Being a person who is aspiring to be an aspiring writer I regularly listen to the Writing Excuses podcast with Mary Robinnette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. It’s a great wee ‘cast and I’ve picked up some great advice over the last couple of years. For the start of the new year, and the beginning of Season 10, they have modified the format of the ‘cast and this year is going to be along the lines of a writer’s workshop/master-class with writing prompts and exercises coming in each episode. I’m going to try and keep up with the ‘cast and will post my exercises here. Unless what I write is frickin awful that is. 😀
We’re on week two now so here are my exercises from both weeks.
Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less from these five sources:
- From an interview or conversation you’ve had.
- From research you’ve done.
- From observation.
- From a piece of media.
- From a piece of music.
1. Three old people are sat on a train. They are on a long journey across the country, going on holiday at the same spot they have visited every summer for years. People get on and off the train, young and old, and the train ends up rather crowded. They normally reserve a seat for their departed friend/spouse. However the train pulls in at a lonely station and a single passenger boards their carriage. He’s an old man, and as dishevelled as the station he boarded from. There are no other free seats and so after brief discussion they offer their spare seat to him. The train continues its journey the number of passengers thins; leaving the four of them alone in the carriage. He doesn’t leave their table as he is in the middle of telling them his horrible story. His story involves human sacrifice, dark rituals, ancient rites and evil beings summoned. They of course don’t believe him. He alights at the stop before theirs. As they depart the train the slate sky and the wan silhouette it casts of the standing stones stop the nearby hill take on an ominous cast as they recognise them from his horrible tale.
Source: Ok, so that’s slightly more than 150 words but wevs. 🙂 I got this idea from a conversation I had with Little Ms. X on the train to Glasgow one day. She was rather perturbed by the sight of a small group of old people being rather loud and raucous. She is only a teen remember and ‘old people’ are still very much an alien category to her at times. 🙂
2. A team of student archaeologists take part in a summer vacation project to survey the Abbey of Thelema, as used by Aleister Crowley and his disciples for occult practices on the isle of Sicily. As the project goes on and they carry out standard building surveys and map the painting on the walls they begin to have strange, phantasmagorial and psycho-sexual dreams involving rituals, orgies, and worlds behind worlds. What they find there threatens to tear the world apart.
Source: A few years ago I had the idea of carrying out an archaeological survey of the Abbey but there’s no way I could have gotten funding for it. It also occurred to me at the time that the project sounded like the beginning of a really clichéd horror movie. 🙂
3. The motorways of Britain are mirrored in another world by huge rivers of surging, raging water. These rivers carry the dead of a million worlds, including our own, on towards the heart of the meta-universe where they are devoured by the all creator. A being, beast, machine, that is beyond the comprehension of any mortal creature. We are little more than a small part of a self sustaining eternal entity’s means of sustaining its own existence. As individuals we are beyond insignificant. The protagonist is sensitive to these flows and as he looks deeper into what it is that he feels he discovers that we are all actually sensitive to the final path we take to being consumed, hence our works and buildings following the path of these extra-universal currents.
Source: On my way to and from work I have to cross a footbridge that spans the insanely busy M8 motorway. As the cars flow past below me it always seems as though there is something tugging me in the direction of the traffic flow. It’s probably something to do with the motion I see out of the corner of my eye but it is certainly a spooky effect.
4. In the Highlands of Scotland a blinding light turns night into day and causes the emergency services to scramble. When the police, fire brigade and ambulances arrive they find a small village has appeared and there are a group of just over 5,000 people there with no memory of how they got there and only dim recollections of who they are. The area is first quarantined and then they are ferried off to a variety of military bases in the Highlands. As the story develops it is discovered that they have disappeared at various points throughout human history, some may even be from the future, only to reappear now. They were abducted by a parallel sentient universe which is about to collide with ours, the impact potentially destroying both universes in a new big bang. The sentient universe has figured out a way to allow the universes to meld rather than impact. Only when all the returned are together and touching can the sentient universe communicate, in a way, with our universe.
Source: The 4400, a pants American genre TV Series that could have been really good. That smooshed up with a heap of vaguely understood, misunderstood and totally misapplied brane theory.
5. A woman is walking through an inner-city area in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm. She ritualistically touches items about her person, clothes, jewellery, and so on, each of which tells a story about how she came to be where she is, like stations of the cross on her body. Each story is connected to the object and tells a different tale, some supernatural –some not, of joys and sorrows, missed opportunities and moments where she has excelled herself. She slowly sheds these items til she is naked. People in the street avert their eyes and move reverently out of her way as she has the air of the sublime about her which makes her terrible and awesome to behold. At her journey’s end her scars are all bared and she meets her apotheosis in a bare room in an abandoned tenement building.
Using last week’s five story ideas:
- Take two of them and combine them into one story.
- Take one and change the genre underneath it.
- Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it.
- Take the last one and have the character make the opposite choice.
Take two of them and combine the into one story.
I’ll do this with numbers two and four.
As the student archaeologists carry out their survey they get the detestable dreams as in the original however as the dreams grow in intensity they realise that they are all sharing the same dream and that the figures they see in the dream are trying to communicate with them. The figures are the disappeared and they are seeking a way back into our universe. The students discover a pattern in the paintings on the walls of the temple that depict a ritual, a configuration, that may allow this to occur. They carry out the ritual and at the climax the personalities of all 5000+ of the disappeared are plunged into the students minds. They become part of this gigantic collective consciousness that is able to communicate with the sentient universe and so they become part of the plan to merge the two universes in order to save both from destruction. They have scant years to prepare the population of the Earth for the coming change. They come to realise that this is also occurring on every planet with sapient life in the universe and slowly they begin to share consciousness with the beings on these other planets. A foreshadowing of the merged universe that is to come.
Take one and change the genre underneath it.
I’ll do this with number five and that is the one that I feel doesn’t have the most clearly defined genre so rather than changing the genre I’m going to try and change it into a genre story, a fantasy story.
The basic premise is the same. A woman walking a ritual path towards apotheosis, using item about her body as talismans to allow her to relive events from her past. In this story though she is walking along a marble black and white chequered path that cuts across a desolate moorland. Above her the stars wheel through the night sky as time accelerates and the world nears its end. She has been a warrior in her life and now she has to walk this path on a final battle with her past deeds in order to stop the cataclysmic events that are unfolding all across her world. There is a magical apocalypse occurring and reality is being undone. She is blessed and cursed in that she has become immune to the effects of magic, ironically through a magical battle many years in her past, and so is one of only a handful of people who can walk this path between the realms of the magic and the mundane. Her talismans and the ritual of remembering her past, which has involved a plenitude of both the magic and mundane, allows her to keep the balance needed to stay on the path.
Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it.
I’ll do this with number one though swapping the genders makes little difference though.
Three young people, not long out of school so late teens-early 20s, are on the train to a remote location in Northern England. The boy/girlfriend of one of them has recently died after a sudden illness and so the remaining couple are taking their friend away to get away from their home town and all the things that remind him/her of their loss. They take up a table and put a carrier bag of beer on the spare seat to stop anyone else sitting down. The train rapidly fills up. The train pulls up at a small run down station in the middle of nowhere and a young woman carrying a small baby boards. There are no seats left so they move their bag of beer to let her sit down.
She introduces herself and refers to the baby as ‘Kid’. She has a strange air about her. She looks completely normal, wearing sports clothes and is about the same age as the three however there is something off putting about her. She takes a beer from the bag and starts telling them the story of her family and the father of her baby and how she’s taking her baby back to it’s father, she points out of the window to a mountain in the distance saying that he lives in the highest house on the mountain and that he’s going to devour both her and the baby. She seems pleased by this.
She gets off at a station at the foot of the mountain leaving the three talking about how her story was obviously nonsense and she is probably a ‘care in the community’ case. Before they reach the next stop however they decide to get off and take the next train back the way they came to see if they can find her just in case either she is going to do some harm to herself or the baby or, though none of them say it, in case her rambling story was true.
Hi-jinks, no doubt, ensue.
Take the last one and have the character make the opposite choice
So, this is number three. I know number three would probably have gelled quite well with number four but that would be too easy.
The protagonist is aware of this strange energy that is connected to the motorways but chooses to ignore it, tries to put it out of mind. The feelings grow stronger though and as the feeling grows he finds it occupies his dreams and all his waking thoughts. Eventually he takes to drink to try to numb the feeling and begins to drink himself into oblivion every night. He then begins blacking out and starts waking up on the side of the motorway. A couple of times he wakes up in police cells after having been picked up walking down the hard shoulder of the motorway. The feeling grows until he can see, when he looks at major roads and motorways, these rivers of corpses flowing eternally onwards in a great wave of death and decay. One day he can’t take it any more and walks into the river.