Every story, no matter what kind it is, needs a good murder weapon. Even the ones without murder. I know this for a fact, because I spend every night combing the surroundings of my stories to find one. Mostly I’m killing witches. My boys like to hear them die. It’s what they’re waiting for.
These witches all live in the same little creepy house, the one at the end of “The Scary Woods”. They’re mean and disturbed, and they like to kidnap little boys (they’ve also abducted two poodles and a parakeet, which are always in the other cage, in need of rescue) and slowly cook them over their cauldron. My boys are brave, but they’re dumb, too. Night after night, they beg to be led down that dark path with the creaking trees and the moonlit shadows. They know something is lying in wait for them … but, like all good readers and listeners, they have faith that I’m somehow going to find a way to get them out of their predicaments … And entertain them while I do it.
The witches’ tired stories and retreaded kidnappings aren’t important to my sons. They just want to get to the end, to see how one of them bravely kills the witch. And it’s in those moments when I learn to tell stories; when I learn to seek out every nook, cranny, and dark corner of my imaginary world, seeing everything that lays in plain view and everything just out of sight: the shovel by the shed, the broken plate by the sink, the knife on the table with its handle sticking out from beneath a bloodstained dishtowel, and even a football helmet, once.
I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. It works best for me–I like letting my ideas have a free range to roam on, even if sometimes they spit dripping wet cud in my face. But as a storyteller, I’m required to know, with the first word, where I’m headed and what lies in wait when I get there. I’m also required to keep that information from my readers.
God knows I haven’t written enough to offer any sage advice to other rookies, but if I had to, it would be this:
Know your weapon before you begin, and wait until just the right moment to use it. Stephen King once killed a monster with an aspirator. And he knew he was going to. Nicholas Sparks used a notebook to kill women’s hearts all across the world. And he knew he was going to do it with the first shuffling step poor old Noah took towards Allie in that nursing home. In my book, Faith and Comets, I used a device people stare at every day to bring two lovers together. I didn’t take it from behind my back and show it to readers until the end, but I knew before I began what it was and what to do with it.
Know where you’re going before you begin, and then have a lot of fun getting there.