By Tim Smith (Guest Blogger)
I recently attended a book festival and experienced a first. A local English teacher had given her class an assignment to talk to the authors then write an essay about what they learned. I’ve had writer wannabe’s pump me for tips before, but these students asked questions that went beyond “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” and “What’s your favorite color?” One of them asked something that had me momentarily fumbling for a good response – “How do you begin writing a story?”
My mind instantly flashed back to the first Creative Writing class I took in high school. The opening line in the textbook still haunts me - “Does the blank page hold terror for you?” Some days the answer is a resounding “Hell, yes!”
This question made me think about how I actually do it. I may read some item in the news or hear a story that sounds interesting, and if I’m sufficiently intrigued I’ll ask myself a question – “What would happen if…?” There’s an anecdote about the creation of the 60’s sitcom Get Smart. When writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry made the pitch, they asked, “What if James Bond and Inspector Clouseau had a child together?” Thus was born bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart.
I once used the “What would happen if…?” tactic to concoct an entire story. Several years ago I had planned a vacation/business trip to Florida with my sig other, but shortly before we were to leave she became unavailable. This became the basis for Mistletoe and Palm Trees, where two strangers end up unexpectedly alone in The Florida Keys at Christmastime. I asked myself “What if this guy went on a planned vacation alone because he’d just broken up with his girlfriend, and he meets a woman who recently split from her fiancé?”
I like to use the “What if” thing when I’m putting together a mystery plot, usually to throw the reader a curve. If it looks as though the finger is pointing toward an obvious conclusion, I’ll think “What if this happened instead?” It keeps things interesting when you’re approaching the “Aha!” moment. I’m proud to say I’ve had readers tell me they were mad at me because things didn’t play out the way they expected. While writing my latest romantic thriller, Operation Payback, I knew there would be a showdown between the hero and the villain, but I decided to throw a curve ball. No, I won’t tell you what it is, but people have told me they were surprised by the twist.
I think a lot of this has to do with my dislike of clichés. Remember the old private eye shows like Mannix and Peter Gunn? In most episodes there was the required fight scene, where the guy gets the stuffing beat out of him by two or three thugs (sometimes four or five, but who’s counting?). Then he miraculously gets up and runs after them. Get real! If he’s on the receiving end of a savage beating, the last thing he’ll feel like doing is engaging in a foot race. He’s probably thinking about an ice pack, a shot of whiskey and some tender lovin’ from his busty blonde secretary.
I busted this myth in one of my thrillers, where the hero gets jumped by three guys then throws up afterward. When the female lead frantically asks if he’s okay, he responds “Of course not. I just got the crap kicked out of me.” After another character offers the opinion “You don’t look so hot,” he says “I don’t feel so hot. It’s a matching set.”
Here’s a “What if…?” that I used to open my romantic mystery Lido Key. I began with “What if the hero went to sleep in one city but woke up in another?” then went from there:
I had the craziest damn dream. I was standing on a cloud of white satin while angels strummed their golden harps all around me. I swear one of them looked like Taylor Swift. Then this guy showed up, dressed in a double-breasted blue pinstripe suit with a gray fedora. Looked like he stepped out an old Bogart movie. No, it wasn’t Bogart, it was Robert Mitchum. Yeah, that’s it. Mitchum in ‘Farewell, My Lovely.’ I always liked that movie. Mitchum handed Taylor a bottle of cheap whiskey and she poured me a healthy slug in a tumbler. She smiled when she handed it to me, you know, one of those smiles that tells you everything’s all right even though your gut tells you it isn’t. I drank it down in one swallow and felt lightheaded so I curled up on that satin cloud and fell asleep. Probably shouldn’t have eaten Veal Scaloppini for dinner last night.
Vic Fallon slowly awoke from a deep slumber. He yawned, stretched his arms then looked through one drowsy eye at the clock radio on the nightstand. 8:30. I don’t usually sleep this late. He yawned again. Must’ve been more tired than I realized. I never sleep this well in a strange bed the first night away from home. He threw back the covers, sat on the edge of the bed and blinked a few times to wake up. Vic took his first deep breath of the day and looked around the bedroom. His brow furrowed in confusion. This isn’t where I fell asleep last night.
This is the blurb for my latest romantic thriller from Extasy Books, Operation Payback:
Former CIA operative Nick Seven has worked hard to create a new life in the Florida Keys with his Barbadian lover Felicia Hagens. Their life in paradise takes an unexpected turn when a double agent that Nick sent to prison is granted an early parole. Nick still remembers what Simon Larch said when he was sentenced – “Someday I’ll get you for this. You won’t know when or how. Just wait for it.” Larch is supposedly in another state, so who’s responsible for the ominous threats Nick receives and how does Larch seem to know everything about Nick’s past? What kind of payback is he really planning?
Get your own copy of Operation Payback today!
Get your own copy of Operation Payback today!
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author whose books range from romantic thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. He can often be found in The Florida Keys, where he indulges in parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada. More information about his books can be found at his website, www.timsmithauthor.com.