Yesterday I cross-posted a short story I wrote for the Facebook group I am a group administrator for, Writers Unite!. First, I want to thank everyone who read it and shared their kind words about the story. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Now I want to take you into the writing of the story to try and illustrate a creative process for me that’s something I don’t really think about in words too often.
The story ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ came from a prompt. A story prompt can be anything, such as a picture, a topic, or anything chosen. In this case, the prompt was a picture of a front porch swing.
Now with prompts there’s usually other requirements to work within, mainly the length of the story. This is to help writers focus their storytelling skills in order to tell a story that doesn’t wander all over the place or doesn’t go nowhere at all. For me, this front porch swing got me thinking about a song I’d heard years ago, “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis. The song mentions a front porch swing and is about a young woman meeting a young man sitting on the front porch swing of her mother’s house as the song goes. This first meeting gave me the starting point of the song.
Most of the time, coming up with the beginning of a story isn’t hard for me. Occasionally I have a hard time finding where to start the story but in this case, the opening scene you read came to me pretty quickly and I ran with it. And as you can see, I don’t write out a plot or an outline with my fiction. My writer’s brain does not work from outlines and such because that part of my brain thinks that if I outline a story then I’ve written it and that’s it. So I start from ideas and bits and pieces of scenes and lines of dialogue then go from there.
With a short story, one big thing that kept me from writing them for many years was the issue of plot. Then I realized in a short story the plot line has to be linear. By linear I mean the plot has to function as a straight line with no off-shoots, or sub-plots as they’re also known. With this story, my plot line became how do I get these two characters together in the end when one of them is going off to war? Five years pass by in a thousand words or so and I’ve never written anything like that before.
The original mid-section actually got deleted and completely rewritten because in my first draft I had Carolyn’s brother killed in combat and John coming home and he and Carolyn bonding over that. But then I thought that’s been done before and it’s much more complicated to do therefore I deleted it and started over. Then two things brought me to the ending of the story: John realizing he saw no future for himself after the war was over, and Bryce (Carolyn’s brother) talking about a woman who referred to herself and him as ‘The River and the Highway’. Because in a way, John and Carolyn were a river and a highway in that they had their own lives halfway around the world from each other but they felt a connection with each other and Carolyn had promised to wait for John no matter what. So with that, I had the ending in place: that connection even in an uncertain future.
Another thought that came to me with the ending of this story was how soldiers have a tremendous amount of difficulty adjusting to life at home after being away at war for so long. In my story, when it came to the end of war, John just didn’t see a future other than hopefully with Carolyn. Now Carolyn understood that John would need time to adjust and figure out his path in life. Carolyn’s way of thinking is to just take things one day at a time and figure out as you go along, which is how I feel about life in general. That patience and understanding are what bring John and Carolyn together in the end.
To add here: since I didn’t kill off Carolyn’s brother Bryce I will be writing his story for this month’s prompt with my group Writer’s Unite!. It will be how he learns to understand what his lady Christie means when she describes their relationship as the river and the highway. So far all I can tell you is their story is a road-trip with an overnight stay. It’s about two people together with nothing else to do but talk things out. That’s the basic idea anyway. Now all I’ve got to do is just write it and figure out what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it, and work things out.