Saturday, June 29, 2013

What If...exercises in story exploration

Writers try all kinds of crazy stuff to get the creative juices flowing. Long walks on the beach, dangerous and exciting new adventures like rock climbing, snowboarding, volcano dipping...

I haven't worked up to that yet. For the last month I've been reading from my TBR pile (more on that later), listening to some audiobooks and brainstorming plots. I picked up my old copy of What If writing exercises for writers, and chose a random exercise. (The updated version of this book by Bernays and Painter is available but the old one is awesome.)

The author suggested creating a flash card type of system with index cards. It goes like this.

With one set of cards you mark a vocation on each. I chose pink for the vocations. On another, orange, this is tougher, you place specific actions like 'running in a marathon' or ' driving a bus'. I went one step further to make myself explore more options.  On one card I put, driving ________, driving a car, driving a motorcycle, so that based on the circumstances of when I pull the card I could fill it in even with 'driving him crazy'. (The authors say try not to be too mundane or too melodramatic.)

Next you ask yourself a question - "Why did char from Card A do Card B? The idea is you pull a vocation and an action, until you like the combination. Think of the scene that comes to mind as the last scene of the story. Now what possibilities leading up to that point does this exercise create in setting, behavior, and conflict?

When I was taking the Holly Lisle course on Thinking Sideways she had us do a bubble type of brainstorming divided into maps for - things I fear, things I'm drawn to, things I love, etc. This exercise works for each writer as uniquely as that one did simply because the ideas are based on your own story ideas and life experiences. So my cards won't look anything like any of my readers' cards.

What detailed actions and vocations come to mind for you?

Also, I was encouraged last year by one of my friends, Bill Kirton, to try flash fiction, those incredibly short pieces of work that require a concise use of all the elements of story in less than 1000 words. (Some sites require even less.)

I submitted my first flash fiction for the Christmas Noir post over the holidays. The story, entitled, the Right to Bear Arms written under my pen name, Skye Chase, will be on the blog Do Some Damage in the next couple days.  It's a bit different than my usual...

What have you been doing to keep the momentum going during the holidays?


Bill Kirton said...

Thanks for the plug, Marley. I also wanted to say that there's a website I liked called story starter
which seems to have vanished, unfortunately, but which suggested things under the following categories:
* Main Character's Sex: Male or Female
* Main Character's Job or Profession: This element provides a basis for conceptualising his or her everyday life, concerns, income level, talents, and so on.
* An Archetype: "...[T]he characteristic patterns that pre-exist in the collective psyche of the human race, and repeat themselves externally..." (from Inner Work by Robert A. Johnson) Story Starter archetypes may be universal or not, ranging from Robin Hood to the Pope.
* A Key Object or Symbol: What does a knife make you think of? How about a hair brush? Everyday objects as symbols can be used to set the thematic tone of a story; or they can serve as keys to the plot of a tale.
* Setting: A time and/or place in which the story occurs.
* Theme: The psychological/spiritual/moral issue at hand for the protagonist. From empowerment to evil.

The idea was that Story Starter gave you something under each of these headings and then you used some or all of them to create the story. But that's just one of many ways. I think the point is that it moves you out of your comfort zone, but maybe into one which you'd never have thought of but which turns out to be fruitful.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy and successful 2011.

Anonymous said...

Too bad they've taken it down. I'll bet there's something else out there. I'll have to add symbol and setting to my cards.

And the same for you and yours, Bill.