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April 2019: What Comes First
~ Elizabeth Coldwell ~

CTR asked:

Which comes first when you start a new story? The title? The characters’ names? The plot? Explain your starting process and what you need before you can write the first words.

Elizabeth Coldwell said:

Every story I write varies – if I’m submitting to a call that has a tight brief (e.g. a story about a character with a certain profession, or set in a certain place) then I usually work on coming up with the plot first, as with these calls it can be harder to find an idea someone else may not have thought of.

Sometimes, a title pops into my head and I either start writing whatever idea springs from that or I’ll put it on a list if an idea doesn’t occur straightaway. (I also have a list of names in search of characters, though for me a name is never For instance, the words “Stranded In Paradise” came to me. They turned into a novella about a student from England who finds himself abandoned in the middle of Nebraska when a road trip goes wrong, and the man who offers him a bed for the night in a tiny town called Paradise. My favourite titles are often really bad puns – I wrote a story about a pair of female friends who have an encounter with a traffic policeman, called “Two Girls, One Cop” (and if you don’t know what that pun is based on, please don’t look it up!), and another about a couple with the surname Catt who learn that their neighbours hold swinging parties in their absence. Bonus points if you’ve already guessed that one was called “While The Catts Are Away…”

Sometimes, the plot and the title occur almost simultaneously. I wrote a story for a Pride Publishing anthology about gay superheroes. The idea of the anthology was to examine what happens if superheroes have to keep their identity or their powers disguised. In my story, superheroes had been outlawed by a city’s corrupt mayor, meaning the hero, Christopher Chase, had never been able to reveal to anyone – not even his long-term boyfriend – that he had inherited super-speed from his father and constantly had to damp down the urge to fight crime and protect those in need. The title of the story, “Behind The Mask”, seemed to me to suit the idea well, and comes from a song I love (no, not the better-known Eric Clapton cover but the Greg Phillinganes original – check out the music video on YouTube because it sums up the mid-Eighties in all their cheesy, big-haired, keytar-playing glory). To me, the plot, the title and the hero’s name all come together to make the story work – and those are always the most satisfying to write and, I hope, to read.


Behind the Mask by Elizabeth Coldwell cover

Behind The Mask

[MM Superhero Crime Romance]

Twenty years ago, superheroes were outlawed by the mayor of Mokum City. Christopher Chase has grown up knowing that he has all the strength and speed of Sprint, his superhero father, who died attempting to save the mayor’s niece from being kidnapped. But, unlike his father, he is unable to fulfil his destiny and become a masked crimefighter. Even Christopher’s boyfriend, bar owner Jimmy Brennan, doesn’t know Christopher’s true identity.

A chance encounter with a purse snatcher in the city cemetery gives Christopher a taste of what it’s like to use his powers for good. And when Jimmy becomes caught up in a hostage situation, Christopher can no longer stand by. Even if it means losing his own life, he must pull on the costume of Sprint to save the man he loves.

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