Every story begins with inspiration. Some little bit of something catches the eye or sparks the imagination. The writer overhears a conversation in a Chili’s in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that starts the thought processes rolling. There is a hill in northwest Arkansas that has an abandoned house just sitting up there on top of it, buffeted by the wind, waiting for someone to write a ghost story with the dilapidated old thing as the setting. Then a news story catches her attention, and she wonders why in the world that guy did that thing with the sharpie that he did. And off the writer goes with a few what if questions like… What if someone used a major catastrophe like a hurricane or a bombing as a perfect opportunity to disappear? Next thing you know, she’s tapping out the first few paragraphs of a brand new story.
Start with a spark that creates a great setting, an inspired character, or a fabulous opening scene, then add a hero, a heroine, and an antagonist, and don’t forget a major conflict and a nail-biting life or death pivotal the-book-hinges-on-this-one-moment scene, and you’ve got the basic ingredients for romantic suspense.
In between the opening hook and the final nail biter scene, there is a lot of territory to cover, and it is in that middle as yet undefined land where I confess I am a certified pantser. I don’t know where my story’s going in the middle until I write it. Oftentimes, my characters will decided what happens in the in-betweens. For instance, just last week my hero’s ex-girlfriend was murdered. Did my hero kill her, you ask? No, of course not. Heroes don’t murder their ex-girlfriend’s, but he certainly didn’t see the crisis coming and neither did I!
So I’m going to let my imagination run away with me for a moment. Bear with me. Let me set up the situation for you. I’m going to put my hero, my heroine, and my antagonist in a dark room and just sort of go from there. Okay, I’ll give them a dim 20 watt light bulb dangling from the ceiling, just so they won’t be scared of the dark. I’ll name my hero Unnamed, my heroine Undefined, and my antagonist Unwritten.
Unnamed: Man, it’s dark in here. Why doesn’t she put a window in this place?
Undefined: I don’t know.
Unnamed: Oops, I forgot. You don’t have an opinion, because she hasn’t given you a personality yet. She should at least give you some...she should make you friendly or…something.
Bubbly: Oh, right! Maybe she hasn’t given me a personality yet because she’s busy or she’s thinking about sorting her underwear drawer or the cat barfed up tuna or her baby is squalling…or wow why is it so dark in here? And why is everything black? And who’s that guy over there that doesn’t say anything? He’s kind of scary. (Giggles.)
Unnamed: Oh, no.
Miss Optimistic (Name changed from Bubbly/Undefined.): What? What’s wrong? I can tell there’s something wrong, but cheer up. Everything is going to be fine. We have this nice room, and I know she’s going to give us a window soon. Ah, look over there! She did it! She did it!
Unnamed: Yep, she made you a ding-a-ling.
Grouchy (Another name change for Miss Optimistic/Bubbly/Undefined.): What’s that supposed to mean? I’m not going to talk to you. And… (Stares mean at Unwritten.) Stop staring at me.
Unnamed: He can’t respond. She hasn’t written him yet. And you don’t have to get all huffy.
Grouchy: Oh, so now you’re an expert on how she writes, Mr…Mr…What is your name?
Unnamed: I don’t know.
Grouchy: Oh, that’s right, she hasn’t named you yet. She should call you Ralph.
Ralph (Name changed from Unnamed.): I don’t like the name Ralph. I’d rather be Chad.
Snarky (And yet another name change for Grouchy/Miss Optimistic/Bubbly/Undefined.): You would like the name Chad! (Examines fingernails as if she doesn’t care when she really does.) She should do something about the stone statue over there. She should at least give him a scowl.
Tank (Name changed from Unwritten.): (No dialogue only rumbling noises like a tank.)
Chad (Name changed from Ralph/Unnamed): (Glances around nervously at the black walls.) We need a door so we can get away from him.
(Door appears as if by magic.)
Smiley: (Grabs Tank’s upper arm.) Come on, Handsome, I’d rather leave with you. (Throws snotty smirk over shoulder at Chad as Tank, who used to be Unwritten, opens the door for her.) You’re much better looking than Mr. Bossy.
Handsome (Name changed from Tank/Unwritten): You look lovely today, Smiley.
Mr. Bossy (Name changed from Chad/Ralph/Undefined): Hey, come back here!
Who knew the heroine would leave with the antagonist? Did you? I didn’t.