Building a Story

by Bruce Blake


A pleasant thing happened to me the other day…one of those things that all writers have experienced, but want to have happen more frequently.

A story began to form in my head.

'Prospector' by ToOliver2 courtesy of Creative Commons

‘Prospector’ by ToOliver2 courtesy of Creative Commons

It came out of no where, opening before me like a rolled carpet careening down a hill. It was only a few lines to begin with, but the more I turned them over in my head, inspecting them  with the keen eye of a prospector determining the value of a nugget, the more it stuck, grew, developed.

This is how it started in my head:

It was Friday, April 13th the day they locked the door; none of us knew when it would open again. If it ever would.

I liked it. Two quick sentences to set up some questions in the reader’s head–who was being locked in? Where and why? The fact it’s Friday the 13th hints it will be horror and the lines have a certain mystery to them, but it was the next paragraph taking shape in my brain that really drew me in:

Sixty-four souls were shut in when the lock clicked, and none of us fought it. No one ranted and raved, no one kicked and argued. No one knew why we were there, either, until a week later when the Chinese girl’s skin started to peel.

That’s about all I had, but it gave me some of the things I need to continue: mystery, atmosphere, genre. The one thing I didn’t have was a plan.

The idea came to me as I was driving, so I chanted it over and over lest it slip away from (oh, the tragedy when that occurs!), then rushed into the house upon arriving home, grabbed a notebook and a pen, and scribbled down what I had. As I wrote, it changed a little:

Sixty-four souls were trapped behind cement walls and a steel door when the lock clicked shut, and none of us fought. No one ranted and raved, no one kicked or argued. We let ourselves be locked away without complaint or question. And none of us knew why, either; at least, none of us admitted we did until a week later when the Chinese girl’s skin started to peel.

A little more description, and stronger because of it, I thought. As my pen scratched across the paper–a unique and heady feeling one never achieves when tapping the lettered squares on a keyboard–more came to me, and a couple more paragraphs were born that added characterization to the narrator, and an inkling of plot:

She might have been Korean. I wasn’t sure but, either way, she did her best not to cry. You could see it in the taut lines of her face, the way her mouth turned down at the corners. She fought it but, in the end, the pain proved too much and she wept tears of blood. Sobs turned to cries, cries became screams, and screams finally faded to pleas to end her suffering.

We didn’t, though I imagine all of us would have asked for the same level of humanity if we were the ones melting into a pool of blood, tears, and excrement.

None of us dared get close enough to do it, though, not once we saw what was happening. Watching the way her flesh came off, how her hair came out in clumps, told us everything we needed to know. It revealed the reason for our quarantine.

We’d all been exposed. Intimately.

Tense enough? Make you wonder what’s going on? It made me want to know more, so I thought I better introduce another character so we didn’t spend the entire time trapped inside the narrator’s head.

The day after the girl died, knees hugged to her chest as she writhed in a puddle of her own bodily fluids, a man who called himself Juniper approached me. He’d introduced himself the day before the Chinese or Korean girl began scaring the bejesus out of us. That day, his voice held a vague accent and a lilt of underlying joviality that, given our circumstances, I guessed always resided there. The next time we spoke, the accent remained, but the joyous humour was gone.

I stood against the wall, as far from the mess as possible, but everyone else was trying to do the same. People mumbled under their breath, a low, murmuring rumble spreading through the room, each hushed voice carrying the same question.

Would anyone come to clean up her…remains?

I watched Juniper approach, perspiration shining on dark skin that confirmed the heritage his accent suggested–Jamaican, or maybe from somewhere in Africa. He made his way through the crowd, people moving aside like chunks of frozen ocean before the prow of an icebreaker. We nodded to each other as he docked beside me smelling salty like a week’s worth of sweat, not like the sea.

“Hell of a thing,” he said, voice quiet as he peered over the heads of the others in the direction of the melted girl. Most gazes in the room were turned the same way. “Ever seen anything like that before?”

I grunted the most non-committal of grunts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him face me, waiting for me to elaborate. I didn’t. A minute later, he spoke again.

“I’ve seen it before. Happened to my son.”

There’s a bit more, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll stop there. Even copying the lines into this format, I’m invigorated by the process of creation, the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of bringing an idea to life. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a story–or a piece of a story–present itself to you, and the ensuing pleasure of capturing it.

And so, dear Guild of Dreams readers, I’d like to pose three questions to anyone who cares to answer in the comments section:

1. Where would you take this story?

2. Is it a nugget of gold, or a tired, old chunk of pyrite?

3. Does this happen to you? (The muse whispering insistently in your head part, not the melting thing)


Bruce Blake is the author of 8 novels and apparently lets his mind wander while driving. Follow him on his blog to keep up or sign up for his newsletter to receive infrequent news of his daydreams.


4 comments on “Building a Story

  1. While I can’t tell you where you should take this story, I do think you should try to continue it. I’d really like to see how it ended: why they were locked up, why one Asian girl was included with a bunch of men, why the gruesome death, the black man and his revelation… It hooked me from the beginning.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever had first lines come to me, that I was able to build a story out of, but just last week, a random character sprang into my head fully formed, and I’ve been writing about her ever since.

    • Stories come from many different places…opening lines, characters, snatches of dialogue. One of the greatest things about being a writer is that inspiration can be found anywhere or, on occasion, from out of nowhere.

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