Some weeks ago I was reading a small book by Graham Greene in which he included summaries of book ideas he never got around to writing. These were two or three page narratives, not outlines, of a story—succinct, packing the GG punch, and very satisfying to read. They had remarkable depth for something so short.
As I was turning the page on one summary, however, a different version of this story came to me—one that corrected what I brazenly considered a flaw, and took me into an entirely different direction. I couldn’t get the new story out of my head. I made dinner, I did the dishes, I worked on a short story, but that “new story” line kept popping up. I finally decided I had to give in to it, which I thought meant just scribbling down a few notes and putting them aside.
I opened a blank page in Word and started to describe the story of a hostage who is released without anyone else knowing about it (in ways that are intended to complicate the plot, of course), and the story went on from there—I couldn’t type fast enough. Characters I hadn’t imagined ran across the page, complications that I have never used and never thought of came right along. I kept typing and typing and typing, and ended up with about twenty pages—and was nearly exhausted. I couldn’t have stopped the story if I had wanted to. It had its own shape and design and purpose, and I was merely transcribing. At every point where I thought I could stop writing, the story went on, with one more twist, one more surprise. A few days later I said to a friend, “This is a LONG book. I’m going to be tired at the end of it.”
This wonderful, unexpected experience may have been inspired by Graham Greene, one of my all-time favorite writers, or perhaps my unconscious was just ready to throw this idea out to me. For whatever reason, I have a pulsating scenario of a novel I long to write, but haven’t—yet. Right now I’m working on the sixth Joe Silva book, finishing up an Anita Ray short story, and editing a manuscript for my day job. But that novel about the hostage is always there in the back of my mind, waiting to be written. And oddly enough, the basic idea doesn’t seem to grow cold or stale, which is what would have happened if the idea was a weak one, just a flash of personal entertainment.
So, watch for this one in the distant future. It won’t go away. It demands to be written, and so it will. But I can’t say when.