Dissecting Old Bones

Where do story ideas come from? It’s one of the most common questions I, and presumably most genre fiction writers, hear. It’s a legitimate question. I can only speak for myself, but in my case the answer usually comes down to one of two things.

The first is two simple words that form the basis for most speculative fiction: what if? Take any everyday situation or scenario, and ask yourself what if things aren’t quite what they seem, or what you might expect. A young couple sitting on a park bench having a conversation? What if they’re plotting a robbery, or a killing spree? A fisherman sitting on the bank of a peaceful stream? What if an unspeakable monster lurks just below the surface? The possibilities are endless; the trick is to figure out which ones will capture the imagination effectively and become intriguing stories.

The second type of story creation draws inspiration from real events and/or past experiences. In my travels I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of interesting and, in some cases, unexplained things. Some of these turned out to be perfectly mundane and explainable things, but that doesn’t necessarily take them off the table as good story ideas. As for the rest, the ones that defy reason or logic, well… those are even better story fodder.

This is all well and good, but broad-stroke generalities aren’t nearly as interesting as specific examples, right? So, since my first collection of horror stories, Old Bones, comes out later this year, I thought I would do a short series of entries here that takes a look at some of the stories contained therein and where they came from.

Today we’ll look at a tale called Fashionably Late. It’s the story of a young married couple attending a corporate Halloween costume party. This was one of those “what if” scenarios where I found myself thinking about how things might play out if the costumes the people at the party wore weren’t actually costumes at all. What would you do if you walked into a room filled with vampires and werewolves and such, only to discover these were real monsters around you? How long before they discovered you weren’t actually one of them? How would they react? The characters were loosely based on a real couple I know (who were pleased to learn they’d inspired this piece), which added an element of realism and believability. To the best of my knowledge nothing like this ever actually happened to the real couple, but I thought about how they might handle it if it had. Here’s a short excerpt:

Attention to detail was one thing, but the closer he examined some of the costumes the more he was convinced there was more to them than just extreme dedication to detail. The wiggling ears on the werewolf, the twitching antennae on the alien mutant, even the pulsing gills on the swamp creature. Somewhere in the back of his mind he questioned how a creature with gills could breathe out of the water, which made him aware that he hadn’t been thinking of the people in the room as his co-workers in costumes. Subtly, he crept closer to take a better look at the beast he’d seen eating the arm earlier, and it was only when he saw a small cluster of fleas leaping around near the neck and back that he came to the sudden, jarring conclusion that it was no costume. Realization dawned on him, creeping up from his subconscious with increasingly chilling clarity: these weren’t intricately detailed costumes. At least some of these people weren’t people at all. This was real, and he was in serious trouble.

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for the creative process I’ll continue to feature the back stories from Old Bones here as we wend our way toward its release. To receive these posts directly to your inbox, sign up at my contact page and you’ll be the first to know whenever I add new content.

Thanks for reading and following along with me. Until next time!

-JP

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