March Author Series #14: Top Five Story Beginnings by Tori L. Ridgewood
As you might guess, some of us writerly folk get our inspirations from a myriad of things. Take a look at some of Tori L. Ridgewood's inspirations. Can you relate to these?
Top Five Story Beginnings
(in no particular order)
I see what you did there...
This one time, at band camp...
Some of my stories come out of dreams. I dream very vividly, and I am a lucid dreamer. It’s difficult to prove, but I can read in my dreams, and control them. It’s rather addicting, actually. I have recurring visions while I sleep, delightful mysteries and intrigues that draw me along. For example, about a year ago I had a magnificent epic involving teenagers who stumbled upon a wizard’s staff which changed them all into different kinds of fae: a nymph, a mermaid, an elf, and a gnome. They were only in their fae forms during the dark, changing back by dawn. For a few joyous days, they used their gifts to play pranks on the general populace and steal things, under the leadership of the girl who became the gnome. And then three of the four are kidnapped by fae regulators, who didn’t appreciate the adventure. The girl who is the gnome cannot change back without the others, and they are also stuck. With the help of a sympathetic creature, the girl learns that she has three days to find them, until the full moon. If she can’t rescue them by that time, they will be trapped in the fae world forever.
I don’t always write dreams like this one down, unfortunately, but I do try. The flavour always stays with me.
I have read in various articles and heard at various workshops over time that one of the great ways to begin a story is to ask the question, “What If?” This is how I began the Talbot Trilogy (currently in progress), and its prequel novella, “Mist and Midnight” (Midnight Thirsts Anthology, Melange Books) I think about the unusual and absurd events in our world, and consider alternate explanations or causes for the phenomenon. A street collapses in a sleepy little old mining town -- was it simply that the old mine supports gave way, or is something darker happening? What if the street collapsed because something older, imbued with malevolent magick, was trying to get free? And if so, who or what put him there? And what happens when he escapes? The story grows from the answers.
Another example is “A Living Specimen”, soon to be published in Midnight Thirsts 2, (Melange Books). In that case, it was a picture shown to me by my husband that made me immediately ask the question. The picture, based on the internet meme “what you see it”, shows a tasteful living room with an incredibly creepy face under a couch cushion. Who is it? Why is he there? What if he’s there for a reason?
I find asking “what if” is incredibly freeing. It’s one of the essentials of exploring a narrative. Tonight, as I write this, the lightning is flashing and thunder is rumbling for the third night in a row. My eleven-year-old son said to me earlier, grinning delightedly, “What if this is the beginning of an alien invasion?” Oh, the stories that could begin right there! And yes, it’s been done in movie after movie (the arrival of extraterrestrials announced by storm-like activity), but that’s all right. Because our story would be different.
And that leads me to...
3) I see what you did there...
Sometimes, I write in response to someone else’s narrative. For example, my current work in progress, The Talbot Trilogy (Wind and Shadow, Blood and Fire, Stone and Wood) is my answer to some of the ideas or questions posed in the Twilight series. I enjoy Stephen King, Anne Rice, Tara Fox Hall, John Steiner -- each take on the vampire mythology is at once reflective and unique. For the longest time, I worried that my interpretation would not be as refreshing and different as I would like. The worst that I could feel is that someone sees me writing over again what has been written before. And yet writing in response to someone else’s work is, in a way, a compliment. A discourse on the nature of the thing. My vampires do not glitter, but neither do they heal perfectly when injured. And the question of what happens to the human soul when an individual is made a creature of the night -- I am eager to explore that one.
I am inspired by the tapestry of the narrative around me, and I wish for my writing to fit as a glittering thread within it.
4) This one time, at band camp...
Yes, I actually went to band camp! Although I have not yet written any stories based on this experience, I do believe that writing what I know in combination with my imagination produces unforgettable stories.
“Telltale Signs” (Spellbound 2011 Anthology, Melange Books) is a good example of writing from experience, in combination with fantasy. The main setting of the story is a haunted museum, closely based on a real museum in my town. I have never experienced paranormal activity in the building, but I have spoken with many who have. I have thought about those stories, and wondered whether I would experience the same. Coward that I am, rather than offering to spend the night in the old mansion as an experiment, I wrote a first-person present-tense narrative, using my own experience as a museum employee. The result was incredibly pleasing -- I wrote most of it over two days and a night, swept along in the story.
5) Submissions Needed!
To tell you the truth, sometimes it feels as though the story has chosen me, or is telling itself to me, instead of the other way around.
Nothing happens in a vacuum; everything has an origin. Much of the time, I dream of ideas, or consider what-if scenarios, or combine these in some way with my own experience, just for fun.
But since I finished “Mist and Midnight” in 2010, I have discovered that perusing the submission lists for various publishers definitely gets the gears turning! “Telltale Signs” was written in response to a call for submissions, as were “A Living Specimen”, and “Tabitha’s Solution” (soon to be published in Having My Baby Anthology, Melange Books); in addition, I am working on an alternate history horror story based on the Salem witch trials, and a second baby story, all inspired from the anthology requirement listings. I find that sometimes it helps to have a target in mind. This enables me to focus on bringing together my imagination, life / work experiences of my own or others, and branch out by asking “what if?”, to craft a story that will draw in my readers.
Tori L. Ridgewood is a full-time secondary school teacher, a mother, a partner, and a writer and reader of all things fiction and non-fiction. Her published works include “Mist and Midnight” (Midnight Thirsts, 2011), “Telltale Signs” (Spellbound 2011), “A Living Specimen” (Midnight Thirsts 2, 2012), and “Tabitha’s Solution” (Having My Baby, tbd). Tori enjoys writing plays for her students, watching thunderstorms, walking her dog, needlework (quilting, cross-stitching, and embroidery), collecting miniature furniture, traveling, and watching movies. Currently working on a trilogy of adult vampire novels to follow “Mist and Midnight”, Tori also plans to write young adult fiction in the near future.