Ideas for a Valentine story – what’s missing?

valentine!
(Photo credit: maximolly)

The product of five minutes’ thought just now:

1. The 10th anniversary of a murder. Woman was stabbed while walking to a restaurant to meet her fiancé. Man was convicted and put away, but it was the wrong man. The murderer goes back to the restaurant to celebrate his victory. Who else is there?

2. A woman invites all her exes to dinner on 14th Feb by telling them, in the Valentine’s card invitations, that she is dying. Who turns up? What happens?

3. A man hides a diamond ring in a fairy cake, puts it on a plate with six others, and serves it to his girlfriend as Valentine’s dessert. He asks her to choose. No ring, no proposal. How does she react?

4. I typed the date 14th Feb, by mistake, as 114th Feb. Made me wonder where it might be 114th Feb, and what St Valentine might be known for there.

5. An old woman looks out of the attic window on Valentine’s Day and sees a man outside the house; he has a dog on a string by one hand, and a huge bunch of red roses in the other. She rushes downstairs. Why?

6. There’s a Valentine’s Day competition running in CID, with a prize of two hundred quid for the fastest arrest. What’s it all about?

Plot v character

These are plot ideas. None of them grab me and make me want to know more*. Why is that?

For me, plot comes from character, rather than the reverse. I meet a character – see someone from the train, or bump into them in a cafe, or stand behind them in a lift. They catch my attention, and I start speculating. Who? Where? How? Who else? What next? What if?

As my festering imagination whirrs into operation I discover little things about them. They’re scared of balloons, or they make marmelade, or they have an aunt who’s 103. Each little quirk or quality pushes me off on another round of speculation until there’s a germ of a story. Often the story doesn’t make itself obvious until a second character turns up, either in reality, or in my head. An unlikely couple, or an all-too-likely couple. A line of dialogue, a gesture, their body language.

What’s missing from all those ideas is any real character. As such, they’re just ten-a-penny ideas which I don’t really care about. Characters, once alive in your head, will start kicking. All you have to do is follow them and watch the story unfold.

*Except I want the woman made to choose a cake to pick up the plate and shove the cakes into her boyfriends face – and make him eat the ring.

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Who’s afraid of the big bad clown?

People are afraid of the strangest things. Pick a thing, any thing, and someone will be terrified of it. 

Clowns terrify some people [photo credit Abbs Pepper]
Coulrophobia: fear of clowns
For fiction writers, this is pure bliss. As a device to make any of your characters behave out of, er, character, a phobia can come in very handy. If you need to stop a character in mid-action, throw in something to scare them witless or give them a shock.

If you need a new idea for a sub-plot, a crisis, an ending or a beginning, pick a phobia. They’re great. Mind you, it’s not something you can use too often, but it doesn’t have to be a major thing. You could, however, build a whole novel around a serious phobia.

Oh, such fun. For the author, anyway. If you suffer from any phobia it’s anything but. If you are phobic, on the other hand, you will know exactly how it feels to be confronted by the thing you fear most. You can write very convincingly about the physical feelings, the mental paralysis, the compulsion to run, or to destroy, or to freeze.

For each of the phobias illustrated, answer these questions without thinking – just write anything down. Let your subconscious do the work, not your conscious mind

Saints reduce some people to terror
Hagiophobia: fear of saints

Which character is scared of this?

Where and when does the encounter take place?

What does this character do instinctively and immediately?

How long does it take till the terror wears off?

Who else gets hurt in the panic?

What does the character lose, or fail to do as a result?

What is the consequence of this?

I’d love to see some of your responses – do please leave an example (or three) in the comments box.

Being ignored or forgotten is a real phobia for some
Athazagoraphobia: fear of being forgotten or ignored