BHD had his broadway debut this week, well, not exactly Broadway, with Liars League New York City performing his story Rat Run.
People often ask writers where their stories come from, and sometimes, mostly perhaps, the answer is a mish-mash of there and thens, and him and hers. Rat Run is unsusual, for me at least, in that I can pinpoint precisely where I had the idea, and could probably work out when. In fact, I was being driven into Carlisle one morning, and as we segued around the clock face on the western edge of the city, I noticed a car parked in a laybye on the opposite side of the road.
Not two cars, as in the story; not with anyone in it, as in the story; not a car I recognised, let alone a person I knew; but that was the moment the idea for the story flashed into my brain. I didn’t know where the story was going to, or really, where it was coming from, but I knew that it was a car in a laybye, and I pulled out my notebook and made a note of that.
Several days later, I wrote the story, tinkered with it a bit, and sent it off to Liars League NYC, for their Private & Public theme. That was unusual too, for me, not the sending off, but the fact that I could remember the idea several days after it had occurred to me. Usually the ideas drift in and out of the head and leave nothing in the great hollow nothingness inside – and that’s within hours, if not minutes. For an idea to stick is a welcome change!
V.S.Pritchett said that short stories come from a ‘poetic impulse’, and this story, though not necessarily poetic, was certainly born of an impulse: the sudden realisation that somebody, perhaps somebody you knew, might be seen sitting in a car, in a laybye, waiting for an assignation. Of course, that’s not the story I went on to write. My story was told from the point of view of the person in the car: it is a story not about seeing, but about being seen.
One other thing, perhaps worth pointing out, is that the story came out of the place and time in which it is located, one of the things I’m always banging on about in the Facets of Fiction workshops I run. Location, in time and place, I say over and over again, is what generates story, not character. It is the presence of characters in those places, at those moments in time that creates the stories, as they strive to bring about, or to resist changes. The interaction of character with the situations they encounter because of the specific places and the specific times they find themselves trapped in is the main engine of narrative.
In Rat Run, a laybye elsewhere might not have exposed the two lovers to discovery at all. The same laybye at a different time of day, or night, might have exposed them to quite different threats. An entirely different location would have led to an entirely different story: an alcove in a church wall, for example, in the days of horse and carriage. If you are the sort of short story nerd I am, you might take that as a cue for an attmept of your own!
If you would like to read the original Rat Run, here’s a link to the Liars League NYC site: http://www.liarsleaguenyc.com/blog/2012/07/rat-run-by-brindley-hallam-dennis.html#more