Method Two Playing With The Narrative Hook

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This game is similar to the first, though you begin with a narrative hook (a sentence that will grab the reader's attention), not a title You sit at the typewriter and, without a great deal of cerebral exercise, type an intriguing opening sentence or paragraph. It is not necessary to know where the story will go. The idea is to present yourself with interesting and challenging beginnings out of which, when your free associations begin to jell, you will be able to construct a completed work. Write one new beginning after another, no matter how wild they seem, how impossible the development of a reasonable piece of fiction may appear to be from them. Shortly, you will find yourself so interested in one of these hastily jotted openings that you won't rest until you've carried on with it.

The first piece I generated in this fashion was a novelette titled "Where the Beast Runs." After its magazine publication, I incorporated it as the middle section of a novel, Fear That Man. It begins:

Long ago, shortly after my mother's blood was sluiced from the streets of Changeover and her body burned upon a pyre outside of town, I suffered what the psychologists call a trauma. That seems like a very inadequate word to me.

The bizarre circumstances of that off-the-top-of-the-head opening spurred my imagination into working up a story to explain them.

In a short story, "Shambolain," I introduced several characters that caught my fancy—just by the nature of their names—and continued to write what I feel is one of my two or three best short stories:

Four days before Christmas, I had my first of two troubles with the Creep and Delia grew ill and Shambolain arrived—and nothing was ever quite the same after that.

As an extension of this muse-kicker, you sit at the typewriter and work up paragraph after paragraph of character descriptions, until one of them interests you enough to build a story around him. This happened to me with the short story "A Third Hand," which I eventually expanded into the novel Starblood:

Timothy was not human. Not wholly. If one included arms and legs in a definition of the human body, then Timothy did not pass the criteria necessary for admission to the club. If one counted two eyes in that definition, Timothy was also ruled out, for he had but one eye, after all, and even that was placed in an unusual position: somewhat closer to his left ear than a human eye should be and definitely an inch lower in his overlarge skull than was the norm. Then there was his nose. It totally lacked cartilage. The only evidence of its presence was two holes, the ragged nostrils, punctuating the relative center of his bony, misshapen head.

There was his skin: waxy yellow like some artificial fruit and coarse with large, irregular pores that showed like dark pinpricks bottomed with dried blood. There were his ears: very flat against his head and somewhat pointed like the ears of a wolf. There were other things that would show up on a closer, more intimate examination, things like his hair (which was of an altogether different texture than any racial variant among the normal human strains), his nipples (which were ever so slightly concave instead of convex), and his genitals (which were male, but which were contained in a pouch just below his navel and not between his truncated limbs). There was only one way in which Timothy was remotely human, and that was his brain. But even here, he was not entirely normal, for his IQ was slightly above 250.

How did Timothy become as he is shown? What problems would such a freak have? What would his outlook on the world be? What kind of adventure might he have about which to base a story? I ended up writing "A Third Hand" to satisfy my own curiosity as much as to entertain a reader.

Of course, most of your ideas will not be generated in any of the ways I've described, but will float unbidden from your subconscious. Only a team of psychiatrists could ever deduce what all contributed to these "spontaneous" ideas. Still, you can help these stories surface if you read, read, read. With every novel you read, thousands of facts, characters, and plot twists are stored in your subconscious, constantly interacting below the level of awareness. When they jell and rise, they are usually in an original arrangement that bears no resemblance to the books that inspired them. Also, you will often find a concept in another writer's work which intrigues you, something he tossed away in a line or paragraph but which can become the whole center of your own novel. If you develop this idea into a story that does not resemble his, you are not guilty of plagiarism, but of literary feedback which is a source of story ideas for all writers.

If you write science fiction, most of your reading—but by no means all of it—should be in that field. Other science fiction writers are most likely the artists who will spark your own flights of fancy—though you may well generate science fiction story ideas from mystery novels, too. The science fiction writer should also read the popular science magazines—Science Digest, Popular Science, and others—to keep apace with various advancements which might be incorporated into a story. A Western writer will benefit from reading histories of the old West in which he may discover an historical incident that will spark an entire story idea in him. Full-time freelancers will have more leisure for reading than will those holding jobs during the day and writing nights and weekends, but both the full- and the part-time writer cannot afford to ignore what else is being published.

Because the second person viewpoint (an example would be: "You open the door and walk into the room, and you see the corpse at once. You are shocked, and you wonder if you should run. You can't be sure if the murderer has left, yet you have a duty to find out what has happened") is too affected to be suitable in any but the most special cases, the genre writer has four possible viewpoints from which to tell a story: the omniscient, modified omniscient, third person limited, and the first person.

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