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An art, or a science?

Story by Chris Graham

Writers get the question constantly. “Where do you get your ideas for stories from?”

Here’s what we want to say: “Inspiration.”

And here’s what we have to admit: “We just pay attention.”

“Stories are basically about people who are changed by some type of experience that they’re going through. They have some type of goal, they’re trying to reach the goal, they’re opposed in the form of obstacles coming from an antagonist, which might be themself, which might be another person, which might be the environment,” said Matthew Warner, a Staunton author who will be conducting a writers’ workshop with the Waynesboro Cultural Commission at Stone Soup Books and Cafe in Downtown Waynesboro Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

“People expect certain things to happen as you go through a story at certain points. And from that you get a picture, a model, of what a story would be. We call it a paradigm. And when you come up with a story idea, if you start filtering it through that paradigm and what people’s expectations are for the nuts and bolts of what would be in a story, you can really go a long way towards putting something together,” Warner said.

“So when people ask me, Where do you get your ideas, I say, It’s really a process. It’s about the structure. You can get your ideas from anywhere. I get plenty of ideas from newspapers. Once you start filtering it through this model of what is a story, all of the sudden you realize that you can have a story right there just by going through the process,” Warner said.

A horror writer by trade, Warner has been branching out recently into a new genre, paranormal romance, a mix of horror elements and traditional romance, and nonfiction, with his new book, Horror Isn’t a 4-Letter Word: Essays on Writing and Appreciating the Genre, which examines the horror genre from an analytical perspective and also includes essays on local history and the ongoing controversy over the prosecution of an adult-video store owner in Staunton.

I often think of Warner in the context of reporting on that story – as a horror writer whose novels depict sometimes graphic situations and who happens to live in a Staunton where juries are now being given carte blanche to use Virginia’s obscenity laws to set new community standards for what is acceptable and what isn’t.

“The way the obscenity laws are written in Virginia, if I had a depiction of sexual acts in a romance novel that I’m working on, and people thought it was obscene, I could go to prison for it,” Warner said. “The laws that were originally created that are being invoked right now to censor X-rated videos were actually written in response to X-rated books. They were written over 50 years ago, and I think they have no bearing on original First Amendment constitutional law.

“It’s a complete travesty and miscarriage of justice. But yes, it could happen. It could happen to you, Chris,” Warner said.

Except that I don’t live in the Clean City, thank God. But that’s another story for another day.

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