04:22:06 pm on
Tuesday 18 Jun 2024

How I Write
AJ Robinson

As a writer, there’s always the pressure to come up with more to write. It’s part to the occupation, the practice of writing. Now, if I’m lucky, I’m inspired and a story just sort of spews out of me.

I once wrote a novel at warp speed.

My latest novel, “The Long Journey Home,” is about 82,000 words. I wrote at practically warp speed! With time left over to outline the sequel.

That’s what happens when you’re not only inspired, but you’re truly passionate about what you’re writing. I absolutely love “The Long Journey Home,” and wish that I could get an agent and a publisher.

Ah, and there’s the rub. I’m a published author. Yet, getting my foot in the right door, with the right people, can be nearly impossible.

So, with that in mind, just think of what it’s like when ideas do not come easily.

That’s the challenge with which I often contend. A client hires me to write a story and they provide me with a less than stellar outline. I once had to write a screenplay using nothing more than a character description! Yet, I managed. Other times, I have to be more creative and I’ve come up with a number of story building devices to help me. Here is quite the interesting one.

I start by simply writing a sentence that describes something I see around me. Here’s a sample: The girl drank from the bottle. There’s not much to that sentence, right? Then I start building, adding to it. I don’t pay attention to the length of the sentence, merely its creativity. Observe, here are the next several iterations:

The little girl picked up the water bottle with both hands and took a sip.
The little girl, her blue eyes sparkling with delight, snatched up the small bottle of crystal-clear water and sated her thirst.

A tiny hand wiped across a wet brow, pushing blonde locks aside as the girl hungrily eyed the bottle of refreshing water and then greedily snatched it up to her parched lips and guzzled it down.

Kim, her clothes all in tatters and damp, crumpled to the ground and cast her weak and weary blue eyes upon the shimmering waves of heat that the cruel sun saw fit to summon forth from the dead and lifeless earth surrounding her; pushed the damp and matted blonde locks from her cheeks as she tried to wipe the glistening layer of hot sweat from her brow, ocused her addled mind on the sole surviving crumpled plastic bottle containing a few drops of life-sustaining clean water and with slow and precise movements, so as to not chance spilling any, brought the misshapen opening to her cracked and bleeding lips with trembling and sweat drenched arms and savored the sensation of minimal relief each drop gave to her parched and near-lifeless flesh.


Yes, that last one was in fact a single sentence. I would never use it in a story, but it does give me a point to build on and ask some questions. I can go forward or back and start with a simple one: Why is Kim out in the desert? She could be following a treasure map, but that’s hackneyed. Okay, how about her dad is missing and she’s looking for him? If he’s missing, why not call the police. Ah, maybe she can’t. He’s a thief. He stole some diamonds and now he’s disappeared.

How does the story move forward?

Okay, not a bad set up, I would say. So, next question. Kim is in a tough spot, going forward with the story, what’s going to happen to her?

Well, as she’s the main character, I’m not about to let her die, but she is in the middle of the desert. Suppose she comes across a ghost town. It could be an old western town, abandoned military installation or something else.

Whom might she meet? Maybe those that took her dad. The Mob could have him; maybe he tried to double-cross them after he finished the job. Maybe the CIA grabbed him after the heist; maybe they want the diamonds to fund covert missions.

Do aliens hold her father? The diamonds could be their eggs or the data crystals they need to get home.

Not a bad potential group of outlines, I think. Yet, keep in mind, all of it grew out of one sentence: the girl drank from the bottle. For me, it brings to mind that old quote, which I believe attributes to Aeschylus. From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.

When you’re trying to build a story, you never know where inspiration will come from.


Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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