“The Incident”, by Nick Dale

Here is an example of a story I’ve written to illustrate how to use a story mountain as part of my five-step process for creative writing:

  1. Choose your title
  2. Brainstorm for ideas
  3. Create a story mountain
  4. Write the story
  5. Check your work

The title I chose was The Incident. Normally, I’d suggest drawing a triangle to represent a ‘mountain’ and putting your notes at evenly spaced intervals, but that’s a bit difficult with a blog post, so here’s my version of the story mountain:

  • Introduction (grab the reader’s attention)

A busy day in York (describe spontaneous combustion)

  • Introduction (describe the characters)

Frank and Martha driving along

  • Build-up (what the main characters are trying to do)

Christmas shopping, but have to see police at Frank’s tennis club first

  • Problem (what stops them)

Interviewed about ‘incident’ but Frank refuses to sign gagging order

  • Solution (how do they fix the problem)

Escape as Frank knows code to gate

  • Outcome (whether it’s a happy ending or not)

Go to car, but policeman follows

The Incident

xxxIt was just before Christmas, so it was a busy day in the Shambles area of York, with lots of tourists milling around, window-shopping and occasionally going into one of the olde worlde shops to find a scented candle for Aunt Doris or a packet of joss sticks for a grandson who was ‘into that kind of thing’. One man looked a little lost in all the traffic. He was tall and slim, bareheaded but wearing a grey overcoat and trousers with shiny black shoes. What made him look particularly weird was that he was walking around trying desperately to talk to passers-by and shake their hands . Most people thought he was some sort of lunatic and avoided him like the plague, tutting in that very English way before moving on hurriedly, but one man did stop to help.
xxx“Hello, are you lost or something?” said Frank.
xxx“Hello,” said the stranger, offering his hand.
xxx“Oh, er…” said Frank, awkwardly offering his hand in return. He wasn’t in the habit of shaking hands with random people in the street, but he went along with it. However, just as the two men’s hands touched, the stranger disappeared in a burst of flame, leaving only a pile of sooty ashes on the pavement. Frank jumped back in shock, looking at his hand to check he hadn’t been burned. What on Earth had just happened? It was like spontaneous combustion. Or something…
xxxA week later, Frank and his wife were driving through York on their way to their local tennis club. Progress was slow because of all the tourists, and Frank was chuntering under his breath and honking his horn occasionally – even when he didn’t need to. They were a couple in their mid-sixties. Frank was a little taller than his wife, but both were carrying a few extra pounds and had brown eyes and thinning grey hair. Frank was wearing brown trousers, a check shirt and blazer, while Martha had on a knitted dress and an overcoat with low-heeled shoes.
xxx“I thought we were going Christmas shopping?” said Martha.
xxx“We are, but the police want to interview us about that thing in the Shambles. They called it ‘the incident’.”
xxx“Yes, but why aren’t we going to the police station?”
xxx“Well, apparently, they don’t have the space…”
xxxWhen they arrived at the tennis club, there was a policeman at the gate. He checked their names on a list and pointed them towards the clubhouse. The whole place had been taken over. Frank was used to seeing the members playing tennis or lounging at the bar in their sometimes garish tennis gear, but now the courts were empty, and some of the people waiting inside were wearing leather jackets and smoking. Smoking! It was very busy, and they had to wait over an hour to be interviewed. As time went on, the atmosphere got more and more tense. Some of the people who had been seen just walked out quietly, but one man shouted, “I didn’t see a bloody thing!” in a broad Yorkshire accent on his way out of the manager’s office and was forced to sit down in the members’ lounge by one of the constables.
xxx“Mr and Mrs Marshall?”
xxxFrank and Martha got up and went into the office. The policeman at the manager’s desk looked a bit odd surrounded by tennis racquets and balls, but he gave Frank a serious look.
xxx“Hello, I’m Detective McGregor, and I’d just like to talk to you about the incident last week in the Shambles. It was you who shook the man’s hand, wasn’t it, Mr Marshall? Could you just give us an account of what happened, please?”
xxx“Well, the man just disappeared in a puff of smoke as soon as I touched his hand. That’s all there is to say, really. I don’t know anything else.”
xxxMcGregor asked a few more questions before finally giving up and pushing a form across his desk.
xxx“Well, if that’s really all you’ve got to say, I just need you to sign this form.”
xxx“What for?
xxx“Well, it’s a kind of non-disclosure agreement. Just routine. Just to make sure you don’t talk to anyone about the incident. I’m sure you understand.”
xxxFrank didn’t understand at all. If there was one thing that made him angry, it was being told what to do by pettifogging bureaucrats sitting on their fat backsides behind a desk.
xxx“We haven’t done anything wrong, and there’s no way you can force us to sign this. I have rights, you know? Freedom of speech and all that.”
xxx“Oh, Frank! Just sign the form,” sighed Martha.
xxx“No, I’m not signing this bloody form or any other. We’re leaving.”
xxx“Now, Mr Marshall. I’m afraid I can’t allow that. Everyone who comes in today as a witness must sign the form before leaving.”
xxx“So I’m going to be kept prisoner in my own bloody tennis club, am I? Not on your life, mate.”
xxxAs Frank tried to get up and leave, a constable standing beside the door put his hand on his shoulder to stop him, but, just then, there came the sound of a fierce argument from the members’ lounge. Frank could hear the sounds of a scuffle and a young man shouting, “You can’t keep me here!” McGregor and the constable ran out to see what was happening, leaving Frank and Martha alone in the room.
xxx“Come on, love. Let’s make a run for it,” whispered Frank.
xxx“But how are we going to get out?”
xxx“This is my tennis club, remember, and I know the code to the gate!”
xxxQuietly, Frank and Martha opened the door to the lounge and peeked out. Most people were still sitting down, but four or five policemen were trying to stop a couple of youths from escaping. The boys were kicking and punching anyone in uniform, and everyone was watching the fight. That allowed the Marshalls to sneak out of the door without anyone spotting them. Frank turned left instead of right and led Martha to the back gate, where he entered the numeric code on the keypad.
xxx“Here we go. 1-4-6-3. And we’re free!”
xxx“Oh, Frank! You are dreadful.”
xxx“What do you mean? I got us out of there, didn’t I? And now you can do all the Christmas shopping you want.”
xxxAs they walked back to the car, a policeman appeared at the gate and followed them down the street. And it didn’t look like he had Christmas on his mind…

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