Last week one of my short stories was published in My Weekly magazine in the UK. The title was Waiting for Mr Faultless and it was inspired by a sign I saw at Gatwick Airport. I regularly found myself there in the early hours of the morning, waiting for my husband to come home from business trips. Sometimes planes would be delayed and I would wander around the airport to pass the time, although there was never much open at that time of the morning. I might buy a magazine or a book, but mostly I just watched people come and go.
I’ve already sold a couple of stories that were set in airports and I have another one almost ready to go out – and another still brewing in the background, waiting to be told.
I did see someone holding a sign for Mr Faultless. There was always a gaggle of people holding signs at arrivals. Some were taxi firms, some hastily scribbled names on pieces of paper, many were corporate signs held by suited chauffeurs waiting for executives that needed to be whisked off to meetings. But Mr Faultless was a stand out placard. I was so intrigued by this man’s name. I spent my time wondering what he looked like – what a name to live up to for sure. Would I be disappointed?
I didn’t see him arrive – more’s the pity – but it didn’t stop me wondering about Mr Faultless and I knew that I would be able to get a story out of it.
I write short stories for commercial magazines so I shaped my story for that market but if I preferred to write in a more literary form I would have told an entirely different story – and quite possibly chosen a totally different title. I write for my market to make sure that I sell. That is my living.
I am often asked how I come up with stories and I answer that they are all around us waiting to be plucked from the atmosphere. It might be triggered by something I saw, heard or read. Whatever catches my eye or ear that day. I will scribble a few notes in a book to remind me – or on any scrap of paper I can find.
Once you start being aware of ideas they will come to your attention more regularly and you can fill plenty of notebooks with ideas for stories.
But ideas are not stories.
To become stories they need fleshing out, given structure and form. You need to develop your character and setting, add dialogue. There can be many hours of work before that story begins to take shape.
If you keep a notebook you can capture those ideas for when you have time and space to work on them and fashion them into stories.