Everybody has a story. If you’re a writer, this probably provides hours of endless fascination for you. You can get great inspiration from just listening to others talk. I’ve met some fascinating people in my life. I listen to their stories, study their mannerisms, and oftentimes exploit these facets for my own fictional amusement.
In the first Insanity Tales, I wrote a short story called “Color Him Crazy.” It’s the tale of a man named Bartles N. James who is worried that since both his brother and sister have been convicted of murder, perhaps he’s got a bit of the crazy gene, too. I had a blast writing it, and I hold real affection for Bart. But where did the idea come from? Someone I know. You see, I have an acquaintance who has two siblings in jail—one a convicted serial killer, the other a homicidal cannibal. And on my commute to work one day, my thoughts went something like this: I wonder how Bart’s doing? Haven’t heard from him lately. What a sweetheart—I hope he’s okay. I don’t know how he lives in such a small town without going nuts. I mean, I know people wonder if he’s got a bit of the crazies, too, what with his brothers being who they are. I can’t imagine how his neighbors treat him. Poor guy—he’s such a doll. Hey! I should totally exploit his life for an amusing short story!
But we can’t all have friends with homicidal cannibalistic brothers. In many cases, I’ve generated story ideas simply out a need for revenge against certain people who deserve killing (in fiction, of course). Sometimes, you meet someone who is less “fascinating person with a fabulous back story” and more “total scumbag.” Yes, it’s true: much of my writing has been spawned from a simple case of “That person wronged me. I think I’ll kill them by zombie dismemberment.” Such was the case in “Down the Pike,” the very first horror short I ever sold (it appeared in Shroud’s May 2011 issue). The story is about a woman in an unhappy marriage who plots to kill her husband, but when she goes to carry out her plan, she finds him dead as a door nail—much to her disgust. The story’s execution is a bit amateurish, I’ll admit (remember, up ’til this point, my writing career had largely been based in humor columns), but again, it was fun to write. Anyone who ever knew me when I was married to my first husband would find that the useless, self-centered, morbidly obese husband who bites it in that tale seems veeerrry familiar. Writing, like a fresh Hostess Ring Ding, can often be decadently satisfying.
To the aspiring writer, I would advise this: when you meet someone new, study them. Listen to their stories, and try to imagine what it is that they’re not telling you. Every person you know is potential fodder for inspiration. And if they wrong you, by golly, fire up the computer and write them into a gruesome dismemberment scene. You’ll be glad you did.