It’s been said that the best fiction is based on fact. And, no matter how large or small that tidbit of information is, it plants the seed that the writer develops as the story arc. It’s the spark that creates the basis for the storyline and it’s the anchor that keeps the story focused.
Often I’ve joked to my fiction writer friends about the stories I create. “You just can’t make this stuff up,” I say, and they smile and I get nods of agreement all around.
But where do these crumbs of fact come from that fester into plots? I either find an interesting newspaper article, an online piece about some new scientific research or I develop a story around something that I’ve experienced—and then embellish on those facts to create believable fiction.
And that’s simply what good fiction really is—a believable lie!
So when I was traveling back from New England recently, I experienced something quite unique that became the seed for a sinister new short story.
It happened while my wife and I were having lunch at an airport. We were seated at a table toward the back of a restaurant off the main concourse. Shortly after we were seated, another person sat at the table next to us.
This fortyish man first ordered food, then placed an ear bud into each ear and connected them to his cell phone. Next he made a call. About that time, another gentleman—this one a twentyish-looking kid—sat at the table adjacent to the fortyish man such that they were facing each other.
The young man ordered and the waiter left his table. Suddenly my wife and I heard the young traveler start to giggle. There was a perplexed look on my wife’s face as she said, “How odd. That young man is looking straight at the guy next to us and giggling.”
I looked to my side, to the fortyish man next to us. He was obviously talking on the phone, but he stopped talking and smiled along with the man giggling. Laughter is often infectious and one cannot help but smile or laugh when someone else laughs. The fortyish man, however, stopped smiling and grew perplexed when the younger man started laughing out loud.
I asked my wife, “Is that kid talking on the phone?”
I gazed over at the man next to us as I heard the chuckles behind me evolve into gales of laughter. Fortyish Man seemed irritated and said as much to whomever he was talking to on his phone, but then he tried to ignore Laughing Man and simply looked down at the table.
But Laughing Man kept at it. He started giggling so hard that others in the restaurant turned to stare at him. The laughter stopped momentarily while his food was served, but then he started up again. It began with some intermittent giggles between bites and then his chuckles cascaded into gales of belly-jiggling laughter that was heard around the restaurant. At that point, the man next to us threw up his hands and asked, “Okay, what’s so funny, man?”
This only encouraged more laughter, but it also brought over the waiter who unsuccessfully tried to quiet the man. Finally, the manager came over and asked the guy to leave. The manager instructed the waiter to package up the man’s food and to prepare his bill.
As my wife and I watched with astonishment, Laughing Man continued chuckling as he paid the bill. We saw the waiter roughly wrap the guy’s food in tin foil and stuff it into a to-go box. Laughing Man took one more look at the man seated next to us and let out another gale of laughter before he turned and walked out of the restaurant.
At that point, Fortyish Man turned to us. “What was with that guy? What did I do?” We confirmed that it was one of the strangest things we’d ever seen, and then all three of us focused on our meals once again and ate in peace.
As I paid the bill and we gathered our carry-on bags, my wife turned to me and said, “You know, you always tell me that there’s a story hidden somewhere in everything. I think we just observed a short story that you should write.”
And that’s exactly what I did. We walked to the nearest airport lounge and settled into some chairs for another hour to wait for our flight—an hour that I used to outline a short story, a bit more sinister one I might add than the actual event that we witnessed.
The short story is now complete and it has a name. I call it Laughing Man. One of these days I’ll publish a collections of short stories and this one will definitely be included.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!