Writing fiction is an odd business. You might think that it is easy to have a blank slate in front of you and the whole universe to play with, but that isn’t the case.
There are plenty of ideas out there, and they do come along, but something I’ve found very useful is some kind of seed, a grain of irritant around which the pearl (hopefully!) of a story might develop.
My first published story, Recreation published in the Footprints anthology, came about that way. The brief for the anthology concerned the reaction of aliens who, millions of years after the disappearance of mankind, come across our leavings on the Moon, and specifically the footprints of the Apollo astronauts. I mulled over that brief for a while, added a few other things I’d been thinking about, like the collision between our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Andromeda Galaxy, M31, in about 5 billion years, and came up with something that the people at Hadley Rille thought interesting enough to publish.
I’ve written other things ‘off the top of my head’ but over the past year, alongside the slow drag of rewriting the Novel In Progress (working title The Bourbaki Conjecture for those who are interested, I’ve been finding some very useful grains of irritant in the shape of the Arc Magazine competition. This has been run three times so far, and each time I’ve entered, responding to the various themes they provide.
I haven’t won the competition yet, but the stories that have come out of this, especially with some reworking, are all viable for other markets.
And this led me to an interesting thought. If this effect is not uncommon, then a sufficiently attractive themed market, like the Arc competitions, will, alongside the explicit winners, also leave a fallout of other marketable stories with the same theme, which will appear elsewhere overtime. So the leverage of something like the Arc competitions may go a lot further than just that specific publication.