The Spark of a Story

Hats, Coffee & Other Things

I learned how to be a writer from a cop.

The funny thing is I don’t even write suspense or anything to do with law enforcement. Confused yet? Let me explain.

When I was a child, my Dad was a frequent watcher of the American TV Show, COPS. The show is an American documentary/reality legal series that follows police officers, constables, sheriff’s deputies, federal agents and state troopers during patrols and other police activities including vice and narcotic stings. It premiered in 1989 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the United States.

Now, how does this TV show figure into being a writer?

Well, in one episode, there was a female cop in her patrol vehicle cruising up and down city streets and talking to the camera about her usual routine. She talked about the area she patrolled and then something she said stuck out to me as vividly now as it did to my eight-year-old self who decided to do the same in her everyday world.

She spoke of creating imaginary scenarios wherever she went: if this bank was being robbed what would I do? If I came upon a car wreck how would I react? What if there was someone standing on the ledge of this ten-story office building?

Unknowingly with her questions, this cop taught me the spark of a story—the story question that guides writers, especially in fiction. What if?

I started to look out the window of our family’s car and ask myself questions: “What if this were happening here?” or “What if I saw this person doing this in front of that store?”

In later years when I began the pursuit of becoming a novelist and began voraciously reading blogs and attending writer’s conferences and absorbing all I could about the craft and industry I realized that the spark of writing a novel was in me all along. I knew how to draw upon my vivid imagination and ask that necessary “What if?” question.

It was an epiphany to say the least. And one that I’m glad came about thanks to my Dad’s obsession with law enforcement television programs. You never know where inspiration will strike, do you? All it takes is “What if?” and off you go.

What has been epiphany moment in your life whether about writing or something else? Perhaps it was a similar one to mine? I’d love to hear about it!



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