Wednesday, December 7, 2011

W1S1 Karaoke: Jeff Chapman, Monthly Participant

So where do story ideas come from?

I used to think they arrived from somewhere out of the ether. They landed on the doorstep of my receptive mind unannounced. Some came in and stayed awhile. Others I politely ushered out. Fortunately, ideas arrived frequently enough and I wrote slowly enough that I always had a backlog of story ideas plus the notebooks of stories that I had abandoned but planned to finish at a later time. Then came the Write 1 Sub 1 challenge. I was hesitant even to sign up for the monthly challenge. Could I really churn out twelve stories in a year? I didn't even have twelve ideas.

Exercise is good for you, even if it hurts a bit, so I signed up for Write 1 Sub 1 monthly. Okay, I'll admit I cheated a little on the first month. I had already started the story for January months earlier. As of mid-October, I'm nearing completion of twelve stories. The discipline the monthly deadlines imposed has helped, but only three of those twelve stories are drawn from my original backlog of ideas and abandoned tales. I've learned how to actively develop stories rather than waiting for them to fall from the sky. I've learned that the best place to spark inspiration, is to scratch that pen against paper.

When I was in college and taking some creative writing courses, I lived in abject terror that an instructor would give out writing assignments that required writing a story or an exercise based on a prompt from the instructor. You can't write fiction on demand, I told myself, at least not great fiction. Artists don't work that way. Looking back, I wish I had received one of those write on demand assignments. I think it would have done my story-telling skills a world of good.

I needed story ideas for Write 1 Sub 1. Enter the themed anthology market. I never payed much attention to these because I didn't have stories that fit the themes, but I wanted to publish more stories in print and meet my Write 1 Sub 1 requirements, so I took the plunge, came up for air and started swimming. I've developed one sure-fire method for creating stories based on a prompt or theme. Start with a classic story or poem (you know the plot is sound or it wouldn't be a classic), impose your own setting and populate it with your own characters. Focus on the broad outline of the original plot, not the details, so there will be plenty of room for your improvisations. As the modifications pile up and the characters drive the story in new directions, you will likely finish with a story that bears little or no resemblance to the classic tale from which you started. Imagine the countless articles that future literary critics will churn out as they argue over your sources.

My story "Shafts to Hell," written for a western-themed horror anthology, began with Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." I finished with the story of a crazy miner who commits some gruesome murders and sits in a jail cell, justifying his actions and pondering the relationship between Hell and gold mines while he awaits his hanging.

Jeff Chapman writes fairy tales, fantasy, and ghost stories and hearing the expression “just a fairy tale” rankles him. His works have appeared in various print anthologies and online publications. He lives with his wife and children in a house with more books than bookshelf space. To learn more, stop by his blog.


  1. Great article, Jeff! I really like your idea about how to create your own story from the framework of the greats. It's a nice place to start when you're running out of ideas.

    Best of luck and happy writing (and subbing)!

  2. Always great to read another W1S1 success story. Thanks, Jeff!

  3. That's a fascinating idea.Thanks Jeff.

  4. Very interesting!

    I'll be borrowing that idea :) Thank you!

  5. I loved Poe's story of the Cask of Amontillado.

  6. I've got about 20 stories started, but few ideas behind them! lol, so my goal over Christmas is to get those story starts lined up and think through some plot ideas so that I can have some momentum going into my first few weeks of W1S1.

  7. Honored to have you join the throng, Lyn!

  8. Very good interview. Thanks, Jeff. And, yes, that technique can be very helpful/instructive.

  9. wrting really is a journey.. i'm glad you are enjoying yours.