Where do story ideas come from?
For many years when I taught a writing fiction course, one of the discussions would be about the genesis of story ideas. We would go through the usual suggestions- news items, dreams,vicarious experience, observation, and so on. But invariably we would have to agree that sometimes it was difficult to identify the origin of the idea for a story. Mostly, I am aware of what sparked a story for me. Sometimes the spark is a story in itself which is different from what actually gets written. Here's an example:
For many years, while driving to work, I would pass a street vendor who always wore a golden crown. He sold fruits on the sidewalk and his bearing suggested that he was a very confident (kingly) person. I suspect that when one crown wore out he made a new one as they looked like props from the theatre. For many years too, there was a small, sad looking girl, who I presumed was his daughter, helping him to sell their goods. While he walked up and down chatting with the other vendors and seeking customers, she would sit at their position, her hand at her jaw, looking into space. I never saw her talking to anyone, and she never smiled. And then one day she wasn't there anymore.
I often wondered what that crown did for that vendor and why his daughter was so sad. Eventually this story evolved, not exactly his, but perhaps out of his dreams .......And it's really about that sad faced girl
So stories are born — sometimes. It's really a sort of modern folktale which I published as an ebook on amazon
Read an extract
Mr King's Daughter
You must understand that, in the deep rural areas, a man who owns the largest piece of land, a big house and a couple of trucks, a store in the nearest town, and other unknown assets and investments is almost like a king in his district. So, it’s fitting that our heroine’s father should be named Mr. King.
This Mr. King had only one child, a lovely daughter of marriageable age. Since Mr. King had no son he wanted a smart man for his son-in-law. Someone who could help him look after his various businesses. Someone he could trust to take care of his daughter and carry on his estate after his death. But how could he know whether the young men who would come to court his daughter were really genuine or only after his money?
Now, Mr. King’s daughter, Simone, was a very sad girl. Mostly because her father, so fond of his only child and fearing that harm might befall her, kept her locked away in his large, rambling country mansion. She had no playmates except a cat named Biddy. Even as a child she was not allowed to play with other children – not even the many country cousins so eager to claim kinship. She was unhappy about this, but she was a very obedient girl. She loved her father and didn’t want to disobey his wishes.
Simone had everything a girl could want. Closets full of beautiful clothes and shoes, every game that could be bought; but, as you know, the only game that can be played alone is solitaire.
When she was old enough a beautician came to do her hair and give her regular mani and pedi treatments. But the only people who got to admire her beauty were Mr. King, and the housekeeper, Miss G, for Mr. King kept her like a prisoner at home until he could find the right young man of his choosing to marry her.
No wonder Simone was sad. She never smiled, no matter how her father praised her beauty and showered her with gifts. In fact she grew sadder and sadder as the days passed.
Miss G, the housekeeper was very sorry for Simone. “Is a pity her mother died when she was so young,” she would tell her friends on her day off. “Man like Mr. King can’t raise gal pickney.”
Simone had only one pleasure in life and this was to listen to her radio and learn the popular songs of the day. She had a beautiful voice, and as soon as her father left the house, she would turn up the radio and begin to sing along with whichever artiste was on.
One day, in an effort to amuse her, Mr. King, although against his better judgement, brought home a satellite dish. When he hooked it up, Simone, at last, could tune in to the world. Her favourite stations were soon MTV, BET and any other music channels showing music videos. These soon became her passion. She would sit and watch and daydream that she was one of the girls in the video. Sometimes she dressed up in her various fancy clothing and performed along with the videos. In this way she soon became proficient in different singing styles and presentations. But after a while she became even sadder than she was before because now she had a very real reason to want to escape from her prison. She wanted to become a pop singer. She wanted to perform and have the world swooning at her feet, but she knew her father would never permit her to leave home.
After a time, she stopped watching the dish. She only picked at the sumptuous meals placed before her, and Miss G had to report to Mr. King that he had better do something about the situation, for the girl was so unhappy she was pining to death.
Mr. King sighed, "I would do anything to see my lovely daughter smile,” he said. “Maybe if she gets a husband he can make her happy. But how can I be sure of any of these rascals who will pretend to love her only to get their hands on her legacy?”
Then he had a brilliant idea. He remembered vaguely an Anansi folktale he had heard as a child. A king had invited men to do a difficult, almost impossible task in order to get the princess's hand in marriage. Of course Anansi had been among the suitors. Our Mr. King didn't stop to think that a modern day Anansi, a trickster spiderman, might turn up. He decided to try this. The difficult task would be to get Simone to laugh.
"I want my princess to be happy, so the young man who can make my daughter laugh will get her hand in marriage." He gleefully announced his plan to Miss G.