Writing a short story

I’m writing a short story for an anthology called Mormons and Monsters, focusing on classic pulp-style horror stories that happen to have Mormons in them. Since I’m a professional horror writer and a Mormon, it seems like a good fit. But as I was putting together an outline last night, it occurred to me that I’ve been looking for a project for a while now that I could record in full on my blog—not just give you hints about what I’m doing, like I did with my previous books, but actually get down into details on specific plot points and character decisions. This seems like a great opportunity for that, so I’m going to give it a shot.

As I say in my 7-Point Structure presentation, the first thing you need for a story is a basic idea of whist the story is about. Because of the nature of the anthology, I’ve decided it would be fun to write in the least marketable genre of all time: the horror western. And not just any horror western, a horror western about a Mormon superhero. For those unfamiliar with Mormon history, it’s a church founded in early America, before the country had extended fully across the continent, and the Mormons were among the very first to cross the vast, empty plains and settle the Midwest. In 1860 or so, at the height of the cowboy era, the Mormons had been in Utah long enough to be more or less settled, but were still relatively alone with a very strong frontier vibe. Exactly what I want.

In one of these little frontier towns (I’m going to use a made-up one to avoid unnecessary research), my main character lives an outcast. This is where the superhero part comes in: he’s a mutant, so to speak, with the power to turn into a big rock monster, but not in a time or place where turning into a rock monster is a socially or religiously acceptable thing. He thinks he’s been cursed by God, and is afraid to let anyone know his horrible secret. That’s my main character, and his arc will be learning to accept his powers and use them to help his friends and family fight an evil villain. The idea is that he will read a section of the bible about spiritual gifts—the gift of healing, the gift of tongues, etc.—and realize that the gift of turning into a big rock monster is just another way God can give you talents that bless those around you. That’s not official Mormon doctrine, as far as I’m aware, but hey, this is my story. It also has a necromancer in it; I can do whatever I want.

The necromancer is, of course, the evil bad guy. Just as the Mormons went into the wilderness to escape persecution, so this crazy occult guy left civilization to escsape the law, and is now practicing his dark arts in the tiny frontier towns of barely-settled Mormon Utah. I’m doing this for two reasons: first, I want a cool, horrific villain, and some reanimated skeletons sound perfect (also, it gives me a chance for the necromancer to maybe kidnap my hero’s friends or family, for use in a sacrificial ritual, which will increase the tension). The other reason is a little more meta: when my hero decides that his awesome strength is a gift from God I don’t want him to turn around and start murdering people with it. If the bad guys are all skeletons and zombies and such, I have more freedom to really bash heads without offending anyone (except, I suppose, the powerful Undead lobby).

So that’s my idea: a young Mormon cowboy embraces his superpowers and saves his frontier town from a necromancer. I’m calling it The Mountain of the Lord. Tomorrow we’ll go through the outlining process and turn this idea into an actual plot.

16 Responses to “Writing a short story”

  1. AndrewV says:

    I like it, Dan. Thanks for going through this for us, I’m excited to learn how your writing process works.

  2. Brinestone says:

    What thought process led you to the rock-monster idea? Did you think, “I want a story about a Mormon superhero? What superpower would be cool/interesting in this context?” Or did it leap into your head fully formed?

    I ask because I was thinking about creativity today and how magical it seems to people who aren’t creative in that way. People who can’t compose symphonies, for instance, think there’s some sort of mystical thing that happens that causes whole symphonies to leap into the composer’s mind fully formed. While I think this does happen sometimes, it seems to me that most people’s creativity is a bit more like building with Legos: you know enough about the building blocks of your given field (interior design, comic books, novels, what have you), and you start with a foundation and then build on it. There’s a lot of, “What if I did this instead of this? What would it look/sound/feel like?” At least, that’s how it is for me.

  3. Sean - Texas says:

    I guarantee you, someone will get offended Dan. You went to BYU right? I’m sure you met some unhinged individuals, right? People whose moral compass is nuclear charged? Yeah. You’ll get angry letters. Promise.

  4. admin says:

    Yes, Sean, those people will write letters, but not to me—they’ll write to the evil mastermind who compiled a Mormons and Monsters anthology in the first place.

  5. admin says:

    Brinestone: I chose a rock monster, honestly, because mountains are a big deal in Mormon pioneer iconography, and turning into a big stone guy gave me a chance to play with that. Hence the title, The Mountain of the Lord, and various other bits and allusions I have planned.

  6. I like the story idea. And he’s already got a cool theme song.

    I thought about doing an American Werewolf in Provo, but too many deadlines. :)

  7. Alan says:

    Actually, I think this story idea coincides perfectly with Mormon doctrine. Or, at least, it does not contradict it. The idea that certain spiritual gifts exist that are not mentioned explicitly in the scriptures is a theme that Church authorities have set down as doctrine (though admittedly, they never hinted at transmogrification as being one of these gifts). And anyone who has read the Bible knows that Necromancers exist. Otherwise, the Bible wouldn’t forbid the practice of necromancy.

  8. admin says:

    Alan, your logic regarding necromancy is brilliant and I will, with your permission, try to fit it into the story.

  9. I’ve recently been inspired to write a short story but being a novelist at heart, I couldn’t think past my general idea and basic characters. I’ll be interested to see your following posts on the subject and maybe I’ll actually brave the SS world.

  10. Kristy says:

    Love the title!

  11. Melanie Goldmund says:

    Well, I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while now, but now I really have to de-lurk and say how much I’m looking forward to reading all about this project. I, too, would like to write a story for the Mormons and Monsters anthology, but I see a great weakness in my own writing in that I find it hard to come up with a good resolution. I’ll be fascinated to see how you resolve your story, among other things, and hopefully I can learn something about the entire process.

    And I love the title, too!

  12. Patty Richardson says:

    I too have the undead in a story I’m working on. Are there any unwritten rules on zombie creation? Because I’ve totally made up my necromancer’s technique and I certainly don’t want to break any zombie rules. Since you are the resident king of horror, I thought you would know all.

    Awesome story idea! I really can’t wait to read the anthology!

  13. Alan says:

    Yes, Dan, I give you full permission to use my necromancer logic in your story. I am looking forward to I don’t Want to Kill You and I look forward to seeing you at the next Writing Excuses live recording, wherever that may be.

  14. Ooh, I like the rock-transformation idea. Your character could have some interesting reflections on soddom and gomorrah. You sin, you get turned into a pillar of salt. He sins, he gets turned into a pillar of sandstone. He could reflect on his rocky state as a punishment for “looking back” at something. Maybe the family he left behind, who thought he was crazy to go out west and join the insane cult…

    Plus, only a rock monster could survive a baptism by fire, right?

  15. […] work on The Mountain of the Lord, the “Mormons and Monsters” short story I talked about here and here. With a solid outline and some good brainstorming in place, I sat down to write with some […]

  16. Michal Freehoffer says:

    I have to say that for the past couple of hours i have been hooked by the amazing posts on this site. Keep up the good work.

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