What to Write?

By William E. Dempsey

I’m staring at the dreaded blank screen, page one of my next manuscript, wondering what to write. The most common, albeit well worn, advice is to write about what you know. The problem is that many people know what I know. How can I find a way to make what I know exciting enough for others to want to read about it?

The first important element to remember is that this tome will be fiction. It doesn’t have to withstand the scrutiny of an over enthusiastic fact-checker. I prefer historical fiction, so the underlying story must be factually correct. I have now narrowed my thinking somewhat. The next logical step is to pick an event or era to serve as the foundation of the story and the starting point for the necessary research. Ah, since I’m a lot older than most people on the planet are, maybe I do know some things the younger masses don’t.

Last night on TV, I watched a man interview young people on Malibu Beach. It was President’s Day, so his questions involved American history and her presidents. He held up a picture of Abraham Lincoln and asked a young woman who it was. She guessed, “George Washington.” He then asked a college-aged man, “Who won the Civil War?” The immediate response was, “America.” I’m on safe ground, better prepared for this task than I had imagined.

I make a cup of coffee—thinking always makes me thirsty. Okay, how about World War II. Most Americans alive today were born well after the war ended. That might make it interesting reading, but thousands of books have already told those stories. Maybe the Korean conflict? No, same problem; lots of writing has already been done on the subject. More coffee. How about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962? By Job, I’ve got it. The event happened over fifty years ago, so it meets the time requirement of the genre. I was remotely involved, which always helps. That’s it, keyboard—ready; mouse—ready; fingers don’t fail me now:

“It was a dark and stormy night when the crisis began …”