14 Day Writing Challenge – Part 2

Just because I didn’t post about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! The 14 Day Writing Challenge continued, but the writing about the writing challenge did not. So I’m correcting that now with this recap of Days 3 through 8.

Day 3: Write a fairly long, complicated phone conversation overheard by someone in the room.  All three people—the listener in the room, the caller, and the person on the other end of the line—are involved with each other in some way (not necessarily romantically).  Let us hear the other end of the conversation, without actually hearing it.  This means you will be giving us only one side of a conversation.  The listener in the room can guess what the person on the other end of the line is saying, but try to keep this guessing to a minimum, and make sure this guesswork is done with integrity—well after the unheard speaker has spoken.

Again, this exercise produced a story that I was very happy with: Chad’s Mustache (923 words). I tried to use the concept to show that getting half the picture isn’t always enough to know what is going on. You can read between the lines, but don’t jump to conclusions. I think it’s a funny story and I’ll polish it up and send it out for publication soon.

Day 4: Go sit in a public place and eavesdrop on a conversation. Turn what you hear into a short love story.

I chose to eavesdrop while at a local record store. Here is the snippet of conversation I heard:

“Oh, wait, are you closing now?”

“No, no no. I just wanted to get the light on because it was getting dark.”

“Okay, good.”

I turned that into a small vignette between a clerk and a customer: The Navigator (839 words). Again, I quite like this one. It gave me the opportunity to make up fake band and albums names. Which is always fun. I won’t share this one yet because, as above, I’ll be polishing it and submitting it for publication.

Day 5: Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a word that you do not know how to define. Write an imaginary definition for it. Repeat 4 more times.

As you may know, I’m a big gamer and Balderdash is a great party game This challenge is basically what that game entails. Here are my definitions:

Maxixe: The portion of the sun that peaks over the horizon during a sunset.

Beglerbeglic: Imbued with a powerful scent of sand, stone or amber

Indurate: Disobeying authority by pretending to misunderstand the authority-holder.

Pooks: A game where one tries to throw Popsicle sticks into an empty tin can for nickels.

I like them.

Day 6: Select a book on your shelf and pick two chapters at random. Take the first line of one chapter and the last line of the other chapter and write a short story (no more than 1000 words) using those as bookends to your story.

I randomly picked a book off of my shelf with a random number generator, and did the same thing with page numbers to choose the chapters. The book was Ready Player One, and the two sentences were:

My avatar slowly materialized in front of the control panel in my stronghold’s command center, the same spot where I’d been sitting the night before, engaged in my evening ritual of staring blankly at the Quatrain until I drifted off to sleep and the system logged me out.

No matter how hard I tried to focus my mind kept drifting back to Art3mis.

My god! I thought I bit off more than I could chew. But it was kind of fun trying to get that first one to develop into a unique story and meander its way towards the second one. Again, amazingly, I was happy with the story and will attempt to publish it soon. It’s called Traditional Human Gifts (1,307 words) and it’s about a man who is forced to babysit an intelligent computer that has taken over the world.

Day 7: Write a story in which a character has an experience that causes her to recall a startlingly similar past experience.  Juxtapose the two scenes, the present one and the past one, on top of each other, writing, for instance, two or three sentences of the present moment, then alternating back and forth between present and past that way.  Show the reader the remembered scene by use of Italics.

This was another fun exercise that turned into a story I quite liked. It reminds me of one of those strange stories from Bentley Little that are just a litany of weird things happening. But that’s the fun of it. Once I came up with an idea that satisfied the challenge requirements, it just flowed. This is another one I won’t be sharing here. It’s called Q+A (752 words).

Day 8: Find a world map and blindly put your finger on a spot. Then pretend you’re a travel writer and write about a weird experience you had in that particular country.

I randomly pointed to the Pacific Ocean first, after that I pointed to somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Australia. I did some research and came up with a story I call A Traveller’s Guide to Thalanyji (599 words). It’s written in the style of a travel review for a remote village.

I like it so much I won’t post it here! Do you see a pattern? Maybe I am just too in love with myself to realize the faults of the work. Well, I know that’s not true. My work is full of faults. I recognize those faults, but I love my work enough to get rid of them.

14 Day Writing Challenge – Part 1

After too long away from creative work due to personal reasons, I needed something to reinvigorate my brain. Thankfully, a loved one noticed what I needed and put together a 14 day writing challenge to get me back into my sweet spot.

I plan to post about them here as I go, and hopefully share some of what I wrote with you. Maybe you’ll find some of these challenges worthwhile. If you do (or if you don’t), let me know and we can compare notes.

I just finished day two, and am having fun so far.

Day 1: Turn on your TV. Write down the first line that you hear and write a story based on it.

Not having cable, I put a random Twitch channel on my PC and the first line that I heard was “60 seconds remaining”. I quite like the story I wrote (the last minute of a man aboard a self-destructing space ship) so I won’t be posting it on this site as of yet. Another draft or two and some editing and I’ll try submitting it for publication.

Day 2: Find the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open it up to page 7. Look at the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem that begins with that sentence and limit the length to 7 lines.

The seventh book on my shelf is 999: 29 Original Tales of Horror and Suspense. The seventh sentence on the seventh page is

To be polite, Chirkov said he would consider the acquisition: evidently a great bargain.

Not the best first line to a poem, for sure. I used it verbatim originally but below I used some creative license to lop off the first few words. The rest of the poem is unchanged from what I originally wrote.

He would consider the acquisition:
evidentally a great bargain.
But he knew the superstition
That a deal made in gypsy jargon
Has hidden in it a silent condition:
A new plot in the family garden
And an untimely visit to the mortician

Well, poetry is not my strong-suit, but it was fun to try to write something that worked.

More challenges to come over the next few days!

What I Learned by Playing Fiasco

Fiasco is a role-playing game where things go wrong. It’s a GM-less cooperative story-telling system that facilities a story of converging fates that combine in catastrophic but oh-so-entertaining ways.

To set up a story you each choose things off of some charts. Relationships, Needs, Locations, Objects. From there you make characters and start acting out scenes. Then, terrible things happen and you continue the process to its grievous conclusion.

For each game you pick a playset, which supplies those charts and directs you towards a specific genre or style. There is a surprising breadth of playsets to choice from, but the core system is the same.

Fiasco is very good at what it does. I recommend you grab some friends and a playset and give it a try.

I have played a few games of it, and each one has been better than the last. As I go I’m starting to learn what makes the game work well. Since Fiasco is essentially a story-creation engine, I found that what I learned can be applied to writing as well.

1) Each character has to have a need. Even if you don’t explicitly state it, you should know as the writer what is driving this characters decisions. If it makes sense to you it will make sense to the reader.

2) Characters should have connections with each other. If characters are working in their own little bubbles, they don’t have real reasons to be in scenes together. Give them reasons to interact that they care about and have fun from there.

4) Each scene needs a goal. This is so important in Fiasco as well as writing! I don’t like to think of where a scene is going to go. I like to think about where the characters want the scene to go. If they get it there or not, well, that’s the fun part about playing the game or about writing the scene. Either way, the goal is what drives the story.

5) Have fun! Relationships, needs, objects and locations are the building blocks. Make each block as interesting as possible. Everything has been written already except the things only you can think of.

6) As usual, all rules are made to be broken. If something isn’t working, don’t stick with the rules, just do what feels right and move along. Nothing sucks time and creative energy like trying to follow rules that aren’t clear or aren’t working.

Overall, the fact that Fiasco and the art of story creation use the same principles shows that the game hits upon the fundamentals of how stories work. And that is the beauty of it. It directs you to do what writers are supposed to do: tell a good story. It’s a great activity to help you hone in on what makes good fiction tick.

An excerpt from my new novel The Man Who Drew You

The below was an April Fool’s post.

I’m 180,000 words into a new novel, titled The Man Who Drew You, a magical realism adventure filled with over 400 of my own original drawings!

Below is an excerpt with the art that will be included in the final version. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

Chapter 3: Maze of Paint

It had been tough to get to the painting, but Ansel reached it by climbing the ornate ivy carved into the column beside it. He had to extend one bare foot over and rest it on the painting below it, but after that he was able to lean his lithe body across to read the tiny plague on the frame. The painting was hung ten feet up on the wall of the room named “The Elemental Cuniform Proportionairies”, and this particular painting was named A Lad in Blue Polishing the Tail Lights of a Motor Car.MazeOfPaint1

Ansel licked it, pressing his tongue on the rough paint and sliding it back and forth, starting at the corners and working inward as usual. He hoped this one would lead him not to another painting, but to the exit of this god-forsaken museum.

His food reserves were running low. Water wasn’t a problem, due to the many fountains and decorative spouts that popped up in the floors and the walls of every other room. But he had eaten his last bologna sandwich weeks ago and was only surviving by consuming the various potted plants he had come across. But had hadn’t found one of those in a few days. He had even eaten his leather moccasins, boiling them over a candle in a piece of his bicycle helmet filled with fountain water.

And now, bare-footed, bare-headed and starving, he desperately licked the painting, using his special tongue powers to search for any glimpse of the past that could help get him out of this place.

The images came quickly this time, and Ansel realized just as quickly that this wasn’t the one he was looking for. The first painting. Painting Prime. He could see images in his mind’s eye, like his tongue was a pink slab of RF cable connecting the painting to his brain. He could see an easel, with A Lad in Blue Polishing the Tail Lights of a Motor Car sitting on it. The easel was in front of a blank wall. Sunlight was coming from behind him and dappling across the wall. In front of him was a hand holding out a paint brush. The hand was ensconced in a black glove, and it was moving the brush across the painting. Except the paint was coming off the canvas. Time was flowing backwards.

The image in Ansel’s brain was flying by in fast reverse, so it was only a few seconds of licking before he could see that the painting on the easel was completely empty, and that the artist was removing the blank canvas and replacing it with another complete painting. The one that he had completed just before A Lad in Blue Polishing the Tail Lights of a Motor Car. The next painting that Ansel had to find, which will hopefully lead him back to the beginning of this mess so he could find a way out of here.

This new painting was now baked into Ansel’s brain via his tongue powers, and he vaguely remembered seeing it a couple hundred rooms ago. He headed back in that direction, wandering in circles through the same sections of rooms until eventually he found it sometime the next day. It was in a room labeled “The Vertical Oluvian Triumvirate”, which contained three tall paintings on one wall. Ansel’s target was in the middle. It had a small plague under it that read Love Lost Between Two Song Birds.


He immediately ran up to it and began licking, and the image he got this time was the same as usual. The painting on an easel. But this timesomething was different. It took Ansel a few seconds to figure out what it was. The same gloved hand was there, and it was moving in the same fast reverse, removing paint from the canvas. Then he saw it. The easel was no longer in front of a blank wall. It was in front of a window.

It was too dark outside the window to see what the view was, but Ansel could see a reflection in the glass. He could see the painter, his brush flying back and forth with wild abandon, his face screwed intently at the canvas. Ansel recognized that face.

It was his own.

Ansel screamed.

LitReactor Flash Fiction Contest Winner: “Sighting”

I am proud to be the co-winner of the February Flash Fiction contest over at LitReactor. We had to write a story that was exactly 30 words about or inspired by Big Foot.

I thought it would be interesting to see the thought process that went into the story. My initial idea was to do the opposite of the usual Big Foot sighting tale. So I thought it would be interesting if Big Foot was the main character and he had sighted a human.

So I started with that idea and, since a common problem with micro-fiction stories is that they aren’t really “stories”, I really wanted to make sure it had a beginning middle and an end. I didn’t think about the 30 word constraint at first. I would just make it short and fix it from there.

My first version (41 words):

Every night I search, hoping to see it again. But it’s elusive and doesn’t show its pale pink face. So I lope back to my cave, lean my furry hide against the cold stone, and dream of something other than solitude.

I had to shorten it to get rid of 11 words, but I wanted to keep the four main points: The narrator is Big Foot, Big foot sees a human, wants to see it again but doesn’t, stays sad and lonesome.

Here is the final version (30 words):

Every night I hope it returns but I never see its pale pink face. So I lope to my lonely cave, lean my furry hide against cold stone, and dream.

In my opinion, the first version is best, but that’s the problem with artificially giving a story a limit. It’s an interesting tool to flex your writing brain, but it may not be what’s best for the story.

Thanks to LitReactor for running the contest and for the prize: a copy of The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac by Sharma Shields.