Saturday, November 14, 2015

Story Starters

The best ideas for short stories come from something we have glimpsed, found interesting, witnessed or experienced. Sometimes, however, the self-generated idea doesn't work out, though, and we are faced with the blank page. Having the urge to write but nothing to write about is like looking at a closet full of clothes but finding nothing to wear.  To others it seems like a non-problem, but it is all too real.

Waiting for the muse to visit can become tiresome for those of us who like to be productive. Accordingly, in teaching writing classes, I provided participants with some ideas, knowing that we bring ourselves to every project and that whatever idea a student chose, the resulting story would turn out to be unique to him or her.

Here is one list of ideas:

1) Start a story that begins: The one thing Chris didn't want as a birthday present is a ............., but here it is.

The writer must decide what Chris especially doesn't want, and why.  In yesterday's blog I mentioned that Vera Brittain in the movie Testament of Youth didn't want a piano because to her it symbolized a restricted, conventional life.  Think of who has given Chris this gift? A relative who chose a gift that makes a judgment or sends a message? In what way does the gift  pose a problem?  What does Chris do with the gift, ultimately.

In my story, "The Strain", in my collection of short stories, Winter Moon, available from me at ruthlatta1@cyberus,ca, the central character receives a Christmas gift that she doesn't want because it is not at all useful in her difficult life.

2)  Another idea: List five things that you would never lend to anyone. The list might include your car, your lipstick, your spouse, an item of lingerie, your child, your home for a party, money....  Choose one of paramount importance to you Then invent a plot in which you, or the central character, is asked for the loan of this particular thing or person.

Ask yourself: What exceptional circumstances would make the central character break this rule? How does the central character feel after lending the item or refusing to do so? How does the borrower react?

In one of my classes a woman wrote a story about a busy, beleaguered young wife and mother who has a single woman friend whom she envies, because the single woman has an active social life and the young mother is at home bogged down in housework and children's needs. On impulse the young mother bought herself a lacy push-up bra some time ago but hasn't worn it. The single friend asks to borrow it for a hot date. As the conversation continues the single woman confesses that it's tiresome and sometimes degrading to search for "Mr. Right"/ "The One", so the young mother gives her the push-up bra, silently thinking of all the good things in her own life, like her husband and young children.

Lending a husband to help a neighbour with some simple, everyday task, like raking leaves, could be problematic if the wife thinks the neighbour is going to make a play for him.

3) Another idea:  A couple who are happy in a committed relationship with each other are enjoying a domestic evening when the doorbell rings. On the doorstep is the ex-partner of one member of the couple. The ex wants something. 

Your job as the writer is to decide what the ex wants and how it affects the couple. My writing students' ideas about what the ex wanted ranged from money to a kidney to a home for a child.

I had good luck with this idea. My novel, The Old Love and the New Love, is based on it. In my novel the ex wants a safe place to hide out for a while.

Good luck with these ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment