The jigsaw puzzle of writing

Ok, try this on for size:

Take a work of contemporary fiction and then set it back in time. The challenge there is to ensure you are eliminating references from the modern story that won’t fit in with the historical one. Perhaps certain elements of the story itself won’t match, so some alteration is necessary. You wonder if the basics of the story, the fundamental elements, work in a different time. Perhaps it is a lesser retelling; hopefully, it is as good or better.

Or, take a concept that hasn’t lent itself well to any story you wish to tell but can now be put into another work you are thinking of doing. Maybe you have in mind something akin to the Aristotelian unities, a tale taking place in one city over a prescribed period of time, a short period of time in order to condense all the action.

Now, take those two puzzle parts previously described and combine them. This is the jigsaw puzzle of writing. I mean, after all, as writers we take elements from several locations, inspirations, and sensory inputs. Why can’t we take two notions and create something greater than the sum of the parts?

I had this idea to do a piece in which a mob enforcer came down by bus from Kansas City to Wichita to clean up a mess created by two warring factions. It would be 50’s/60’s/70’s, something influenced by late film noir and hard-boiled aspects. There would be Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars sensibilities. The main character would come by bus to be inconspicuous but have a duffel-type bag for clothes and weapons. He would arrive and depart over the course of, let’s say, 36 hours. There were notes taken and a couple of chapters written many years ago. I put it aside in the To-Be-Written pile.

My first published piece (no longer in print) was a variation of that story but contemporary. Disgraced former cop gets phone message indicating his brother is in trouble. Races down from a pathetic job as head of security at a casino in Minnesota. He finds a bunch of unsavory characters. There are chases and shootings and a good deal of violence. Very Peckinpah-ish.

But, after writing and publishing Ark City Confidential and the subsequent three books in that historical crime fiction series, I started to get a few ideas relating to the old ideas. Could I revise a previously published work as an historical piece AND condense the action into a span of, for example, two and a half days? After doing a LOT of research on train schedules for 1938, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

Therefore, with a tentative title of “63 Hours in Wichita”, I have started on a new project. It feels very much like figuring out what’s for dinner by rummaging through the refrigerator for scraps and leftovers. It fulfills my desires to continue within the historical fiction genre. And it is yet another challenge needing to be met.

So, when you look through your old files and notes, or inside your fridge for that matter, consider putting together something you never dreamed was there before.

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