Brainstorming Day & Contest

Have you ever heard the expression, “wherever God closes a door He opens a window?”  How ’bout the stories and references to the flexibility of the willow tree?  Point here is, that I’m taking a break from the website work I’ve been doing for the past week, and moving in another direction–back to my roots in writing.

Here is a fun exercise:

Go through your old photographs and find one, or part of one, that has nothing familiar to you.  Use it as a jump off point for a story.

I like taking snapshots. I say “snapshots” because I’m not in any way a photographer. Mostly I use my camera (yes, the real, old-fashioned, I-only-take-pictures, device I hang around my neck) to snap places and people I find interesting.  Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t even ask permission for such a daring adventure.

Picture of a House In Littleton

What around you inspires a story?

A summer or two ago, I wandered the streets of Littleton in search of places I might use for sketches as part of my watercolor painting hobby.  I found this interesting looking house.  This morning, I’m using it for a short inspiration.  Perhaps you want to play with me?  You can use my photo. Go ahead. It’s fun.

Just in case your server doesn’t translate this photo well (it looked so much better in my iPhoto file!), this is a small green house whose back door looks over an empty lot. A weathered fence separates the viewer from the house and lot and there are wire frames mid-ground for what I think may have been canvas slung chairs at one time.

Okay.  That was just the facts.  Now, let’s play with story.  Who lives in that house?  Why are we interested in them? What’s about to happen that will grab people’s interest?

What if . . .

  • Someone in the house saw you taking this picture?
  • You heard an explosive sound coming from that direction?
  • A little boy wandered out into the vacant lot…with a heavy load in a black bag… and started digging as if he intended to bury that loaded bag?
  • A young woman in the vacant lot started picking up and pitching pebbles at the windows?

Now It’s Your Turn

Take the questions and one of the what-if scenarios from above to write a story, no more than 100 words. Did I tell you Pike’s Peak is sponsoring a flash fiction contest?  Go for it! You can do this.

I’m going to piggy back on Pike’s Peak, but focus on the “flash” part of the fiction.  Write a  100-word story (yes, I’ll use WordPress to check out the word count) based on the photo above.  Be the first to send it to me and I’ll do two things with it:

  1. I will publish it on my blog — hey, you could be discovered as the next O. Henry.
  2. I will send you an ARC (advanced reader copy) of “Sliced Vegetarian.”

Just write and submit using my contact page.  My mailbox keeps track of when something is sent to me.  If you are the first person to submit that 100-word thriller (or romance, mystery, fantasy or whatever your heart desires) I’ll be popping a copy in the mail to you.  This is my way of saying “thanks” to everyone who’s been following this blog for so long.

Other chances to win an ARC . . .

I’m working with someone who knows how to work in Goodreads, so I believe there will be a chance to win a copy of Sliced Veggie there within the next few months.  I also hope to figure out ways to get copies to loyal friends in my late spring newsletter (sometime in April, May, or June).  If you’d like to have a chance at that, or are interested in being on my mailing list, please let me know.

Meanwhile, although temperatures in Littleton remain chilly, the sun has come out again for a few days, and all is well.  Wishing you all a happy week ahead.

Oops! No Contest Entries–Things To Resent

Hi my reading and writing friends,

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

Now’s your chance–write!

I had hoped to bring you some great creative writing from our community today, but I guess people didn’t have time to write a short story that had two characters in it with the theme of “resentment.” This closes our writing contest of a story on resentment.

That’s okay.  We’ll just play with the pre-writing of such a story today.

Resentments

When I get a theme for story, I love to start with–you guessed it–a brainstorm.  So, just as Story Engineering suggests, I’ll brainstorm a list of things I resent:

  • It’s not fair that I care for my pets the best I can and they still have accidents, and health issues. And then the vet can say “pay for all these tests, but there’s no guarantee of a diagnosis.” What if a vet took their kid to a doctor and got the same line?
  • It’s not fair that just as I’m starting to grow up a little, I look in the mirror and see an old woman with more wrinkles than a pile of clothes forgotten in the laundry machine.  What if you could put yourself through the wash and come out like one of the no-iron materials–all fresh and new every seven years or so?  What would that “washing machine” look like? How would it feel to be wash & dried?
  • I resent corporations that make bottom line profits more important than product safety.  What if corporations could be put on trial for such things as murder or negligence (okay, so technically, now that the Supreme Court has given corporations human status, I suppose they could). Who would be a jury of their peers?  If the federal government arrested, say, Wyeth Laboratories, would the pharmaceutical world come to a standstill as Lederle, Johnson & Johnson, and ten other corporations get called in for jury duty?  I like this idea.  Just makes me giggle.
  • It’s really not fair that artists don’t get paid well, just because they work in fields everyone dabbles in for hobbies.  Think of it.  Writers, painters, musicians, actors, comedians, dancers and more are important to the meaning of our lives.  Yet they still have to have “real” jobs to pay the bills. What if football had to be viewed live because no television crew was there to produce the game? What if all the boxes on grocery store shelves were printed with black words on a white box, because no graphic artists and ad copy people could afford to work in their chosen fields?  This sounds like a future-focused sci-fi to me.

The next step in this process would be to choose one of the ideas above, and give it a little “character.” I may personally resent the things above, but my protagonist doesn’t need to be me.  I love the idea of a jury of corporate peers, so let’s play with that:

Character One:

CEO Bradley Common (yes I let a name pop into my head for this) is mad.  Why? Because he has 5,426 unread emails in his in-box, twelve management meetings, 2 take-over bids to exercise and now, he’s been called in for jury duty.  Brad’s corporate lawyer can’t get him out of this because a new law says you must follow the spirit of the “request” for jury duty and actually show up.  Now Brad hates Sunco Corp, who’s on trial–not for the crime of accidentally giving thousands of people skin cancer with their failed sunblock, but for wasting Brad’s valuable time. Brad needs an exit strategy, like yesterday.

Character Two:

District Attorney Laura Steele is fed up  with these prima-donna executives.  She’s going to throw the book at Sunco and make them an example.  US made products must have higher standards than in recent years.  Besides, she’s been using Sunco skin care products for years, and now she’s noticing misshapen moles on her skin.  She looks over the man in front of her, making his excuses to the judge. Hmm. Bradley Common. What a jerk.  He’s head of Jargon Pharmaceuticals, one of the biggest chemical companies in the world, and it’s rumored, between the questionable cosmetic products and the seven divorces,  this guy is a real lady-killer.

Now, You Take Over

I’ve played with themes and characters with you this morning.  To be honest, this has been an off-the-cuff writing session, so I’m sure that you can find lots of problems with the writing.  But still, try playing with this.  Who will be your protagonist, Bradley or Laura?  Why?  What MUST they do in order to WHAT (achieve their goal), and how will they GROW as a result of this journey?

Decide whether this will be a thriller, a comedy, or even a romance. Maybe you’ll stay in the notion of a future-focused sci-fi.  Be creative and have fun.  No contest this time. Just our thanks to Larry Brooks for his terrific book, and maybe you’ll write a story that a fiction magazine will publish.  Good luck.

The Art of Choosing Words Carefully–Contest

At one time, scientists believed that the human taste scale could only distinguish four flavors–salty, sweet, bitter and sour–and that from that minimalist scale you could distinguish pizza from pasta, ice cream from lemons.

Today, they are claiming we have a wider range, perhaps as many as 20 or more to help us form our gourmet appetites, create our magazines full of new recipes each month, or go into the Top Chef Restaurant Wars. How can this be?

Heart Hands - Few digits-infinite message

Few digits-infinite message

Like flavors, the romance language speaker has a limit of 26 letters to work with in communicating all levels of emotion, imagery, conflict, and information.  Yet for centuries we’ve done just that.  Do you have a favorite letter?  How ’bout a favorite word?

I love words.  Wouldn’t be a writer, I guess, if I didn’t.  When I write I don’t mind the editing process because there is always a word or two to look up and play with.

When my nieces and nephews graduated from high school, I used to buy them Webster’s Collegiate Dictionaries as part of their graduation presents.  This was, of course, in the days before personal computer ubiquity, and tablets, and smart phones, and whatever the next generation of incredibly powerful yet minute size computing will exist.  But a good dictionary is important to have and to play with.  Even for this blog post I’ve looked up a few words already.

Here’s my point.  Precision in word choice is both a game and an important part of story-telling.  Connie Willis gave a talk at an RMFW Colorado Gold writing conference a few years ago where she talked about an author who wrote a story about a submarine adventure in World War II.  She quoted the story dialogue–“Dive! Dive!” said the captain into the thingy.”  We in the audience roared our appreciation.  We got it. Not that “thingy” isn’t a perfectly fun word to use, but this example shows the importance of precise word choice.

This week, I came across a very good writing prompt, in Story Engineering, the book I told you about a few weeks ago.  Larry Brooks works from the premise that people are driven by resentment.  He says, “We resist that which we resent,” and goes on for a few pages about how this resentment gives us motivation for revenge, and sets up some great story opportunities as a result.  Then Mr. Brooks asks his reader to try an exercise in resentment:

“Make a list of all the things in your life, both close and at arm’s length, that you resent. Then notice how that resentment influences your attitudes, behaviors, and decisions toward people or things. Pay attention to how each entry makes you feel. And then, in turn, how it may influence how you act.”

Can you write a story between two people who resent each other?  Will the conflict they act on be a mountain or a mole hill that represents years of resentment?

Here’s where word choice comes into play.  Mr. Brooks used the word “resent.”  He could just as easily have said, “begrudge,” or “hate,” or “loathe.”  But the word “resent” was his choice, and the part in the dictionary written in parenthesis is what made the lightbulb come on for me:

“resent: to be angry or upset about (someone or something that you think is unfair).”
Thanks to Merriam-Webster Dictionary for this definition.

The second I saw the word “unfair,” all the feelings from preschool on where I felt angry and victimized came forward.  I might easily have stumbled in this writing exercise if I hadn’t had a precise definition for the word, “resent.”

And now for the contest part . . .

Here’s an idea.  Why don’t you do the writing exercise Mr. Brooks suggests, then write a short story (800 words or less) to send to me?  I”ll try to select a story to publish on this blog with the “winner’s” byline, and send a press release about the contest and your story to a few publishing contacts. You never know.  You might be the next Ogden Nash.

Okay, so every contest has rules, and here they are:

  • Be original–no copying from somebody else’s stuff
  • Be brief–absolutely no more than 800 words (title excluded)
  • Be broke–sorry, I don’t have any give away items or money for this contest
  • Be on time–Deadline is June 9, 5:00 pm mountain time.
  • Be resentful–No, you don’t have to use the word “resent,” but it must show in the story. Choose your words carefully.
  • Be happy–this isn’t a big contest with awards, fame and fortune.  We’re just doing a writing exercise together.  Have fun with it.

Good luck with this.  Have a wonderful writing week.