Think of a random word.
Last time I did this (it was on a school visit) I came up with “olive-pitter”. Never mind if you think it’s two words.
Fit that word into a sentence. The sentence must leave you asking questions.
My sentence was “it’s hard to commit murder with an olive-pitter.”
Think about it.
Too right it would be hard! Olive-pitters aren’t sharp. They aren’t heavy. Generally you find them in kitchens. But in kitchens you also find knives, skewers, fowling shears, gas ovens, rolling pins, frying pans, bleach, all of which severally or in combination would be much better suited for the purpose. These are the things you would reach for. The only thing you can do with an olive-pitter is pit olives.
So why would you use an olive pitter? And how?
Aha! You poison the olives, of course! You dab a blob of some really nasty slow-acting gel on the point, pit a bowl of lovely juicy kalamatas with it, serve up with a smile and calmly pack your bags and head for the airport. Both questions answered at once!
But this only leads to further questions.
- Why would you choose such a method? You would have to have access to your enemy’s kitchen, and that might not be easy. Why not just apply a blunt instrument in a dark alley? So we’ll have to think about that.
- And why is the murder being committed anyway?
Both of these questions lead us to think about who the victim must be. What kind of person gets murdered with an olive-pitter? Perhaps it’s someone powerful, with bodyguards , so the only way we can do them in is by stealth. Perhaps. Hold that thought.
And another question, which is just as important: from what viewpoint are we seeing this? Are we the detective, who has to work out why the murder was committed, or how it will be committed so that we can prevent it just in time?
Or are we the murderer? That might be interesting. What drives us to do this? Revenge would fit nicely with the powerful-person theory. I’m liking this. I think the victim might be a drug baron, living like a Bond villain in Andean luxury, surrounded by hired thugs. We’ve got to pass ourselves off as someone they would hire to work in their kitchen.
What did they do to us? What moral journey must we go on, to arrive at the point when we dab that blob of death on the innocent pitter and quietly walk away? The past holds a dark secret. We don’t know what it is yet, but with a bit more worrying at it, it will come.
What we’re doing here is going back to that sequence we saw in The Christmas House.
- See or hear something striking.
- Wonder about it.
- Start to apply your imagination.
The Seed of the Pearl
But instead of waiting for inspiration to come out of nowhere, we’ve stimulated it artificially. We’ve dropped an irritant into our own brains, like a pearl farmer trying to stimulate an oyster. The irritant in this case is simply the unusual association of two ideas (‘olive-pitter’ and ‘murder’). Now we’re working on it, following the trail of questions. There’s a story here if we want it. If we work hard enough, maybe it too will end up a lovely, shiny, pearly thing, built of layers and layers of imagination. It could be hundreds of pages long, filled with wonderful and exciting characters who have turned up along the way: false leads, romantic interest, ethical dilemma and lots of other ideas. And it’s all started from that one little niggling question: how would you commit murder with an olive-pitter?