The caller was the bookkeeper for a company whose customer had just paid for a new car with Visa gift cards. A car bought with gift cards? How weird is that? What the caller wanted to know was whether to fill out the U.S. Treasury Department’s money-laundering paperwork for large cash transactions. What I wanted to know, at least, after scrolling through the regulations to answer her question, was how to use this in a story. From personal experience, I’ve found a story needs a minimum of minimum of three ideas -- three seeds -- to germinate. My files already held a newspaper clipping about a young girl declared to be an incarnate goddess in a small country and an undead sidekick character from an as yet unpublished novel of mine. Add the crazy gift cards and the result was my fantasy short story “Gift Cards of an Ex-Goddess,” published in a magazine anthology last year.
You have your own idea file, right? Stashed on index cards, in newspaper clippings, in computer folders full of oddities cut and pasted from the Internet? Here’s a resolution for the new year: dig out your file, pick any three items and connect them into a story. Hey, I’ll even offer you some items from my files. Recent news clippings: “Space station astronauts beam down Twitter images of Earth” and “a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head – all in the name of art.” Throw in the strange little paper animals from the 2010 origami calendar I just packed away, and I feel a story coming on, don’t you? Try it. And don’t worry that your story will be anything like mine. Because yours will have that extra, magical ingredient. Yourself.