Picking through the Bone Yard
Every writer needs a bone yard!
This is not as macabre as it sounds. By a bone yard, I mean files, notebooks, or shoe boxes filled with newspaper clippings, magazine articles, interesting photos, and other odds and ends. In my bone yard files, I also add those wonderfully written parts of a piece of fiction that needed to be sliced away to tighten the story.
Each of those bones is part of an unwritten tale. That interesting article about inserting fluorescent genes from jellyfish and sea anemones into the eggs of tropical fish in order to create a glowing fish for aquariums might not be a story, but added to an article on the destruction of unsuccessful scientific research, a book on gypsies, and some of the experiences had when taking a bus tour — and you might have the skeleton for a piece of fiction. (I did — these are the bones of my story, “Assassins.”)
Not long ago, I went to my bone yard and gathered several interesting scraps that eventually became “Sideshow by the Sea.” I found a newspaper clipping about a baby with mermaid’s syndrome born in South America. I pieced it together with some handouts and old “Shocked & Amazed” magazines from sideshow expert, James Taylor. I recalled a TV interview with a family of children suffering from hirsutism that performed in a circus. For a bit of local color, I added in an old essay about the boardwalk at Ocean City. Lastly, I used my experiences as a mom raising teens who just wanted to belong. And, bingo! I had the skeleton of a story that just needed to be fleshed out.
So if you’re a writer, keep a bone yard of fascinating bits and pieces. One day you’ll realize how several seemingly unrelated items fit together. And if you’re a reader, see if you can find the skeleton that supports your favorite authors’ books. As for me, the night is dark, the rain is slapping the windows, and I’m about to dig through some bones.