So Ya Wanna Be A Writer, Huh? : Part 1

For years I was ashamed of being a writer. I certainly never identified myself as one. In jail, all I did was read and write and when an inmate would ask me “Hey Bobbo, why you always writing in that notebook?” I’d answer them with sarcasm and a little humiliation.
“Cause I can’t sing and I can’t fuckin’ dance, that’s why. Do your own time, will ya?”

These days I embrace being called a writer, after all I’ve been called worse. I’ve been recognized by my peers as an author and I’ve had my work published. Let me tell you folks, that’s a great feeling.

Now I’m going to tell you a bit about how I do it.

I don’t know how many of you were fans of comic books growing up, but one of my favorite titles was What If? By Marvel comics. Every month the issue would have stories postulating what would happen if a key event in comics history had been changed or never happened. Stories like What if Spider Mans Uncle Ben never died? For those of you who aren’t comic book geeks like me, Peter Parker’s beloved Uncle was shot and killed by a mugger, a tragedy that convinced the young man to use his newly-developed super-powers to help people and fight crime.

Those books inspired me to start writing and taught me the first important lesson about creating stories, which is write what you know. The fiction comes when you ask what if?

It works no matter who you are or what you do. For example, if you’re a gas station attendant, you know what your normal shift consists of. A car rolls up to the pumps, you jog out to the driver’s window and find out how much petro they want. Would they like their fluids checked? That kinda thing.

In your story though, maybe you notice the man behind the wheel looks sweaty and nervous. Maybe he doesn’t look at you as he tells you to fill the tank, instead he stares straight ahead and seems impatient. His hands are locked on the steering wheel, and is that blood you see on his fingers? You think it might be.

Should you ask him if he’s okay? The thought crosses your mind but judging by the driver’s quick speech and demeanor, you decide to just give him his gas and let him go on his way. He probably just got in a fist-fight, it’s no big deal and none of your business anyway.

You walk to the rear of the vehicle, pop open the little fuel door and unscrew the lid to the fuel receptacle. Just as you grab the hose and activate the pump you hear a knocking coming from the trunk.
The driver heard it too, because the car door opens and he steps out….

See?

Of course there’s a million ways to do this, and just as many ways to tell the story. The example above is told in the first-person point of view, but I find it’s more fun to create a character to substitute for yourself. Instead of You, the gas bar attendant, a writer can create a whole new person with his or her own look, manner of speaking, weaknesses and strengths, nervous ticks and so on. This fictional person has all the knowledge and experience working as a petro-pump jockey as you do, except they might react differently to things. That’s part of the fun of creating your own make-believe people.

– Robert Dominelli