Last Sunday, my Oldest Son and I were discussing Easter. I told him how I’ve long had the image in my head of the soldiers who guarded Jesus’s tomb. What did they see that Easter morning? I told my son that some day I hope to write a story answering that question.
My son is also a writer (and an accountant, like his mother!) A couple of my children write fiction and one focuses on scientific journals. I’m very blessed to have children who share my interest writing. There’s always someone with whom to bounce ideas off of and talk about story structure. That Sunday, my son challenged me to write that story. He would also write something with that same premise. We would each title our work “Guard Duty.”
Immediately I knew this would be a short story. I anticipated around 500 words, but as I worked on it throughout the day, the word count approached 1,000. As for my son, he took a walk to think through the idea. When he came back, he knew he would have a much greater count. We agreed to exchange writing the following Sunday (today.)
Two things about writing revealed themselves to me this past week. First, I can see that whenever I’m facing difficulties in my current novel, other ideas sprout with ease. Right now, I need to do a major rewrite of a chapter. I’m doing all kinds of stuff to avoid that task, including writing a short story. At the same time, other story ideas are appearing everywhere. I am writing them down and placing them in my special ideas box to save for when I am ready to select my next project.
The most common question writers are asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” It fascinates others that an author take the seed of an idea and turn it into a complete piece of fiction, whether a short story or an epic novel. People often ask writers to develop their story ideas with offers to split the profits 50/50. Depending on the situation, authors either laugh off the suggestion or gently refuse. Although last week’s blog post told how Lloyd C. Douglas got the idea for The Robe through a letter from a department store clerk, you’ll notice he didn’t split the profits with her because coming up with ideas is not a problem. (See April 16 Effects of The Robe https://louisebergin.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/effects-of-the-robe/ ) My son and I started with the very same story question, but we ended up with very different work.
Second, ideas are common; it’s the writer’s choice on how to tell the story that makes each one unique. My son and I started with the same idea. We ended up with two different stories. Mine is 1,000 words; his is a poem of five stanzas. This is why ideas are not copyrighted, but words are. It’s the interpretation of the idea that belongs to the writer. Anyone take an idea and tell the resulting story in their own words. Authors reuse ideas all the time. Shakespeare did it. So did Arthur Laurents who redid Romeo and Juliet as the musical West Side Story.
What gives a work its uniqueness is the interpretation or the words the author uses. This is the ethereal item of voice, which is so hard to define yet permeates all writing. Voice is the author. How and what is spoken comes from the author. It’s what makes a piece of writing yours, not the idea.
If you were given the story prompt of “Guard Duty,” how would you write it?