Monday, October 24, 2011

The "Birth" of a Story Idea: Baby Talk

Like most authors, one of the most frequent questions I'm asked by aspiring writers is, "Where do you get your story ideas?"

Most of my ideas are sparked from incidents that happen to me in real life.  Most of them don't "grab hold", but a few do, and those are the ones that turn into books.  It's almost like these story kernels have an energy of their own and carry me away with them, gaining speed and momentum, much like a snowball rolling down hill.  Of course, the snowball picks up sticks and rocks and all kinds of other debris along the way that have to be cut away on the second draft (see Does Bruce Willis Have a Dog?), but that's basically how the process works for me.

A good example is my horror novel, Baby Talk.  One night some friends and I were watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, and there was a clip that showed a 5-month old baby that could already talk. Supposedly.

“IIIIII looooove youuuuu,” it said, looking up at the camera, its little mouth twisting spastically to try and form the words.

“Oh, isn’t that darling,” one of my female friends commented.

“Darling?" I said.   "I think it's creepy.  If that were my five month old baby, I think I'd run as fast as I could in the other direction.  It's not normal for a baby that young to be talking.  It's not natural!”

An interesting discussion followed about whether the baby actually understood what it was saying, or was simply parroting the sounds it had heard so often from Mommy.  I thought it was the latter, and that's why it felt a little unsettling.  The words "I love you" did not sound sincere to me.  In fact, the tone seemed almost mocking.

I did not sleep well that night, tossing and turning, thinking about that creepy little baby talking on the video.  I couldn't get it off my mind. By the next morning, the snowball had started rolling downhill.   I kept imagining what it would be like to have a 5-month old baby that started talking to me.  What if it only talked to me when we were alone together?  Would anybody believe me?  And what if the baby didn't like me, for some reason, and refused to talk in front of anyone else to make me look foolish? 

The story began to take form.  I imagined that I was the protagonist and was quite young, only 19, and had gotten the mother pregnant during a casual one-night stand.  I pressed her to have an abortion, but she wanted to keep the baby. Out of a sense of obligation and guilt, I decided to marry her.

The baby would know all this, of course--babies do sense things while still inside the womb--and the little bundle of joy would be out to get me for wanting her aborted.

As soon as I started writing the opening scene, where little Baby Natasha starts talking to Neal Becker whey they're alone, the story began to become very real to me, and it was easy to write.  Like Wild Child, the narrative just flowed out.  Readers tell me it reads that way, just smoothly flows along and draws you in deeper and deeper.

What I think happens with a good book is that the writer successful transfers that "snowball effect" onto the reader--the reader's imagination is fired just as the writer's was, and the supplies just the right bits and pieces to make it grow larger and larger, and more real-seeming, in the reader's imagination.

By the way, Baby Talk has a very cool twist at the end.  As with Wild Child, the unexpected ending did not come to me until I arrived at the end of the book myself.

If you like horror stories, particularly psychological horror, you might give this book a try--Book 1 is a free download.

But I warn you:  better not read this one at night!


  1. Pardon the comparison--very Stephen Kingish. I read the first two chapters. They pulled me in. I liked the fact of the father being the one to hear the child speak because if it were me (I have 7) you couldn't get me to shut up! "My baby can talk! My baby can talk! She's a genius!" That would be me, ha-ha!

  2. I think it sounds scary, but I bet it's good.

  3. Way cool, Mike. When reading your post I remember, as a father of two boys, how babies can sound and look so suspicious from time to time. The late Ray Bradbury wrote the fantastic story about a killer baby, The Small Assassin, and I also remember that classic Looney Tunes cartoon about the frog that was a great singer, but only when nobody but his owner was looking.

  4. The story idea sounds quite good. I like the way you describe coming up with the idea and the process of discovery you went through while creating the story.

  5. Thanks Mike. It's fascinating to hear how other writers generate their story ideas. I recently wrote a blog entry on the same subject. Link at bottom. It is a very individual process that is interesting to read about.

  6. Basically, this is the way things happen to me and a lot of time I start with a different ending in mind that shows up et the end of the story, too. Not all the time, but a lot. Great piece, Mike.

  7. Granted, I've never been published. Heck I've never even FINISHED a novel. But my story ideas come about the same way. I'll never forget sitting at lunch with co-workers one day, talking about one of our bosses being less than competent. Someone at the table, between bites, said, "must be in the witness protection program". I found this funny, but it REALLY got me thinking.

    1. Lol, sounds like an idea with potential, Leslie!