KING AND THIEF
by Rob Lopresti
Hello, my name is Rob and I’m a thief. I steal story ideas. A lot.
Okay, they’re all legitimate theft. If it were plagiarism I wouldn’t brag about it.
Here is a list of people I stole story ideas from. Keep in mind, these are just from my published stories, and only the ones I could remember.
The New York Times
and of course . . . Robert Lopresti
We can add another name to that list. The June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine features my story “Hammer and Dish,” which I swiped from Stephen King. Don’t worry that he’s going to sue. First of all, he would never recognize where I got it from, and second, he invited it.
If you haven’t read King’s On Writing, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t like his novels, this book is worth reading. The writing advice is good and the memoir is fascinating. (The moment when he learns about the paperback rights to Carrie is enough to choke me up.)
There is a section of the book where King suggests you try writing without a plan. Just get an idea and go. He even gives you an idea to start with.
I’ve never had any luck with writing that way. If I start writing without knowing how the story will end, I wind up with a story without an ending. But I decided to try his exercise. There was only one problem. I didn’t like the set-up he invited us to use. It was a very basic X versus Y suspense story, and I’m not big on suspense. But I had a thought of my own.
Deep in the files
In my notebooks I had an idea, really an image, that had popped into my head years before. I had never done anything with it because I didn’t have – surprise – an ending. But I decided, with the encouragement of Mr. King, to take a shot at it.
Here’s the image:
A large man, football player size, is walking on a deserted city street. He is carrying a heavy object. He is attacked by a much shorter man, essentially a midget. Because of the heavy object he carries, he can’t run away. He is afraid that if he fights back he might kill the man, and who would believe he was defending himself?
That was all I had. I didn’t know who those two men were, why the attack happened, or what occurred next. But I started writing.
There is a cliche that says mainstream fiction starts with character, genre fiction starts with action. I don’t know exactly how you separate the two, but I do know that the action here gave me my characters. Why was the big man walking on an empty street? What was he carrying? Who was the midget, and why did he attack? Their actions revealed their personalities, and their personalities gave me – you guessed it – an ending.
And then there was a really, happy ending, Alfred Hitchcock’s bought the story, my sixteenth in that market. So, thank you Mr. King. Next time you’re in my town I’ll buy you a beer. We’ll have a nice chat and I’ll pay close attention. Looking for something I can swipe.