Ruth E. Walker
Inspiration for a writer can arrive at the most inconvenient times. Nonetheless, it’s good to answer the call of the muse. Even if that call comes via another call that is less than charming.
A recent 7 a.m. long distance phone call woke me with that moment of panic. Was someone ill? Did I forget that I was supposed to be somewhere? And why in heaven’s name does the phone have to play Ride of the Valkyries? [note to self: consider changing the ring tone.]
I managed an almost-awake hello and received the bad news. My credit card had been compromised. It had been used on two large online purchases, and did I authorize them?
Just three days earlier at a party, a good friend told me about her credit card being used for $1300 US-worth of Marriott hotel stays and fine dining. Which, of course, she hadn’t been at either hotel or restaurant…or in the US for that matter. Fortunately, she didn’t have to pay for the theft, just the inconvenience of waiting for a replacement card.
So it took me a few seconds to realize what I was dealing with.
Thinking is good
My logical side kicked in and I ticked off the boxes of How Stupid Do They Think I Am:
Box Number One: The call was a recording. A woman’s serious tones, in an vaguely English-accented voice, advised me “Your credit card has been used recently in two large purchases online. Two-hundred-and-fifty-dollars on Amazon and a one-thousand-two-hundred-dollars on eBay.” A recorded call. Seriously?
Box Number Two: The call didn’t identify the credit card company.
Box Number Three: Nor was my name used (um…it was a recording. Duh.)
Box Number Four: The detail provided on the amounts and places of purchase was in stark contrast to the lack of identifying info (see Box Two and Three.) This is the genius method of sounding legit whilst scamming.
Box Number Five: I was to “press 1 now” if I hadn’t made those purchases. By now, the caller’s tone was downright threatening. Customer Service 101 was clearly not in her background.
Bonus Box Number Six: I took the call at the cottage. My bank and credit card contact info is not my cottage number.
Thank goodness I have a logical side. I hung up. But as a writer, now my brain is working overtime.
Inspiration is really good
Who is this woman? Did she know she was making a recording that would bilk lots of ordinary folks out of money? Is she a victim or a willing participant? Does she know credit card companies will cover these sorts of losses so she thinks she is only scamming the corporations?
Is her vaguely plummy accent real or does she have a range of accents she pulls out for various countries or regions? That accent might not do as well in other English-speaking countries. Does she have a lovely southern drawl for US calls south of the Mason-Dixon Line?
Where was she when she made that recording? In a sound studio between music recording sessions? Or a dingy backroom in some illegal call centre in southeast Asia or downtown Toronto?
And what about the rest of her life? Was this a harmless one-off that somehow ends up costing her in the future? Was she tricked into this recording, told it was an audition for computer voice in an upcoming film? And then later on, in an audition for a real film, the casting director recognizes her voice as the one that scammed him a few years ago and he vows revenge…
See? One inconvenient and potentially disruptive phone call, and my imagination is off to the races.
Before you think this is one crazy idea, take a look at Will Ferguson‘s unsettling but terrific novel 419, a deep dive into the world of the insidious Nigerian Internet scams, and the people who, worlds apart, are drawn into the trap of a better future. You remember those emails…”Sir or Madam, I am the son of an exiled Saudi prince. I need your help in getting my late father’s treasure and promise you 20% of the millions hidden in Swiss bank accounts…”
Combining thinking & inspiration is best
My 7 a.m. cottage phone call proves that my muse is alive and well, even if not conveniently timed. It confirms I possess a vital skill that I employ as a writer and an editor: Logic. And logic drives all narrative arcs. From science fiction or fantasy to police procedural mysteries, logic forms the base of all the story elements: plot, conflict(s), character motivation and behaviour, setting, and resolution.
That last one, resolution, is the place that many writers lose the thread of logic. Have you ever read a good book only to arrive at the end and be confused or disappointed by how things are wrapped up? The ending just isn’t logical. Maybe there was nothing in the preceding pages that set up that ending. Or maybe the author thought “Surprise!” was a neat way to end.
Logic works in real life. So it has to work in your writing. If it’s logical that your character would give up their life’s work as an astrophysicist to become a hermit on the mountain top, you better give us something in the story that supports that change.
If it’s snowing heavily in the beginning of the chapter, the characters better have their coats, hats and boots on as they squint into the flakes. And for heaven’s sake, don’t have the cop showing up on his motorcycle at the end of the chapter. Are there even snow tires for a motorcycle. [note: research is an important step to ensuring logical writing.]
Logic in writing. Use it. Because if you don’t, we will notice.
Writescape workshops help writers focus on the important elements of story, including logical plots and characters with motivation and behaviour that makes sense.
June 15, 2019: Create Compelling Characters. Join Ruth E. Walker at her Haliburton cottage for a one-day focus on the people in your story.
Fall 2019: Watch for Gwynn Scheltema’s Tax Tips for Writers at the November 10 meeting of The Writers’ Community of York Region, and for Gwynn and Ruth’s Master Class at The Writers’ Community of Durham Region.