A story is a unique creature. It starts as something small, tiny, and then slowly builds up in a writer’s mind. It is nourished by character and research until it is born onto paper and sent out into the world as a book. I want you to come along with me on the journey of a story.
Part One: The Idea
|an ancient cistern|
Writers are often asked where their ideas come from. I was once told that I was twisted and then got asked how I came up with the story and the characters. To be honest, every writer is different. From what I saw on an interview J.K. Rowling was sitting on a train and saw Harry Potter walk by. Her own character strolled past her dressed in full Hogwarts uniform. I’m told Stephen King likes to ask the “what if” question. What if there was a demon dog? So I 100% can’t tell you what everyone else does.
For me an idea can start with a TV show, a movie, a song, something someone says, or a random thought that just appears out of nowhere. Two days ago a snow plow discovered a body in a snow bank – story idea. Today I was joking with an ex-cop about his smoking habit. He said it was either smoke or kill a kid. I said, “you should know how to get away with it.” He coolly returned with, “well they haven’t found the first two.” – Story idea.
A couple of months ago I got the idea for a new mystery thriller that would put together my love of the genre along with my career as a chef.
My wife got a side job of taking care of and cleaning out houses that had been foreclosed on. We had to drive forty minutes out of town to a house that had been empty for almost a year. The moment we pulled into the driveway an idea started to erupt inside my brain. The grass of the lawn had grown so tall that it was too heavy to stand up straight. There were still paper ghosts tied onto the evergreens making a full square around the property left over from last year’s Halloween. My wife took out the keys and let us in. She had already been there with a locksmith to change the locks on the house. There were piles of shoes inside the door. The kitchen counter, dining table, and bedroom floors were covered in family items as if the family who had lived there needed to get out quickly. My head started spinning with ideas.
Who were they?
Where did they go?
|the cistern wall is on the right with a wood |
ladder attached to the side
With flashlights in hand we headed down to the basement. Again there were other belongings. There were kids games and clothes and papers everywhere. Then we walked into the furnace room. There were a lot more things on the floor and up on a shelf on one wall. There was an aquarium, a guitar case, baby toys, some tools, and lots of garbage. I looked to my right and there was a concrete wall behind the furnace. It was a wall that only went seven feet up from the floor instead of the ten feet to the floor of the main floor. Why was there a wall that only went seven feet up? Why did that wall extend in two different directions? I followed the wall around to a second corner. My wall had three walls of its own. And a wooden ladder leading to the top.
|What would I find inside?|
I have a very active imagination along with a fear from childhood of dark spaces. Here I was standing between the concrete outside wall and a seven foot concrete wall with a door at one end and stairs leading up. I called my wife over to the corner to watch my back. I had to go up that ladder. Something in me had to look. I climbed the ladder and there on top was an opening. I looked in with my flashlight, not knowing what to expect. A body, the family, a horde of zombies. What I saw was the flash back from water’s surface and the smell of staleness.
|just imagine what could reach up |
from the darkness of the cistern
Research later helped to discover that this was a cistern. A cistern is: a receptacle for holding water or other liquid, especially a tank for catching rain water. Here in Saskatchewan where it is usually dry this was an important thing. Cistern’s now are made of plastic or other materials and held outside, but some older houses did have them built inside the basement. The only problem was that they eventually leaked. (Special Note: Every time you go to the bathroom you sit in front of a cistern-the toilet water tank) Cisterns date back to the fourth millennium BC.
|the more modern cistern as found outside|
What if this concrete room was used for something else? Something heinous? What would it be used for? Who would be the characters to find it?