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Entries in brainstorming (9)


Some Week Seventeen idears for you

Happy Friday!

How are your Week Seventeen stories coming along? What's that? Not great? You haven't even started?

WELL. Here are some ideas to get your brain sauces simmering: 

Good luck! See you Sunday.



Brainstorming Week Fifteen

  • Well, how about memory?
  • Every time you recall a story, your brain is actually rebuilding a story... not retrieving it.
  • Over time, subtle differences will compound, and a story you have been telling for years might not be what happened at all.
  • It will certainly be different than another person’s account of it.
  • Maybe wildly so.
  • Story could be a collection of first-hand accounts that have subtle or not-so-subtle differences.
  • Or one person’s story retold over many years...

Reflections on Week Twelve

[Read the completed story here!]

I tried something very different with this oneinstead of brainstorming internally and then summarizing the results of said brainstorm(s) here, I thought it might be more in the spirit of Unwritten Word transparency if I actually transcribed my internal process and posted it here (there was this one and that one and finally the other).

As you can see, I tend to ask myself questions and then either answer them or ask more questions around my questions. I don't know how interesting it is for you to read, but for me anyway it's a lot more productive than worrying over the one question in silence. Moving pen on paper or committing pixelated words to Giant Glowbox God (i.e., computer screen) somehow keeps my thought process chugging forward.

As for the story itself, I really don't know what it is. Do you? It's kind of funny, kind of meaningful in a larger sense. Look, folks: They can't all be pearls. The goal here is momentum. Perfect is the enemy of the good, right?

Next up: Week Thirteen!


Brainstorming Week Eight, continued

Per my resolution to make writing fun and not work (or to work at having more fun... whichever) I'm going to try something new with Week Eight's prompt, which is to use the idea behind it to inform a character or scene from a larger work.

A larger work? Doesn't he find the shorter works difficult enough...?

Well, faithful readers, the goal has long been to write a fantasy/sci-fi series of some kind, but I've always felt too overwhelmed by the scope of such a thing. And of course that's still the case, but a few broad strokes have started to fall into place and I'm approaching something not unlike an outline. With very, very general characters.

And here's where Week Eight's prompt comes in: I want to use the concept to flesh out and explore one of the series' major characters. This may or may not become part of the larger work, but for now I'm just interested in the kind of exploratory writing that prolific writers (those mythical, dignified beings for whom writing is never a struggle) do on a daily basis. 

I don't know much about this character. I think she's a she, kind of a capable rogue type, a Gypsy-like person (or has been traveling with them for awhile)... quick to use humor as a defense mechanism, pretends that she is pragmatic and crass but deep down she's disappointed by how things have turned out for her. Her careless actions are contrary to who she wants to be, but in line with the kind of person she thinks she is.

Hey-oh! Week Eight's theme. Wham.

I still don't know how fantasy this fantasy world is, the names of the continents or kingdoms or if there even are kingdoms. I don't even know her name. All I know is that she's made a niche for herself in a merchant caravan of some kind, but she came from a very different life...


Brainstorming Week Eight

[The Unwritten Kitten was sick for a week—like, three-visits-to-the-vet- and forcing-nourishment-down-his-gullet-via-syringe sick—and so my writing output has been not so much. But he's better now, and so we return to our regularly scheduled blogging endeavors...]

Week Eight's challenge reminds me of a phrase inscribed in the "buoy's" bathroom at Outward Bound's Hurricane Island center many years ago: "The true measure of a person is what they do when no one's watching." I used to really take stuff like this to heart—I was very lost, but still searching like hell for home. Somehow, these aphorisms felt like guideposts, even if I didn't quite know what to do with them.

[Also, isn't it great that even the bathroom graffiti at an Outward Bound center is meaningful?]

Which is all very interesting, but how to turn the sentiment into a story. "You are a person of little worth if..." isn't the most interesting theme. I don't particularly want to read about someone the author has judged to be of little worth. It's going to read like a parable.

I could turn the prompt inside out: write about a person of great worth who is deliberate with his/her non-verbal actions.

Every so often I come back to the idea that I ultimately want to write in a literary/genre hybrid style, but for some reason in these prompts I keep pushing toward straight literary. Maybe this person of great or little worth lives in a magical fantasy world? Or on a spaceship? Or on a spaceship in a magical fantasy world?

Maybe it's not about a person of variable worth, but the question of how to determine worth is somehow central to the story?

Man. I dunno.


Week Seven: Far from the mark, but close to home...?

Week Seven's completed challenge can be found here!

The final product strayed pretty far from the original prompt, but I am learning more and more to release the reigns and see where the story goes. (And not only as a creative measure, but as a way to ensure that I don't get stuck hating the prompt and everything it represents about former-me.) 

In the brainstorming, I decided that I would lampoon a former boss of mine, but that, too, was just a launching point. The Interviewer is not my former boss; s/he's not even close. But it was very helpful to start with that as a guideline and then let my twisted sense of humor wander....

Anyway, the play is today! Reflections and Week Eight's challenge are tomorrow.

PS: I'm also thrilled to have found a script format that is painless for me and looks good on the blog. Much, much easier to code (and sexier looking!) than Week One's completed challenge.


Brainstorming Week Seven

Spent this sunny Saturday morning brainstorming different ways to use this week's writing challenge

My local Starbucks is usually packed to the gills with writerlies and artsy types, but it turns out that there's seating a-plenty around 9am.

(There's also a lot of conversation to tune out. Earbuds are key.)

I think my original intent for the idea, when I wrote it, was to be an absurd take on the sort of documentary profiles we were watching at that time in Dr. Corea's psychology class. I just thought it would be really funny to have the voiceover narration casually declare that today was the day he kills this man. (Let us not speculate on my mental state at the time... it was college and I probably hadn't slept much.)

So I started thinking about whether it had to be a voiceover, or should it be the actual interviewer who declares this? (In which case the interviewee would have to react...) And then I thought about whether it had to be a documentaryit could just be an interview. An interview for a job, perhaps? And then I started thinking of the worst job I ever had, and how the interview for it would have gone if the guy I worked for had presented himself then as he would later act toward me...

It may continue to evolve in the writing of it, but so far, so promising!


Reflections on Week Six

[Read the completed story here!]

It's kind of illuminating that the only way I'm able to break these silly prompts into actual stories is to stretch the meaning far enough that it becomes an almost new idea. There's a reason (apart from a near-chronic case of procrastination) that I didn't turn any of these ideas into stories when I first jotted them down nearly 12 years ago.

(...12 years...?! Eff.)

Anyway, if they didn't quite work for me then, the inertia of not having touched these ideas in over a decade makes all of them seem that much more stale. So really how else could this work? I understand now that part of the process of each week's challenge is that I have to make the idea fresh and exciting again—otherwise, this is just homework. (And I have always excelled at not doing homework.)

So that's a useful revelation.

For this particular challenge, I thought I would attempt science fiction or fantasy, but that felt like too much of an investment right now. I do eventually want to write a series of sci-fi/fantasy-ish books, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet.

(Possibly I'm just building it up so much that I'll never start. I've also been known to do this...)

Anyway, this challenge involved some brainstorming, a bit of freewriting, some procrastination, and finally an hour of freewriting one day (mopey rambling about why video games are a lot more fun than writing—I will spare you the agony of this) followed by outlining, writing, and revision over several hours the next day.

Overly observant readers will notice that I named the siblings after the siblings in Week Two's challenge. I just liked the names, okay? And I've always thought that Blake would be an awesome girl's name. Blake knows what's up. She's extremely likeable, sure, but you do not mess with Blake.

For the longest time I struggled with the bones of the story—single child or sibling? is the boy or girl older? does the older sibling trick the younger into going down into the basement? or accidentally lock him/her down there? Knowing that it was going to be a children's picture book with 16 pages of text forced me to narrow the scope of the story to its bare essentials, which is good for me, since I tend to get verbose.

The final result is cute, I think, and has a moment of two that makes me smile, but I don't think it's an instant classic. Let me know what you think in the comments. Don't be shy—constructive criticism is always welcome!


Reflections on Week Five

[Read the completed challenge here!]

Because the readership of this blog is still so small, I'm tempted to breeze right past the fact that I posted Week Five's challenge in April and only posted the final piece now, June 17th. Future readers wouldn't even have to know that I was a crappy blogger for three entire months! Well, I'm going to fess up because I admire earnestness and honesty in the blogs of other people, and maybe my struggle with this will help others.

So. You may have noticed that the things I posted between then and now dealt mostly with writers' block, but that wasn't the whole reason this took so long.

The reason was this: I wasn't having fun.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess here too that the mind-blowing Mass Effect 3 played a not-insignificant role, but that was a symptom more than it was the disease, okay?]

I've been thinking a lot about writing in general and this blog specifically these past months, and through many conversations with like-minded creative folk I came around to the understanding that, in addition to using writing prompts I thought of in college, I have also been pressuring myself to write the kinds of things I felt I had to write in college. Namely: Literary Fiction, which I do enjoy reading but find torturous to write.

I talked a little bit about this while I was brainstorming Week Five's storyI wrote that I thought it would be "exhausting" to have a career writing meditative literary fiction. Whatever your feelings about genre fiction, I believe that the many authors of it are able to write often several books a year not because the writing is necessarily awful, but because they enjoy what they are writing and can't wait to see what happens next. Before I went to college for it, I felt this way about every creative thing I wrote. So what happened?

Well. This is my blog after all, and I should write whatever I wanna. So, after a false start about one paragraph long in which I did indeed try to continue the fraught yet meditative literary adventures of Week Three's nameless protagonist, I found myself on a bus with a notepad and a pen. I had, before this, been looking for a Father's Day card that would be suitable to give to my mother, who, after all, had to be both mother and father for my sister and me. So all of this was in the soup when I wrote the following, still thinking I was going to continue with my idea from Week Three:

What happened to the mother as best-parent stereotype? Nothing did. They have biology on their side. More interesting is how men have to study how to be a man. We've softened a bit, which is good, but now we have to find our role models.

Two things here: I regularly read Esquire magazine because it's the first real instruction manual I've found for being a man. Seriously, basic shit like the best way to shave, what to drink, and that you should use a face moisturizer with SPF 15. Who else will tell me this? Second, that male children of divorce must go in search of father figures is an idea that's surfaced a few times in comedian Marc Maron's WTF Podcast, which I listen to religiously.

So in jotting down just this, I realized that I wanted to write something in the style of Esquire (direct, earnest, often wry) and that I wanted to explore a little bit my own complex relationship with my father.

And there you have it. I wrote a paragraph or so on the bus, the rest of it over two hours the next morning, typed it up and picked at the words for two more hours tonight, and blammo. I'm terribly proud of it—it's in a style that I enjoy and suits me well. I love mixing earnestness with humor with punch-in-the-gut sentiment. The end result is a cross between something you would find in Esquire and Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugar column. And, having posted it on Father's Day, the timing was perfect.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Next up, Week Six!