A couple of weeks ago I woke up sometime before my alarm went off, in the dark with very little sense of what time it was but a sense of urgency clinging to what remained of a dream. As I tried to drift back to sleep, a single line popped into my head, as if my subconscious was writing a story in my sleep, and it stuck with me. I posted it on my Facebook wall when I got home that evening, so I wouldn't allow myself to forget it for future use.
"At the end, I was left with just this: Elizabeth dead, and myself out of time to mourn her."
That was all I had, but posting it on Facebook cemented my intention to turn it into something more, especially with comments from friends and family. Mom asked me about it a few days ago, and I told her I was still mulling it over in my head. I was slightly afraid that "mulling it over" would be as far as I would ever get, to be honest.
Yesterday I was even thinking about writing this post with a different focus - talking about the difficulty for someone as indecisive as I can be to take just a nugget of a thought and flesh it out into a full story.
Take my sentence there, for example. It contained the germ of a story, to be sure, but so many decisions to be made about what it meant. Obviously it is being told in the first person viewpoint, so one has to determine who "I" am: male or female? I have doubts about my ability to write a convincing story from a male viewpoint... but for a while there the story seemed it may demand a male point of view. Older than the author, or younger?
And who is Elizabeth to the storyteller? Wife? Lover? Sister? Mother? Daughter? Best friend? Colleague?
How did she die? Car accident? Cancer? Shot by an outlaw of some sort? Peacefully in her sleep at the age of eighty-something?
Even with all those decisions made, arbitrarily, I was going to have to come up with a reason why the storyteller would be out of time to mourn her, and those options seemed to lead me into the realm of a plot that would challenge my ability to write believably.The results of all these decisions would have a huge impact on what kind of story it would wind up being... I mean, consider the difference between these: An elderly man on his deathbed recalling his memories and regrets while mourning the passing of his wife of 60 years.... And a secret agent who had (perhaps unwisely) become very close to his or her informant before she was murdered by government assassins and is now running for his or her life. Both of those stories could contain the line I came up with in my sleep, to very different effect indeed.
And then, while I was coming up with potential examples of the different stories these decisions could lead to, the perfect solution hit me.