Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hooked from the beginning

Write several opening lines to a story that begin, a la Dean Koontz, with "a named person and some sort of immediate interruption to normality" as James Bell describes in Plot & Structure. (Koontz made it a practice to come up with opening lines regularly as an idea generator.)

Begin with something the reader can relate to as having an emotional impact on the character.

If you'd like something to work with, cut up the following and make two piles. Draw one from each pile. Feel free to change the form of the word.

Ranem Zarker
Rothkal the Magnificent
Sundast Ganbaatar
Vicious Dog
Susan Fysher
Amphelice Groby
Marjolaine Lalande
Zoé Babin
Edward Purser
Doom the Battlehaunter
Analena Torilles
Orlando Blood
Plague Heart
Hilda Quackenbush
Sara St. Clare

apple cart
T. Rex
manhole cover
phase weapon
little white lie
beef stew

Some examples from Dean Koontz:

Katharine Sellers was sure that, at any moment, the car would begin to slide along the smooth, icy pavement and she would lose control of it. — Dance With the Devil, written as “Deanna Dwyer”

Penny Dawson woke and heard something moving furtively in the dark bedroom. — Darkfall

Tuesday was a fine California day, full of sunshine and promise, until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch. — Dragon Tears

In his onyx-walled room in the occupation tower, Hulann — a naoili — had disassociated his overmind from his organic regulating brain. — Beastchild

Sunday, January 27, 2013

First assignment

The Captain

The bridge of the ship he has wanted to command since he was a child and has finally been given the opportunity.

But first he must win the approval of the ship's conscience who has been connected to the ship for 78 years. She is very particular about who commands her ship.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Comet tales

Broom of Doom by Matt Dixon
What will the fairy tales of the future be? What tales will they tell on generations ships? On the colonies of Mars? On a universally peaceful Earth?

What stories would resonate with the kids on the Next Generation's Enterprise? What things go bump in the night? Who are the wolves and the evil beasts? What character types would be satisfying as the rescuer and the one to be rescued? What will be the rewards and the magic?

I stumbled across a succinct list of fairy tale character, setting, action and so on motifs to help you build a tale.

(From Carole Slattery's notes taken at a Harvard Extension course 
taught by folklore expert David Bynum)
I. Character Motifs
This is based on what the character DOES in the story. The character can change but rarely does. Characters in fairy tales are stereotypes, that is they are patterns rather than fully developed persons. One prince is the same as another. In fact the essence of the fairy tale is predictable pattern, or motif, where the predictability is comforting but the details of plot and particulars make it interesting. There are seven character types in fairy tales. A story may not have all seven, but every character in the story may be classified as one of these types.
A. Elder
  1. A king or a father figure.
  2. Stationary (Stays home.The hero does the adventuring.)
  3. Sometimes disabled. (Can be sick, impoverished, or have a rotten kid.)
B. Hero (Male or Female)
  1. Person who has gained the most by the end of the story.
  2. Moves, often vertically (This is meant very literally. The hero is the one who climbs glass mountains, goes down into wells and caverns, etc.)
C. True Love (Male or Female)
  1. Object of the hero's affections.
  2. Hero often does battle for his/her True Love.
D. Villain (Evil deeds can be done before the story opens, as in Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, etc.)
  1. Opposes hero.
  2. Force of evil. (Can be a traditionally evil creature such as a witch, giant, gnome, etc.)
E. Helper
  1. Often a powerful, magical person (Cinderella's Fairy Godmother)
  2. Gives advice or a valuable gift to the hero
  3. Often tests the hero (and others)
F. Friend (Role may overlap with Helper.)
  1. Friend or companion of the hero, often of lower social class, a servant
  2. Binding/unbinding relationship with the hero (Again, very literal. Snow White is freed by the dwarves from the comb which binds her hair and the girdle which is laced too tight.)
G. Messenger
  1. Brings news (Messenger in Rumplestilskin, also the Mirror in Snow White, which while not human, behaves like a character)
II. Place Motifs - These are less definite than characters because places are not always discreet.

A. Home (The hero's home. Often Home-Adventure-Home pattern.)
  1. An ordinary place, not magical.
  2. Often the starting and/or ending place of the story.
B. Paradise
  1. Where the hero gets his/her heart's desire.
  2. Often a monster here to overcome first (In Hansel and Gretel, to hungry children the gingerbread house is paradise, but they must first overcome the witch.)
C. Bad Place
  1. Escape desired. (The oven in Hansel and Gretel.)
D. Limbo
  1. Seems dangerous, but isn't.
  2. Shadowy, mysterious.
  3. Transitions occur, deals are made. (Hansel and Gretel are frightened in the forest, but they are not in danger there. Cinderella is transformed in the garden.)
III Object Motifs

A. Objects in groups. Usually makes a pattern such as:
  1. Size (Increasing or decreasing.)
  2. Material (Everything may be gold, for example.)
  3. Power (Each object has some kind of magical or symbolic power such as wealth, authority.)
B. Ordinary objects with magical powers. Such as:
  1. Transportation (Seven league boots, horseless saddle, traveling cloak)
  2. Weapons
  3. Supply (bottomless purses)
  4. Medicine (elixir, a medicine that restore life)
C. Objects that serve a special function in the story.
  1. Token of Recognition - by which the hero/true love recognize each other (Cinderella's slipper), may have some relationship to water or liquid.
IV. Action Motifs

A. Actions of the Hero
  1. Quest
  2. Endurance test (Hero can't speak until task done or time is up.)
  3. Tasks to perform, usually 3, involving:
  • food or water
  • wood
  • fire or stone
B. Means of success for Hero. (For example The Wizard of Oz - brains, heart, courage)
  1. Cleverness or wit
  2. Virtue
  3. Courage and strength
C. Rewards of the Hero.
  1. Wealth
  2. Love
  3. Status
V. Style Motifs

A. Use of numbers: 3, 7, 12

B. Opening and closing lines ("Once upon a time, ...happily every after". See Once Upon a Time for a list from tales around the world.)

C. Chante Fable, the inclusion of a song, chant, incantation, etc. in story (like "Mirror mirror on the wall," "I'll huff and I'll puff, etc.")

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Basquing in the desert

You arrive in the desert town of Cappadocia. The main route in is blocked by an overturned truck of melons and an animal-drawn cart of dung. The two drivers argue in the middle of the street in different languages.

Detouring around, you approach the center by way of a less used side street. Along the way there is a small square with a hand pump for water where you see this trio. They speak rapidly in a language that sounds like nothing you've heard before. As you approach, they still, their gazes following you.

A movement ahead catches your eye as someone disappears into the side door of the inn you intend to stay at. You enter and find ...

speaking in tense, low tones. "They're back. You need to get down here now. We can't go through that again." When he notices you he hangs up abruptly. After a pause and stare he says, "Can I help you?"

Take it from there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Random conflict

Two suggestions for these words.

One, write a sentence for each word (or some form of it) dealing with an internal or external conflict for the main character of the sentence.

Two, create a list of 6 characters -- yours or your favorites. Roll a die to randomly choose two characters. Pit those two characters in conflict with each other. If you roll the same number twice, you can either roll again or make it an internal conflict. If you have a lot of characters, you can make two lists of 6, perhaps a list of good guys and bad guys. Though putting two good guys or two bad guys in conflict is potentially more interesting! :-)

A is for Abandoned
B is for Betrayal
C is for Clandestine
D is for Double-cross
E is for Elegy
F is for Favoritism
G is for Grovel
H is for Hostility
I is for Isolation
J is for Jealousy
K is for Kinship
L is for Liaison
M is for Misunderstanding
N is for Neglectful
O is for Obedient
P is for Phobia
Q is for Questionable
R is for Rebellion
S is for Surrender
T is for Thwart
U is for Underestimate
V is for Violated
W is for Withdraw
X is for eXhume
Y is for Yield
Z is for Zealous

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A rose tattoo

My collection of quotes is getting a thin and uninspiring so I'll be doing just a quote a month until I can build up a collection again. In their place I'll be putting up Pinterest pin story starters on Sundays.

IN VICTORIAN LONDON, your character has stepped from his place of business for lunch. As he is headed for the pub, an unusual woman catches his eye.




He's a street performer but also involved in less savory trades. Apparently the two know each other. The woman with the rose tattoo walks away, leaving the fellow agitated, his gaze darting about.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Weird funerals and Elven dungeons

Pick one of the following and see where it takes you.

  • The story is about a blasphemous demigod who is a storyteller.
  • The setting includes a devastated well.
  • Include the following words: dreams ambition extinguish

  • The story is about a broken-winged hawk who is a talent agent.
  • The setting includes a destroyed nightclub.
  • Include the following words: mosaic fear deceive

  • The story is about a secretive alien who is a goddess.
  • The setting includes a weird funeral.
  • Include the following words: loom truth bless

  • The story is about a gentle ogre who is a judge.
  • The setting includes a splendrous tomb.
  • Include the following words: talisman direction choke

  • The story is about an arresting goblin who is a cult hero.
  • The setting includes an abandoned well.
  • Include the following words: shackles racism sacred water

  • The story is about a cat boy who is a stable hand.
  • The setting includes a fairy empire.
  • Include the following words: explosion belief vanquish

  • The story is about a reluctant cyborg who is a monk.
  • The setting includes a fog enshrouded lake.
  • Include the following words: coincidence corruption experience

  • The story is about a rare book dealer who is a soul stealer.
  • The setting includes a elven dungeon.
  • Include the following words: ambition belief hinder

  • The story is about a wise cat who is a father.
  • The setting includes a war-torn library.
  • Include the following words: cure excel deliver

  • The story is about a irascible demon who is a writer.
  • The setting includes a frosted chamber.
  • Include the following words: silhouette love conviction

Sunday, January 06, 2013

"An art teacher ran an experiment ..."

An art teacher ran an experiment in his ceramics class. He divided the class into two groups. One would receive their final grade based on the quantity of pots they were able to make: for example, 50 pounds was worth an A, 40 pounds a B, and so forth. The other half of the class would be graded on the quality of only one pot; it had to be exquisite.
And the experiment began...

The first group made pot after pot, some small, some large, more, more, more.

The second group strategized, studied the ceramics of the masters, sketched and plotted, calculated, planned, and finally each made his one pot.

So which group won?

Interestingly, the group that was judged on quantity also ended up with the highest quality pots. The second, strategizing, group found their pots beset with mistakes that they hadn't anticipated. As the first group made pot after pot, they also learned to better produce works of art.*

*a story from John Ortberg's If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.

(From Amy Deardon's The Story Template blog with tips on story techniques, structure, and publishing.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Resolution war

Calvin and Hobbes
List 5 New Year's resolutions of the bad guy in your current or favorite story you've done.

List 5 New Year's resolutions of the good guy in your current or favorite story you've done.

Now have them critique each other's list.