(I started this blog in October, but was felled by Covid-19 for several days. Because I’d had the original vaccine and four boosters, my experience was mainly nasal congestion and tiredness, but I now test negative and am good to go.)
From October—The first frost fell a few days ago. Leaves are turning red and gold, and shine like gems in the cold autumn sunshine. The grass is still green and dotted with fallen leaves, and iris bulbs, confused by the extremes in weather, are trying to pop up. A reflective time of year, with things struggling to stay alive and days moving inexorably to a winter death.
Perhaps it is due to the change in the seasons, but I’m having difficulty settling into my work. For awhile I was zooming along, writing short stories, having found a system that suited me. I’d take a childhood memory, add a fictitious crime, and figure out an ending with a twist. It worked for me. The memory provided the locale, characters, language, and most importantly, intimate knowledge of time and place.
Then I decided to try something new and abandoned the system I’d set up. I spent hours working on a short story that just wouldn’t work no matter what I did. I finally deleted it because I wasn’t really invested in it. What a load off my back!
This past month, I attended an online conference where notable writers gave pointers. Donald Maass advised using prime numbers in storytelling, e.g., The Three Little Pigs, The House of Seven Gables, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I neglected to ask why. There are, of course, successful titles that do not contain prime numbers: The Nine Taylors, The Four Winds, And Now We are Six.
One presenter advised me to activate my “muscle of discernment,” making it clear that the protagonist’s actions are driving the story, making sure I had a “grabby” first page. Another talked about the dynamics of opposition—creating obstacles to bring about change. Secondary characters need uniqueness—that makes sense. They are secondary, but vital to the story, so their brief appearances on the pages need to be memorable. Another presenter advised telling the reader on page 1 what the story is going to be. Set out the realm of the story there, and be confident as you set forth.
Some presenters required exercises. I’m not good at timed exercises. My brain requires time for reflection, particularly, because the poet in me weighs the sounds of words. I’ve always been amazed at people who can compose cogent essays in ten minutes after being given prompts. Following is my attempt, after being given the prompt, “plump chicken in kitchen.”
Mrs. Hale gave her hen a name, Christobel, because she reminded her of her late sister who had been plump and saucy. She even had a peckish tilt to her head like her sister. Mrs. Hale adored her hen, Christobel.
Saucy was what puckish Old Ben thought when he saw the hen. A nice red-eye gravy sauce over chicken breasts. The hen was plump, bound to be tasty. Yum yum. His stomach growled in anticipation.
That took me ten minutes to create and write. Please note that I set up the dramatic tension, but did not have time to resolve Christobel’s fate. If I had, I’m sure I would have saved her.