Monday, June 16, 2008

Building An Idea Story

Some stories are characters. Some are ideas. Some are setting. Some are events.

When I get an event story idea I have to search for characters to participate in the event. When I get a character idea I have to find something for the characters to do and a setting in which to do it.

Most recently, I started a story about dead people voting (idea). I needed characters and setting. I thought of Huey P. Long's quote, "When I die I want to be buried in Tangipahoa Parish so I can still vote."*

The setting had to be an isolated town. There could be no government to solve the town's problem with napalm or a tactical nuclear weapon. And some characters in the story had to be fanatical enough to vote on anything and to abide by what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority."

I started in Huey P. Long's depression era Louisiana in the cypress swamps of Tangipahoa (TANJ ih pah HO ah**) Parish along Lake Pontchartrain. I researched the area and found a Confederate training camp.

The U. S. Civil War would make a good setting for the story, except that Tangipahoa Parish was not organized until after the war. I could set the story in what would later become the parish.

On the other hand, a Civil War cemetery would be especially helpful in the story and there were no battles in Tangipahoa Parish. Savannah's Colonial Park Cemetary has Confederate tombstones that were defaced by Union soldiers. I liked that!

But Savannah surrendered to Sherman so that he would not burn it. There was not much conflict in that history and I would like a bitter past for the story.

I could lift the idea of soldiers defacing other soldiers' tombstones, but move it from Savannah back to Louisiana. Since there were no battles in Tangipahoa Parish, I decided that perhaps the battle of Mansfield in the Red River campaign was suitable. And Mansfield, in De Soto Parish was across Nachitoches Parish from Grant Parish, where the Colfax Massacre occurred.

The Colfax Massacre! That generates bitterness. Dead soldiers taken home to be buried after the Battle of Mansfield. Union troops in Reconstruction Era Louisiana sent to hunt down the White League for murdering 150-200 blacks.

Confederate tombstones defaced in the backwoods of Grant Parish. Hate and bitterness and dead soldiers fanatically devoted to majority rule. A backwoods community caught between Union troops and the White League. That was the setting.

And I know about plenty of backwoods characters like Wiley.



*In Louisiana, counties are called parishes.

**The natives do not pronounce the last syllable

No comments: