Story starters can be found everywhere in our lives. Newspaper headlines or TV news; something your friend said that stuck with you, or something you’ve always wanted to do could be topics about which your formulate a story, fictional or otherwise. Even a recluse can conjure topics and stories. The possibilities are endless.
A good way to recognize story potential is to understand how events, people, and places affect us. I’m not talking about events and issues that you pass off and soon forget. What about something that keeps playing in your mind. Perhaps you have some fond memories and you begin to wonder, “What would have happened if things had been different?” That line alone is a superb channel to conjuring a story.
Here is the synopsis to my award-winning thriller, River Bones. This is the original Sara Mason Story. The Howling Cliffs is the 1st sequel and the next sequel is bring written. After reading the synopsis, I’ll point out the story starters that helped me write this thriller.
(First in the Sara Mason Mystery Series)
A serial killer terrorizes residents among the lush orchards and farmlands of the Sacramento River Delta in California.
Sara Mason returns to live in her hometown area in spite of torturous memories of the drowning deaths of her alcoholic parents and younger sister. She purchases a verifiably haunted ramshackle Victorian, intends to make peace with her past, and then learns the elusive psychopath is stalking her. Skeletal remains are found near her property, and later, on the property. Time and again, Sara’s dreams of steadily rebuilding her life are hindered. More remains are found and she is ordered to live elsewhere during the investigations.
Suspects include Crazy Ike who digs in graveyards; a vagrant caught wringing a cat’s neck, a window peeper, and numerous others connected to the twenty-eight known dead. The psychopath strangles his victims and snaps the hyoid bones in their throats, then buries each body with a small animal.
After escaping several attempts on her life, Sara discovers clues from previous victim burials and is the only person who can identify the perpetrator. She volunteers as a decoy for the Sheriff’s Department, and ends up with the maniac’s powerful hands wrapped around her throat.
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My childhood hometown. A friend made a casual remark, asking why I didn’t set one of my books “back home.”
Returning to hometown after years away. I returned several times and caught up on the local news, including some about a former serial killer in the area.
Skeletal remains. Some were found near some friends’ homes.
Victorian River Mansion – Have always wanted to own one and live in it, but evidently that is not to be. Why not write about such a grand house?
Window peeper. Every town has one or more of those!
Can you see how these story starters took on a life of their own?
Another tip is to spend some time alone so that you can think through the characters, occurrences, and endings possible for a story you might write. Write notes and lists! If you have a deep desire to write, your stories are already in your mind waiting to explode onto your monitor.
Blood-red letters filled the top of the news page on the monitor screen…
Serial Killer Victim Identified
Each time Sara Mason went online to read and learn about the Sacramento River Delta, the hometown area she never had a chance to know, her homepage featured headlines about the elusive psychopath. She read the Internet posts with concern and remembered the fear caused by the Zodiac Killer of the 1960s and 1970s. Like with the Zodiac, authorities had no direct clues as to who the killer might be.
Reading the updates always set her nerves on edge. Just after moving into her home she thought she had heard someone walking around her property late at night but could never find a trace of anyone being there. Was she imagining things?
The news went on to disclose…
The graves of two unidentified skeletons did not contain ID and personal belongings, as was the case with previous burial sites found. Cat bones buried in the graves were the tie-in with previous victims, all found with bones of a small animal.
“A cat,” Sara said out loud. Then an intrusive old image came to mind: A pink dress and a small furry bunny.
Cold case detectives identified one of the two sets of remains as that of Paula Rowe, a convenience store night clerk from Sacramento. She had been missing twelve years.
Previous reports indicated the victims had been put into the ground with whatever they had on their person at the time. The killer dug the graves in remote areas near rivers and streams where the ground was soft and damp, promoting decay.
A police profiler indicated the perpetrator probably lived within the crescent shaped area where graves were placed. Remains were found beyond Interstate 80 to the west, Roseville to the north, and east of Rancho Cordova along the American River. Within that crescent lie the entire Sacramento metropolitan area and suburb towns. Most victims had been missing for years, some for decades. Since the graves discovered in recent times did not contain fresh skeletons, it was assumed the killer either left the area or simply quit killing, which law enforcement believed unlikely. Now and then, they added a new name to the growing list of missing persons.
One last item in the Internet article disclosed…
Since victims are both male and female, and of differing races, it is difficult to determine a possible motive, except that authorities have an elusive madman on their hands.