saying all along:

  • Start your day writing, and write as long as possible right up to the time you have to leave for work. Seriously... every day. Or at least Mon.-Fri. Saturday is a bonus, and give yourself a day off on Sunday. You'll need time, after all for:
  • Pay attention to all the things around you - as my Baba Yaga story shows, everything that happens to you can, when combined with the million odd happens of everyday life, become a story seed.
  • And... above all else... No matter how bad the story seems, finish it whenever possible and get the damn thing out of your head. Don't worry if it's "a masterpiece" or even "good" - any mechanical or technical issues can easily be fixed in the editing process or through a writer's group, and I promise you... absolutely promise you... that as you clear out the dusty, cobwebbed ideas that have been growing mold up in your mental attic for the last decade or two, other, better ones will flow in!
OK, now go and write something.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you are unemployed Mr. Cook. Yet another victim of Obama's crap economy. :(