Today’s guest post comes from Robert C. Deming, an indie author who writes modern cowboy stories about honest, hard-working, independent, courageous good guys. His first two novels (both mysteries in an on-going series) are set in the beautiful Enchanted Rock State Park in his home state of Texas. We hope you enjoy this post and will make him feel welcome.
I minored in English in college instead of French because I was something of a slacker; I knew I wouldn’t get past French – Advanced Grammar and Composition, and, anyway, my roommates were all engineers, who make anyone feel like a slacker. I became a military pilot, a good career for a slacker, and spent a great deal of time waiting beside a big jet for WWIII. Lots of the guys entertained themselves during those slack times (the Cold War – we won that one!) with “Economics Class,” an all-night poker game. Not me, I read. We had a great paperback library in the alert facility. I read Ernest Hemmingway, Edward Abbey, John LeCarre, Robert Heinlein, James Michener. I was twenty-two years old, and I flew jets around the world, and I wanted to write – but I had no idea what to write about. I had no story in me.
Thirty years later, I took my first creative writing course. The teacher, a diminutive German immigrant with a sharp eye, a survivor of World War Two, and the Russians, and the partition of Berlin, and the Wall, began with, “Think of an interesting character.” She gave us a minute to ponder that and said “Now, write a paragraph about that interesting character.” Half the class got up, left, and asked for their money back. That’s when I realized there is a lot more angst in not writing than actually writing. I wrote my paragraph and read it to the survivors, and kept coming back. That first paragrah turned into an unmanageable short story, followed by another, and another. I took all seven of the ten week classes she offered, and the more I wrote, the better my stories got.
One of my (published!) writer friends told me that her characters told her the story. I thought she was nuts. She is, as it turns out, but just a little bit, and no more than I. One day, while driving my car, an image popped into my head: I was in the back seat of a T-38 jet trainer again, upside down at 20,000 feet, at the top of a loop, with a solo student 500 feet behind me. I had spent a lot of time in that seat as an instructor pilot, and I knew that place. When I got home, I put that on paper, and before long I had a chapter. I had no idea whatsoever what the story was, I just knew that it was about a twenty-five year old T-38 instructor pilot named Tom. The story came to me one scene at a time, but come it did. The story POPS, and I will publish Awol 21 later this year.
The most fundamental concept in writing fiction is this – stories are about people. Stories are character-driven. Put an interesting character in an interesting place and the story will come. I have written two more novels now, Enchanted Rock Red and Enchanted Rock Blue(s), and I have a start on Enchanted Rock White(tail) and Fort Davis Rocks. So far, I have had no idea what the story was when I started, and haven’t been completely sure until I finished. A year and some ago I was at my kitchen table writing Red while my wife was fixing supper, with teenager chaos all around me. My Texas Ranger character was talking to a group of peace officers in the story. When I finished writing that scene, I pushed back from my laptop and said, “Where the heck did that come from?” This happened over and over. Two characters even inserted themselves into the story without my permission! (Maybe I’m the one who is nuts?) So, here’s my advice:
Forget everything you have read or been told about how to write a story. You can worry with that later. Think of an interesting character, and write a short paragraph about that interesting character. You don’t need a week of vacation, or even an hour; or to have your laptop; or to have your pencils all sharpened and lined up on your desk. Even if you are standing on a commuter bus just one stop away, but you know who that character is, and all you have to write on is the back of an envelope from an overdue bill in your pocket, and a cheap pen from Joe’s Tires on it, scratch it down! You will get off the bus with a smirk on your face, because, by God, you’re a writer, and you have a story to tell!
Robert Deming is a Texan who aspires to be a national best-selling author. Samples of his wit can be found on www.robertcdeming.me. The two aforementioned novels are for sale on Amazon and Kindle.