Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Man in a Diner - Character, Setting, Problem

I finished my 22nd story in my #60DayChallenge to write 30 short stories in Oct/Nov. That's one every two days, of course, and I'm on track. This story was one I was hoping to get to ever since someone asked me on Facebook about where my ideas come from. Iconic question, right?

My answer is what pulp writers have known and taught for ages - ideas are everywhere and are a dime a dozen. All a writer needs is a character in a setting with a problem. (If you're following the typical plot pointed story arc that almost all modern fiction follows, though there are some very good plotless stories out there. But even then, character-setting-struggle is usually center stage.)

To highlight my point, I posed a scenario about a man in a diner ordering a coke but all they had was pepsi. That's enough to start a story - person in a setting with a problem. The key is to tell an interesting story about "what happens next." So it's not the precipitating idea for a story that is the hard part, per se. Any ol' situation will do. It's the "then what happened" that makes a story unique.

So today I finished a story titled, curiously enough, "Man in a Diner Orders a Coke but They Only Serve Pepsi." It's just over 1500 words, so pretty short, and I had a lot of fun with it. The fun part, as you can imagine, is the "what happened next" part. And if you put yourself in that person's shoes, you the reader could probably come up with a few obvious answers.

Ah, but that's the key to a good story. The first couple of answers may not be that interesting - it's what a reader will expect and then will have to stifle a yawn in order to get to the good part. Not saying I do this very well (yet ;) but a writing strategy that was made clear by grandmaster SF writer Kate Wilhelm (now generally known as Wilhelm's law) can be roughly paraphrased as: pick the third option. Or fourth or fifth!

That is, I've got a man in a diner wanting a coke, but no coke! So my first thought is he... (fill in the blank). Boring. Well, instead maybe he... (fill in the blank). Not quite as boring but still no go. So finally, I think of... (this is where you email me and ask to read my story to see if I surprised you).

See? Loads of fun. Plus, another story down.
Time to get a coke and celebrate. :)

Follow my progress here or click the current projects tab above. And thanks for reading!