This is the eighth year in a row I've run this series in April. Last week I provided a daily explanation about why you should make it a habit to be generating story ideas. This week, I'll give you some tips on how to come up with stories.
Tip: Go random.
This is going to sound really stupid. Well, it is really stupid. But all it takes is one time to pay off, then it becomes clever because as we know, there's a fine line between clever and stupid.
Anyway the very first screenwriting class I taught 14 years ago was at UCLA. One night, I took two caps and some 3×5 inch index cards. I handed out 10 cards to each student, then instructed them on 5 cards to write a job [e.g., plumber, lawyer, dog catcher] and on the other 5 cards to write a location [e.g., shopping mall, swimming pool, church]. I collected the cards, jobs in one hat, locations in the other.
Then we went around the room, each student pulling a card from each hat, an exercise in generating totally random story conceits.
So someone pulls out "Doctor" and "Cruise Ship." Nothing much there.
Then another person pulls out "Jockey" and "Restaurant." Again nothing.
Then someone pulls outs "Cop" and "Kindergarten."
I. Kid. You. Not. "Kindergarten Cop," totally random, right there in that Westwood classroom. Okay, so the moment of inspiration was 12 years after the movie, but still it proved — sorta — that sometimes totally random, stupid ideas have the potential to generate story concepts… and even be a little clever.
Today's story: Thirty Years in Captivity: One Woman's Escape From a London Cult.
Rosie grew up in a succession of decrepit houses in South London with one man and a rotating cast of women, who claimed that they had found her on the streets as an infant. The man, Aravindan Balakrishnan — Comrade Bala, as he wanted to be called — was the head of the household. He instructed the women to deny Rosie's existence to outsiders, and forbade them from comforting her when she cried. "Balakrishnan told us that lesbianism was caused when females cuddle female babies," one of the women, Aisha Wahab, told me recently. "No one dared show affection." Rosie was not registered with local authorities, health-care providers, or schools. As a child, she often stood by a window, hoping that passersby would notice her. Once, after she exchanged greetings with the granddaughter of an elderly neighbor through a hole in the garden fence, Balakrishnan warned her that the girl intended to lure her away to be held hostage. He regularly lost his te mper with Rosie, beating her and threatening to kill her. Sometimes, after an argument, she would retreat to the bathroom, to check whether the toilet still flushed. "When it worked, I kissed the handle," Rosie, who is now thirty-three, recalled earlier this year. "I told it, 'Thank you for being on my side.' "
One day in 1995, when Rosie was twelve, Balakrishnan showed her an identification card from the hospital where she was born. In a box marked "relationship to child," Sian Davies, one of the women living in the house, had written "mother." The revelation sat strangely in Rosie's mind; at the time, she explained, she "didn't have a concept of parents." One night the following December, she was asleep in her bedroom when she heard shouting below. She ran downstairs to see Davies, whom Balakrishnan had caught trying to visit her family for Christmas, bound and gagged by the front door. The next day, Christmas Eve, the women found Davies in the back yard; she had fallen from a window on the second floor of the house and broken her neck on the concrete below. She was taken to King's College Hospital. "Bala didn't visit the first day," Rosie told me. "He said that he wanted Sian to think she was abandoned. That would make her pull up her sock s and start to think about what she'd done." Later, Balakrishnan began making weekly visits, bringing Rosie with him. One day in the spring, as they stood to leave, she ventured, "Bye-bye, mummy." Davies replied, "Bye-bye, baby."
Rosie remembers being wary of wrongly reading the moment. "Sometimes you can call somebody 'baby' and it doesn't mean they have to be your actual child," she told me. Having spent three decades of her life in the commune, she has a way of talking that can seem startlingly literal. She escaped in 2013, at the age of thirty, with the assistance of Yvonne Hall and Gerard Stocks, the husband-and-wife founders of the Palm Cove Society, which provides support for victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse. Jenny Cutler, a consultant forensic psychologist for the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, was one of the first people to interview her after her escape. "She had an excellent vocabulary and was able to articulate interesting perspectives on the world," Cutler told me. "But she also had a scarily underdeveloped understanding of the kinds of social behaviors people tend to acquire from early childhood — almost a pre-pubescent level ." According to Hall, Rosie was largely unable to function outside the house. She didn't know how to cross roads safely, or to ask for change in shops. She'd misjudge social cues, flinging her arms around new people she met, occasionally telling strangers how attractive she found them.
Still, Rosie learned quickly. "We expected her to live with us for no more than two years," Hall said. "She moved out in fourteen months." In that time, she changed her name from Rosie to Katherine and adopted her mother's family names. Now Katy Morgan-Davies has her own apartment in Leeds and takes classes in English and mathematics at a local college. She seems a cheerful sort of person, with a friendly, open face framed with riotous curls. Balakrishnan, meanwhile, is serving a twenty-three-year prison sentence, having been found guilty, late last year, of child cruelty, false imprisonment, and sexual assault against two women.
There have been movies featuring female victims of extended enslavement, films like Room and Stockholm, Pennsylvania.TV series like 'The Path' which feature cults.
Here's a twist: The Protagonist escapes. But then…
The cult comes after her.
After many years of imprisonment, Abby manages to break free. Found by authorities, she goes about trying to normalize her life.
Except an external force does what it can to disrupt her normalization.
It appears to be the cult. Is it real? Abby's paranoid hallucinations?
When innocent people start to disappear, what does Abby think? Do? Give herself over to the cult… if they do, indeed, exist… or fight back?
Plot twist: What if the cult leader has been put to death. But while Abby tries to create a new life, the cult leader reappears.
Is the story a thriller? Or a supernatural thriller?
There you go: My fourteenth story idea for the month. And it's yours. Free!
What would you do with it?
Each day this month, I invite you to click on RESPONSES and join me to do some further brainstorming. Take each day's story idea and see what it can become when you play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.
See you in comments. And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.
For other posts in my A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2017) series, go here.