The Daunting Playground—How to Start a Story

I’m wrapping up the editing of my seventh novel, happy for my own success with inevitability’s tremors in my hands.

“What’m I gonna write next? It could be anything.” And anything, no signposts or line-lines, is the source of the fear. If that isn’t apparent after each word it’s at least manageable compared to after each story.

I’ve faced the blank page many times (about four sentences ago for instance) but rarely have I ever struggled to come up with something, however poorly thought out, to best that slate white mockery. Far from a part of my arsenal, I feel brittle against that mountain when it comes out of the sky and stands there.

Yes—what have I done to surmount that challenge? How can I expect to beat it without having bashed my head against the face of that rock till victory is stripped by the determined will?

With the fear on the screen before me I realized, “Oh yeah… Just walk around the thing.” So I took a pleasant walk round the mountain by which I mean my neighborhood.

My blood flowed, I had Nirvana’s Bleach in my ears (a fine piece but I’d still hit their third and second albums in that order before a re-listen), and I passed by a few parks where kids were playing as parents shouted encouragements beside junior baseball leagues practicing at the rise of Springtime. One kid had a go at Ninja Warrioring his way up the outer face of a slide with a ledge-grip on the plastic lip. I knew I must’ve done some needless problem solving like that when I was a kid.

As I walked on, some combination of hot blood, grunge, and bright hope for the future derived from children’s laughter had me lament the boredom of suburbia’s cheery façade. If you think suburbs are milk toast slogs to live through, you’re right. If you’ve lived in a suburb you know the insanity beneath that waxy social contract where everyone you pass on the sidewalk must smile and tell you how cute your dog is.

This wasn’t an original concept but at least it was inspired. Maybe that counts for something. Then that mindset took over along my walk and I viewed those surroundings in such a bleak light. No one stopped for the stop signs as I crossed, I passed the old roadside sign promising a cash reward for information on a fatal hit-and-run of a high-school girl, all the loud bumper-stickers about politics, race remarks etched into the back of street-signs.

The ingredients where there: the honest expression of music, the optimism of youth, the passion to hold a mirror up to what you consider lies.

“What if I just had some kid complain dumbly, but justly, about his neighborhood?” “Dumbly” due to the inherent lack of practice in youth.

When I got home and sat before that white slate I had my setting of my neighborhood’s lively streets, a vague outline of an angered kid calling bullshit on what he saw as bullshit with the ironic comedy of his ignorance and inability to articulate, and something to yell about through the narration.

After a week, I had a short story written, edited, and up to code. It didn’t punch for punch match the original concept I had walking around my neighborhood. Good. What I was left with was an actual story.

With that great success in my books I turned to a new story, a fresh start—another blank page.

“Maybe I can TNT through the mountain this time… Worth a shot.”

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