Friday Fictioneers – Ten Steps

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PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Ten steps lead up to the door. I’d dated Esther ten times. These things have a meaning, I know.

In my pocket, Mum’s ring bumps against my hip as I mount the stairs, like an ambassador bringing tribute to a potentate.

I press the bell. Overhead, a flock of new-hatched starlings trace patterns in the sky. There are ten of them.

She opens the door and I smell the scent of gardenias. A waft of coriander has followed her from the kitchen. On one knee, I proffer the ring.

“Are you nuts?” she says. “We’ve been on, like, ten dates.”

 

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

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120. Stories that are hidden from us

A character arc is a fancy was of describing the changes a character goes through from the beginning to the end of a story. There is a hidden assumption in the idea of character arc that stops us seeing the possibility of other stories.

character arc

Consider the classic three act story. An individual is confronted by a problem (an external challenge or an internal flaw). They encounter trials and tribulations in which they are tested. They emerge better than before. Or, of course if the story is a tragedy, they succumb to the problem and emerge worse than before.

What does this remind you of? All those self-help and personal growth programmes perhaps? There is a view of the person and of development contained within these formulae.

  • We are individuals
  • We choose our own fate and can change

These principles of character arc seem so obvious we hardly even notice them as assumptions. But they come from a particular kind of society and, to other cultural traditions, they are far from obvious. How about these propositions:

  • People become people through other people. This is the core principle of the Ubuntu cultures of Southern Africa. In other words, humanity is a quality we owe each other. Or, in the European tradition, John Donne’s famous “no man is an island”.
  • The number of people on the planet who can choose their own fate is extremely limited. The starting conditions of wealth, gender, race, status and caste circumscribe our choices. For many people, change is unthinkable. Those who do escape their circumstances are not representative of their peers.

These differences are not only narrative, but moral. The first principles are individualistic, the second communitarian. What would character arcs be like if we used this second set of principles?

Let’s take an example of well-known tale. Here it is using the first formula. Follow the grid clockwise from top right to top left for the character arc.

Cinderella plot

Using the second formula, the story might look like this.

Cinderella communitarian plot

The Cinderella story has morphed into something more like The Handmaid’s Tale.

Other cultures’ story-telling traditions can be very different. While the modern Western tradition requires dualities between subject (the character who acts) and object (the world which is acted upon), protagonist and antagonist (who represent good and evil), this is not true of all cultures. Many use ambiguous Trickster figures who are neither good nor evil. The European tradition used to have Trickster figures but this has now been lost.

Similarly, some traditions don’t require the protagonist to undergo change. In some Japanese literature the character remains unchanged and the reader’s interest is maintained by growing understanding of the character. Similarly, in many Japanese stories the character’s goal is irrelevant: the plot is driven by causality.  Though Japanese literature recognises the Three Act structure, they also have a Four Act structure (introduction, development, twist, reconciliation) and Western readers may find it hard to recognise anything they consider as an ending.

Another way of representing the classic, individualistic, character arc of the Western tradition is:

  • Goal: what does the character want to achieve?
  • The Lie: misconception that prevents them reaching their true potential
  • The Truth: character rejects the lie and embraces the truth, leading to self-improvement

What if the conventional character arc is the lie? It describes a fantasy world in which most of us do not live.

In a complex modern economy, we are materially dependent on each other but socially indifferent. The goods and services on which we depend are furnished by strangers about whom we know and care nothing. This one fact contains the possibility for a huge variety of drama.

Friday Fictioneers – Purple Emperor

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PHOTO PROMPT © Jan Wayne Fields

It’s purple. Not like a bruise but like an emperor. What’s it doing on my drive?

Perhaps it’s a swarm of rare butterflies on their elusive migration. The Purple Emperor avoids flower nectar and seeks out rotting flesh.  Maybe what’s in my cellar is attracting them. With a shiver of revulsion, I try to brush aside the fear.

But too late. Already lepidopterists are gathering under my trees, armed with nets and small packets of Stinking Bishop cheese. I rush to bolt the door but two have taken up station with field glasses in my kitchen.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Martians

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PHOTO PROMPT © Randy Mazie

You probably remember the headlines about bacteria in that sample of Mars rock. Life on other worlds!

You won’t remember, because nobody blabbed, the bacteria were earth-like. Same genetic code, same enzymes. Too earth-like.

Buy me another whiskey and I’ll explain.

We thought contamination, of course. But the sample was four billion years old. Here’s the kicker—life on earth started around three and half billion years.

You put the pieces together. Life on Mars was earth-like. It began before life on Earth. See? Our life originated on Mars. Nothing else fits. They suppressed that.

Another? Thanks. You’re a gentleman.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Dilemma

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PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

The dialysis machine clicked and hummed. Nurses came and went. Days passed, weeks.

Then there was a doctor. “I’m afraid there’s still no suitable donor. The wait might take years.”

“I don’t want to die,” I said. “And I can’t live like this.”

The doctor stroked his chin. It made a rasping sound. He looked around him and lowered his voice. “Have you considered going abroad? In China you could get this done in weeks.”

“How can they do that?”

“I’ve heard they harvest the organs of executed prisoners, but no-one is sure.”

For a long time, I pondered.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Holiday Town

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PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

There is a castle on the hill. Of course. Bright pennants fly from its turrets, and tin men issue from its gates for quests and feats of derring-do.

There’s a dragon in the valley, puffing great gouts of fire. Naturally.

There will be a bay with a captured treasure ship riding at anchor. I can’t spy it yet but I know it’s there.

And there’ll be a princess, awaiting rescue from the evil baron. That’s what princesses are for. And she’ll swoon and love me.

The summer hols stretch ahead as far as the imagination can see.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Urban Haunting

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PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Why are you chanting woo-ooo at me like an idiot? If you got something to say, speak. Oh yeah, right—you’re a ghost. The white sheet thing? Great to meet you. And I’m Santa Claus.

Listen, I’m telling you, you’re going to need a better story than this. If you’re after money, wait till Halloween. I don’t have a bean anyhow.

You want me to believe that’s your body, or at least your skeleton, in the glass case? No, I can’t see your ribcage. That’s a stack of pretzels.

Beat it, before I call the cops.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Reincarnation

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PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

She’s not gone. Not really, not totally. Like scent, she lingers in the air. I turn and turn the ribbon-tied packet of letters, caress the image of her face with my fingertips.

She speaks to me still. Words I remember and social media posts I’ve forgotten or never knew. Their joy slices my heart, these curated words.

How to explain it, this e-mail? Does the soul, after all, survive? Do ghosts exist? Maybe the dead persist in binary sarcophagi, amidst secret chambers of the digital pyramid.

She needn’t be gone. I have her password. She can wear me.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

118. Two great ways to free your creative juices

Has your creative well run dry?  Don’t worry. Writing isn’t a mysterious process that depends on random visits from the muse. It’s a craft, and there are craft techniques for generating ideas when none come on the aether. I should confess neither of these techniques is mine.

Random meetings

The first workaround comes, I think, from Boris Fishman but I may be wrong. Putting together things that aren’t related is the basis of metaphor, that mainstay of poetic creation. So, if you’re stuck, just give yourself two unrelated random things and then create a story that links them. Say you choose swan and company. Here’s my example of a story that links swan and company.

Quadrants

I love the mechanical simplicity of this workaround. You can create a story idea in five minutes. It comes from Dan Harmon.

Step 1. Your mind is blank.

quandrants 1 and 2

Step 2. Start with a random idea, anything that interests you, anything at all. Harmon explains his technique with “racoons”. I’m going to be more pedestrian and use “quest” because that’s what a lot of writers write.  Draw a circle as the world of the quest.

Step 3. Now draw a line horizontally through the circle, dividing it into upper and lower halves. As yourself what those halves might be. Maybe the upper half is the everyday, known world, and the bottom half is the special, unknown world of the quest. Label these halves.

quandrants 3 and 4

Step 4. Now divide the circle again with a vertical line dividing it into left and right halves. Decide what this division is and label it. Maybe it’s fearful and brave.

You now have four quadrants. Going clockwise around the circle from the top, your protagonist will start in the known world and fearful. S/he will travel to the unknown world, where terrifying trials await. In the course of these challenges s/he will discover courage and then return changed to the known world. As you can see, this is the Hero’s Journey.

In Harmon’s example, the divisions are biological/ storybook racoons and honest/ dishonest racoons. Pick divisions that have resonance for you and which you feel excited to explore.

You never need suffer writer’s block again.

Friday Fictioneers – Breakfast

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PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

I hated the way he slurped his shake—a bubbling of gastric juices. By some malign alchemy he could transform even the sweet vanilla pods of Madagascar into anger. Every slow suck was a rebuke.

“Pissant little assholes,” he rumbled round the straw. “Ungrateful.”

No need to ask who he meant. It didn’t matter Pop was angry with the whole world.

The rictus of a smile painted on my face, I raised my shake in a toast, “Happy Fourth.”

He squirted ketchup on his fries as if that might drown them, and glowered. “Yeah.”

I sighed. “Pass the freedoms, Pappy.”

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here