Thursday, November 8, 2012

So Why Pulp: Picking Up Ideas From The World Around You

As Kate glanced up at him, she had the stray thought that Ryan Edward Johnston was still one handsome devil of a man. He was all bright blue eyes with that killer smile, and just the right amount of boyish charm. He absolutely oozed charisma, which he used to great effect, both in his burgeoning political career, and the conquests he’d made with the ladies. Unfortunately, he also was at the other end of the 9mm whose cold barrel was snugged tight up against her temple. Down on her knees with hands fastened behind her back, there wasn’t a whole lot she could do about that.

“Any last words?” he said, pulling the trigger back the first little bit.

Double action—some off brand model, faintly registered in her mind. Having a gun nut father does that to you. Didn’t matter, one more tug and her brain tissue would be all over the cellar floor.

“Yeah, go to hell!” she fairly spat, her own brown eyes defiantly meeting his amused smile. She knew Ryan wanted her to plead for her life—he got off on that sort of thing. ‘Katherine Mary, a Keener never begs’, her father had admonished her every time she wanted something so badly she’d needle him for days. Right now, Kate Keener wanted more than anything to live, at least a few minutes longer, but she wasn’t giving this sleazy sonavabitch the satisfaction of knowing that.

“See you there,” he answered with a smirk and pulled the trigger several times, more savagely at each instance.

Nothing happened.

Misfire! Kate’s still intact brain screamed triumphantly as she took advantage of his momentary confusion. The small woman lunged upright, head butting him as hard as possible in the abdomen before he could bring the phenolic grip of the pistol down across her temple. Being a gymnast and dating an always randy football player through high school had its advantages, because she could uncoil rapidly and move in ways the average 20-something never dreamed of.

The gun dropped from his hand as the air left his lungs in a rush. He went over backwards, with Kate sprawling sideways to stay out of range of a chokehold. She rolled and was on her feet before the desk jockey did more than get to his hands and knees, still gasping. A hard swung boot toe to the chin snapped his head up, and his eyes rolled white before his face hit the floor. She added an extra kick for good measure, and he was down for the count.

“Next time, you cheap bastard, spring for a Glock. They’re far more reliable,” she said matter-of-factly, one foot sweeping the weapon out of reach, into the shadows. Her cell phone was buzzing away in Johnston’s pocket, but Kate couldn’t reach it with her hands tied. No matter; Gwen always found a way to track her down. Sirens in the distance growing louder said someone had gotten her last text message before she went offline.


Yeah, that was exciting for me too, and just as unexpected. Now we return you to your regularly scheduled column…

It’s said that there’s nothing new under the sun. Yet here we are, a bunch of pulp hacks, trying to reinvent the wheel every time we pound the keyboard. Some days the hardest thing is just figuring out what to write that is going to satisfy pulp fans and yet stand out from the existing offerings as well as whatever is coming up. The answer to that is something I wrestle with every time I sit down to work. Besides keeping it high level action with plenty of adventure, how do I make this particular story resonate with readers and not seem like more of the same?

First thing I ask myself is, what do people care about today? Sometimes I troll the social networking sites, read some online message boards, and listen to conversations around me to get ideas for what seems to motivate folks.

That snippet above popped into my head as I sat down to write this column. I had a raw concept, inspired by yesterday’s election and all the online brouhaha surrounding it, involving a scheming pretty boy local politician willing to go as far as murder to cover his butt as he climbed the ladder of success. Not exactly a new idea, but I picked a fictional world to put it in, and I was off and running. Now, Kate Keener of The Keener Eye series of short stories is one of my newest creations, a departure from my usual sword and sorcery fantasy into a modern day Private Eye tale. This sort of thing certainly works well for one of her tales, but it just as easily could have been adapted into a feudal system, a horror thriller, a superhero/masked avenger outing, or could even have taken place in a galaxy far, far away. A little creativity and some appropriately designed details, and it could have fit any genre. The bottom line is, I pulled the seminal idea out of something that inspired strong feelings in lots of recent conversations, and made it work for what I wanted to write.

Yes, you can do that too. It’s one of those little secrets those of us who write regularly use. It’s hard to come up with brand new stuff all the time. Think of something that motivates you or has been making the rounds as conversation starters lately, and build on that. But set it in your world, with your people, in their era. Then and there it’s going to seem all fresh and new again, yet still have that familiar empathetic appeal.

We live in an intriguing age, where the world lies at our fingertips, and information mixed with opinions stream into our lives daily through various electronic devices. A good part of it is fluff and nonsense, but even that can be story fodder if enough people seem engaged. While I’m reading any news and weather reports that interest me, I’m always on the lookout for tidbits I might use for stories. Sometimes those human interest articles farther down the page or science and technology sections hold some fiction seeds. Now and then just a simple picture sparks an idea. On my PC I keep copious files of those morsels that particularly sparked a visceral response, figuring if they captivated me that much, I can eventually work out something based on them. That really helps on those days when I am at a loss for what to write about. As long as I have some sort of foundation to build upon or around, I can fill in the rest as I go along.

And don’t forget to read the comment sections when you’re perusing articles. You might only find the very occasional reply that is thoughtful and well said, but even the nasty and emotional ones will give you a good idea of where the general population’s minds and hearts are. It can be painful to wade through them when you’re of a different opinion altogether, but I look at it as helpful in developing the antagonists and their supporters in the story, if nothing else. Just don’t get caught up in your own inner responses to the point where it stops you from being able to write. Pretend you are a superior being from another time or place, sent in to quietly observe and report what you’ve witnessed without interfering. You are now the Jane Goodall of pulpdom.

I will definitely be using the little vignette I wrote above in a Keener Eye story somewhere down the road. I’m sure you can think of a couple things you saw lately that would work similarly as a story concept. In the human condition, history repeats itself through the ages, colored by the era it appears within, and standout heroes and villains are those who best captured the attention of the populace at the time. So don’t be afraid to mine today’s events for tomorrow’s tales. I’m sure the authors of those classic pulp stories we all love and admire did that too. While there might be a particular setting, nomenclature, and jargon for what you prefer to write, touching a human mind and heart is just as important as presenting an exciting, engaging plot. It’s what makes pulp stories enduring, and not just another forgettable copycat tale of derring-do with a cast of cardboard cutout characters.

So if you want to freshen up your writing, or you’re stuck for ideas, go see what the latest buzz is about. The human factor is what makes stories come alive on the page, and hit a nerve with readers. Just don’t forget to put your own personal spin on it. There’s a whole treasure hoard of gems winking out there, just waiting for you to pick them up, and run off before the dragon comes home and fries you like bacon. Make the most of it!

1 comment:

  1. I feel like a lot of the current event things are already in the forefront of one's minds, as you hear of these things all the time.

    I tend to check out fringe science, black code, and conspiracy websites a lot. And I will occasionally find myself getting inspired.


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