Where Did The Family Go?

“Where did you get that idea?”

It’s a question people often ask writers, especially when the writing goes to dark places. My wife worries about where I come up with some of my plot lines, particularly if I’m describing some evil deed or villainous plan a character is going to carry out.

While we sometimes have an inkling where and why the inspiration first struck, all too often it’s hard to nail down… hence the superstitious talk of “the Muse” and other ways we describe the inexplicable. 

But oftentimes, characters, dialogue, plots, and details slip into our writing because of something we’ve personally noticed in the real world. It’s one reason why writers go to coffee shops or outdoor cafes to people-watch. There are some real characters in the world auditioning for a role in our books!

So the other day I was on my way to a different base on island, and I got behind a small car with one of those stick-figure decals on the back window. This decal was a woman holding a microphone and singing.

As I looked closer, I realized she wasn’t alone, at least not originally. Where there should normally be a stick dad or stick spouse, some stick kids and maybe a dog or cat, someone instead had placed cut decals of black plastic over the other figures so that it almost seemed like they had never been there.


This made me wonder why, a question for which I couldn’t come up with any good answer. 

At best, perhaps the woman bought some family’s used car on island. It’s not hard to scrape off an unwanted decal, though. I also thought, perhaps she got divorced and covered up the family.

But to be honest, I can’t imagine covering up instead of removing, unless you wanted it to be obvious that at one point these four family members were there, and now they are not. It seemed like a small memorial of sorts, a way of calling attention to the undesired absence.

Then because I’m warped  creative, I began thinking of less uplifting possibilities. 

Could it have been a vicious divorce she didn’t want? Perhaps a husband fought for custody of the kids (and even the dog), and convinced the court she was unfit.

Was there some terrible car accident?

Did the family home burn down, claiming those lives? Most buildings on Okinawa are made to withstand typhoons, and aren’t that likely to go up in flames. What about a collapse due to an earthquake?

What about a Yakuza hit? Maybe she double-crossed a crime boss, and instead of killing her, he took out the family, knowing that living with the loss would be harder than dying. I could have been right behind the main character of an action / revenge story, the Japanese version of an 80s Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal film playing out in real life! Who knows!

So… if you ever purchase a used car that has someone else’s stick figure family on it, do all the writers a favor and remove the remnants. Don’t simply cover it up, because I guarantee the story that gets made up will be way worse than the truth.

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