Once in a long while, a story will appear as a whole in my mind. Everything seems to be there. No false starts, no dead end subplots, no unsatisfying ending. How does this happen and why?
A recent short story was accepted by the first market I submitted to; in fact, the story was written targeting said market, an anthology. “Ghost in the Machinery” was written over a 3-day stretch but the ideas had been floating in my head for a couple of months.
The kernel came out from a Quirks and Quarks radio segment (link here), a weekly CBC science program hosted by Bob McDonald (sp?). Bob interviewed a materials scientist/researcher who’d adapted a computer search program to sift through reams of published papers, looking for relevant findings which might help their own progress. The program not only highlighted items a human could miss due to the sheer volume of material but also made connections between disparate (on the surface) branches to create a new breakthrough.
I thought it interesting enough to make a brief note and file away in my subconscious, waiting for the other parts of a possible story to pop out. The anthology’s theme announcement was enough to spur me forward. I had the idea; I needed a protagonist, setting, plot and compelling drama.
Spoiler alert: some of the following may reveal more of the story than you’d like, if you haven’t read it. I suggest you proceed to that step and then come back. Machines That Make Us (tychebooks.com)
Now that you’ve finished the tale and returned, welcome back. The protagonist wasn’t a huge stretch; this is science fiction so he or she would be a scientist. Something a bit more interesting that a materials engineer. Hence a SETI researcher; lots of neat stuff still to be plumbed from there. But he needed to be more than interesting because of his work, this was science fiction, he needed dramatic motivation. Pressure. Okay, I’ll load the poor sap with pressure. Scientific research demands results; his so far were uninspiring to the supporters. So he needed financial pressure. The fellow’s now under the gun to produce or the project’s over, no more money. A start; what else could twist the knife in his ribs? Time pressure. Okay, Mr. Brilliant Scientist, you have no more time.
He struggles, using determination, self-sacrifice (his own money) and insight (he’s supposed to be smart and intuitive if he’s any kind of decent scientist). He can’t overcome all of the barriers I’ve created but succeeds in a way he, and hopefully the reader, didn’t anticipate.
Idea, genesis, sudden market announcement which might fit (at least serve as a goal to finish the tale), seat of pants to chair and fingers to keyboard, and presto: completed story.
They don’t all happen this easily. The fully-developed story rarely blooms on the first draft. But sometimes they do. Not due to brilliance of the writer but because the story has been maturing in my subconscious long enough that when I finally commit it to page, it appears as a whole. Got lucky this time. As Sam Goldwyn said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” The more I write, the more of a writer I become.