Story ideas

Writers are almost always asked, at some point, where they get their ideas. Writers, being a varied group, of course report getting them from various sources. Some from songs, some from thin air, some from people they see on the street. There’s no “right” place to get one, and it’s sometimes amazing what a small kernel of an idea can lead to. I can’t exactly describe my writing process, but I thought it would be fun to go over some of my older stories and how they came to be.

Make a Wish was the first story I wrote and posted. Although I can’t say exactly which one, I had read a story somewhere about a genie. Later, something sparked the memory, but my next thought was: what if someone had a genie but didn’t want to make a wish? I’ve found I often look at situations in stories and then wonder what if he had done something else? What if she said no instead of yes?

Not a bad start. But you need more. What came to mind next was The Monkey’s Paw,  a short story by W.W. Jacobs, and which I erroneously — but I think, understandably — initially credited to Edgar Allen Poe. Most of us are probably familiar with the story, wherein people make wishes only to have them granted with a price. (Spoiler coming for those who haven’t read it!) A couple wishes for two hundred pounds; they receive it as compensation for the death of their son. Later the mother makes the father wish the son alive again, and we are left to wonder what monster waits outside the door.

With that in mind, consciously or sub-, I began writing. I’m guessing the death in the story was on my mind, and so I began the story with a young woman, Julie Morgan, sitting vigil in a hospital with her comatose parents. They’d survived, such as it was, a plane crash. Her best friend, Mindy Rodriguez, presents her with a bottle that she claims contains a genie.

Julie took it and slowly unwrapped it. It was tall and rectangular. When she finally got through the ribbons and paper, she opened the box and found herself holding an antique bottle of some sort. Was it wine, she wondered? Finally, she said, “It’s lovely, Mindy, but what exactly is it?”

Mindy smiled widely. “It’s a genie in a bottle.”

Julie smiled in return, figuring her friend was trying to lighten things up a little, and she appreciated the gesture. “Thanks, then. It really is beautiful craftsmanship. I’ll find a place for it when I get home.”

“No,” said Mindy, shaking her head. “I mean it. It’s a genie in a bottle. It’s been in my family for ages.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” said Julie. Mindy shook her head again. “You mean, this is a bottle and if I rub it or something, someone will come out of it dressed in harem pants and tell me I have three wishes. Min, it’s great of you to try to make me feel better, but come on…”

“Just try it when you get home,” Mindy said. “I don’t know about the harem pants, or exactly how many wishes you get, but there’s a genie in there, honest to God.”

“Have you seen it?”

“No, but my grandmother has, and my mother.”

Julie narrowed her eyes at her friend. “You’re serious.” Mindy nodded. “Fine, I’ll take it home. It’s lovely. But I’m not going to be making any wishes.”

“But, Julie,” Mindy protested. “Think of how you could make things better. You could wish for your par–“

“No,” Julie cut in, more sharply than she’d meant to. “I mean, thanks, but no. I don’t believe in making wishes.” Mindy looked about to say more, but Julie pointed out the time and they hurried back to the office.

Julie, like most of us, is skeptical of the genie, but certain of her desire not to wish. The next step in this story was to realize that this would present a challenge to the genie himself.

“So, I get three wishes?” she said, returning to the living room. She didn’t sit, instead leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest.

“Well,” said Marcus, admiring her as she stood by the wall, “there’s no real limit on the wishes. It’s more to do with the quality of them. At least, I think so. Anyway, there are rules, of course. No wishing for mountains of gold, or world peace, or that sort of thing. Each one must be prefaced by ‘I wish…’ I can tell you before hand if your wishes are grantable.”

Julie shook her head. “There’s no need. I don’t make wishes.”

Marcus stared at her. “What?”

“I don’t make wishes,” she repeated.

“But, but…,” Marcus groped for words. Never before had he encountered someone who wouldn’t wish. Some had been greedy, others amazingly altruistic, but none had ever refused outright. “But that’s not possible. Everybody wishes for something.”

Julie then tells him why:

“But why?” Marcus was still baffled.

Julie was getting angry. “Because,” she snapped, “the last time I wished for something — and there wasn’t even a genie around, mind you — I wished for my parents to get back in time for my birthday. Next thing I know, they’re being retrieved from the site of a small plane crash, and I got to spend my birthday in the hospital with them while they were each in a coma.” She had to fight back tears now, and took a deep breath.

So then the story moved along. The point was not really for Julie to make wishes, although eventually she does (come on, that’s no spoiler). As I went along, I had two tracks. One, Marcus falling for Julie. I imagined that a being that was required to serve would have a difficult time making their feelings known. With his status in limbo — if Julie does not wish, Marcus cannot do his job, and cannot leave — Marcus sees her pain and wants to help, as is his nature. Julie grows closer to him as well, relying on the one person who needs nothing form her, and who in fact wants to take care of her, if only she’ll let him.

With those elements in place, I then had to work towards the ending, and put a twist on the use of wishes. I hope I did.

I did not research genies or djinn or try to figure out how granting wishes works in the old folk tales. Perhaps I should have, perhaps I could have put more in the story, but in truth, research is something I don’t have much time for. I wish I did. I do it when necessary, although even then it’s cursory, and I hope that my beta readers and editors point out any errors.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s no spoiling to say it’s a happy one. 🙂 I like my happy endings, both reading them and writing them. In a story like this, I couldn’t deny Julie her happy ending. She’d been through too much, and blamed herself when it wasn’t her fault. Marcus, too, deserved a reprieve from his conflict, and a reward for what he’d done, for being there for Julie and helping her.

I think I’ll be writing about more stories and how they came about … requests welcome. 🙂

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