Writing Exercise: Real Life Inspiration

Widely used piece of stock art from the internet (found 12 uses and no attribution)

“Where do you get your ideas?” FAQ #1 of writers. 

Everywhere. Reading books, the watching the news, walking down the street, head voices which won’t shut up, Facebook …

The challenge is turning a real-life event into a fictional piece. Real-life isn’t neat. There is no defined beginning, middle, and end, no inciting event, rising action, and resolution. At least not in a neat narrative package, bow-tied with theme and meaning.

WRITING EXERCISE: The writing challenge for today is to convert a real-life event, NOT YOURS, into a fictional story. Scroll through your Facebook or other social media feed. (Not on social media? Look at today’s news.) Choose a small event, not a life changing one like cancer or marriage, but more like “ate at my favorite restaurant and got the rude waiter” or “stuck in traffic waiting for the geese to cross the road”. Create a flash of at least 200 words.

***

My attempt is “The Help” which appeared last month. The story came from a sibling’s post. The weekend had been bad with everyone a bit sick, but only for one day. Dad got to return to work; mom, who is nursing, stayed home with the toddler and baby. Three days later the post comes 

“Nothing like an intermittently vomiting toddler to keep you on your toes.
It also keeps you trapped in the house. Plans cancelled, again.

I guess I’ve got plenty to time to research new washing machines, since ours just broke.”

After a flash of sympathy, I have to admit, I laughed a little at the wrench life threw into the works. Cleaning up vomit and no washing machine is a bad combo. I need to write something about that. Scrolling through the comments I discovered the poor toddler had vomited seven times that day. The broken washing machine left an inch of water in the laundry room. Sibling was having a very bad – but fiction-worthy – day.

I have a fictional couple, Joe and Cheryl, with a toddler and baby. These two are not based on my sibling and sib’s spouse – I started writing the Joe-Cheryl show (as I call it in my head) four years ago, long before my sibling had a toddler and a nursing baby. I often used them, Joe & Cheryl, to recreate real-life occurrences I have seen when working taxes at Walmart; “It’s Dirty” is exactly what a toddler said during checkout walking away from money on the floor, leaving a flabbergasted mother behind.

The challenge is the Joe-Cheryl show has certain rules in my head (1) loving couple and functional family unit, (2) must be humorous, and most importantly (3) deals a verbal play, some aspect of language or interpretation based on words: “Inside voice“, “Memory of a Lifetime“, and “Eat Half” are just some of the examples.

Making a sick kid, broken washer, and flooded laundry room smile-worthy would take a bit of doing but possible. My problem is none of those are verbal plays. Then I remember a meme about a guy explaining how he is not “helping his wife”. Perfect!

Smash all this together in my head: the meme, Joe-Cheryl and their rules, and my sibling’s very bad-but-we-will-laugh-about-it-when-it’s-over day. Oh, and this past weekend I was at a function with a teething babe-in-arms. The mother had to carry-jiggle the baby all day. Yeah, need to add that. Torture my characters like a good writer. (Even comic relief characters can be tortured.)

From four different things, “The Help” emerges. 

“Where do you get your ideas?” Everywhere.

Flash: Pairs

Image courtesy of vvadyab at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Hey, the girls are back,” yelled my jackass boyfriend over the noise at the club to his equally ignorant wingman. Mateo and Eric were hitting on some clubsluts at another table, just to dance since they shared Cynthia. Our introverted housemate opted out of the clubhopping night, instead taking advantage of the quiet back home for her idea of a perfect Friday, curled up in a bunch of pillows reading.

I guess wingman isn’t the correct term for Swami anymore since Viola walked up to him at a convention last week and claimed him. Now that was a scene. Swami looking slightly out of place as always in the predominately white sci-fi gathering and up comes this Hispanic-African American woman dressed as Storm, pulling it off way better than Hallie Berry. People turned to stare at her as she passed, her sheer presence godlike. She grabbed Swami by his pointed Tuvok ears, growled “Mine”, lifted him on his tip-toes, and kissed him until his eyes crossed.

Honestly, the woman should not be left alone. Very, very direct – six foot three, not counting the leather boots she had been wearing, and intimidating as hell. The rest of the pack closed rank and pulled over to the side of the hall – my boyfriend, Ethan, scanned the crowd for her crew. No one followed.

Viola was a lone wolf. She still hasn’t told us her story, but unless Swami is holding her, the crazy gleam lives in her ice-blue eyes.

I slapped Ethan on the bicep while Viola circled the table to lean into Swami’s back, her head, thanks to the six-inch spikes, resting on top of his. “Not a girl,” I snarled.

“Okay,” he laughed, raising his hands then nodding at the table. “Got you a drink, not-a-girl.”

Honestly if Ethan wasn’t so damn cute I would dump him.

That and he knows my drink preferences. A pink hurricane sat on the sticky surface. I nicked it and took a long sip out of the straw. Shifting my shoulders, I prepared to forgive him when he opened up his mouth again.

“You and Viola have a good time?” He yelled. “Really, why do you girls need to go in pairs anyway?”

I shouldn’t. Pack leader, alpha male. Nope. Just nope. Annnnd lost the argument with myself.

I returned the glass to the table, tilted my head so my black hair slid like a waterfall over my shoulder, put out my left hand, and crocked a finger on my right hand to invite him to come with me. My flirty smile sealed the deal. The club being too crowded for him to smell me.

The idiot put his hand in mind. I dragged him through the crowd to a side door opening onto a much less noisy balcony. Dragged being a relative term – he and Viola shared a height class and he had about half again on her for muscle mass. I have my mom’s slight Asian build with just enough height from my pop to reach Ethan’s shoulders if I wore spikes, which I don’t, and Ethan didn’t wear motorcycle boots, which he does.

Finding a dark corner on the balcony was easy, finding one unoccupied took a little more work. Once successful Ethan lifted me onto the wrought iron table, placed his hands either side of me and leaned in – to find my hand in the middle of his chest pushing back. “I thought you wanted to know why ‘girls’ go to the bathroom in pairs.” My tone chilled the area enough to frost his beer goggles.

“Um, yeah, I guess.” He stood up and scratched the back of his head.

“So we don’t get assaulted.”

His cocky perpetual half-smile shifting into a frown. “What?”

I stared at him hard. My black eyes unblinking. And waited for the brain to override his party hormones. Eventually, his blond eyebrows drew together until a little crinkle indicating he was actually thinking appeared between them. His stern thinking expression made my heart skip and my lips plump out until I bit them.

His eyes dropped to my lips. We have the damnest time completing arguments because him thinking turns me on, and unlike most werewolves, let alone human males, he thinks when angry instead of blowing up. Unlike me. Now in our third year together he is able to push past it, making him that much hotter to my very screwed up emotional wiring. His nostrils flared as he smelled me getting wet.

“Assaulted?”

I nodded, trying to renew my anger from the club. I am not a girl. I am twenty-two. I am not a girl. “Yes, assaulted.”

His half-smile made a weak return. “Not so you can have a conversation while standing in line?”

“No, you mutt.” I jammed a finger into his chest.

His face twitched, falling into his thinking expression. “You always said that.”

“Yeah. That is one of the lines we women have agreed to tell men about the bathroom thing.”

“Ah, so you are breaking the woman secrecy barrier.” He raised his eyebrows.

“I thought it was time.” Part of me wanted to laugh, but the rest of me realized the conversation was one of the most serious we ever had. Because I really was breaking secret barriers. Women just don’t talk about this stuff. We say we go in pairs because of the long lines. And the long lines are because it takes longer to move all the stuff around – pantyhose takes ten times longer to get back into place than whipping it out and stuffing it back in after shaking. So we are telling the truth, but not the real truth. Not the truth we avoid telling ourselves most days. “I am walking through a club with a bunch of slightly drunk males and going to go down a darkened hallway. I am not stupid enough to do that alone.”

Ethan shuddered a moment. His eyes flashed left to right as he processed the danger. The innate danger every woman faces in a simple trip to a public bathroom. Pulling me forward on the table he kissed the top of my head and rested his forehead on mine. “Thank you.”

I snuggled into him. I guess I will keep the jackass a little longer.

*****

We fell into bed that night exhausted, Mateo finally pulling us away from the noise, scents, and dancing to get home to his woman. Alcoholism runs on the American Indian side of his family, so he never drinks and is our designated driver making clubbing only somewhat fun for him. Being the babysitter for a werewolf pack out for a good time during new moon week has severe downsides. Better than the weeks closer to full moon; at least the boys didn’t punch anyone this time.

Viola hasn’t been around long enough, but I bet she is a puncher too.

Cynthia, Mateo, and Eric woke us around dawn. We really need to soundproof their room. A thump shook some dust off the ceiling.

And pad it. Their room needed padding.

Ethan and I were wrapped around each other, and he petted my back and waist-length hair while we tried to ignore our exuberant packmates.

“I was wondering.” His bass voice rumbled through his deep chest tickling my ear.

“ummm” I responded, debating whether to move and start petting him back, a bit lower than acceptable in polite company. The moving was the biggest impediment, though Mr. Happy was working on becoming bigger.

“Why would you fear being assaulted?” Ethan kissed the top of my head.

I rolled to the side a little to rest mostly on the bed so I could look him in the eye, leg drawing across a very happy Mr. Happy. Well, good morning to you too. My leg and womanly bits decided not to join the rest of me on the bed.

Sorry, woman bits, serious conversation first. Annnd, woman bits get even more moist as my eyes focus on his stern thinking expression.

I bite my lip, swallow, and then force words out before morning sex or coffee. “Habit, I guess.”

I then shook my head, thinking harder. Yes it hurts without my caffeine fix. Let this be a lesson to women everywhere, do not hook up with guys who do not need caffeine. Morning people and night people do not mix. Or all day people. Ethan never turns off. Part of why he is the alpha of our group. He was alpha even before the attack.

I reminded myself not to lie to him or to me and started again. “And reality as well.”

“What? You are a werewolf for crying out loud!” The whisper shout could have been heard by werewolf ears outside the house, but not by anyone else. As an extra precaution, the house we bought last year was on five acres. We are a noisy lot and neighbors did not need to know about the adjustment to our human DNA we had experienced.

“How much do you press?” I stroked my hand across his muscular chest, making Mr. Happy twitch and jump against my leg.

“Now? Oh, I guess about 600 pounds, more during a full moon.” He shrugged. “I haven’t really bothered since … well, since. I was doing about 200 in school before.”

“So three times stronger than before” I looked up into his green-gray eyes.

“About,” he agreed.

“Well, I lifted too.”

He laughed, shaking the bed. “Because the high school required it as part of gym class.”

I poked his check with a finger, and his laughter stopped instantly. Oh god, don’t look at my breasts. Don’t look.

His serious eyes dropped to where my small breasts provided just enough lift from my body to make the erect nipples really stand out. I prevented my hand from moving into a caress, reminding it and other body parts, we are still having a serious discussion here.

I inhaled deeply. “I pressed about fifty pounds. And unlike you I’ve tested it at a gym since just for giggles. Also three times stronger, one hundred fifty pounds, more than I weigh.”

“Umm, congratulations?”

“I still can’t lift you.” I pointed out. “I still can’t bench press what a healthy high school male can unless it is the full moon.”

The crinkle appeared between his eyes.

“So, yeah, a human male your size can still assault me even though I am three times stronger than he expects.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah.” My turn to shrug, and my eyes may sprung a small leak. “The Old Man said we continue to get stronger slowly, so maybe someday. But I don’t think I am ever going to stop being cautious.”

Ethan lifted a hand, his thumb caressing my cheek and lips. “Anita.” He kissed me gently.

I had dated Eric, back before, and then Mateo immediately following the attack before the first full moon and shift when the mating heat reshuffled our allegiances and linked the beta crowd as a single unit. Some days I wished Ethan and I could experience the mating heat, I’ve been thinking about it more since Swami found Viola.

On the other hand, good old-fashion love, respect, and understanding is pretty awesome too.

So is wild monkey sex. When we start padding the bedrooms, ours will need to be on the list.

(words 1,892; first published 10/29/2017)

Flash: Balance Sheet

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

“I’m going to kill him; I’m going to kill them all.”

“Really?” Watching her youngest storm up the wooden steps onto her porch, Daphne Gigante rocked her chair forward to set down her needles on top of her knitting basket. The half-done mint green scarf matched the purple one around Albert’s neck. “Calm down.”

“They disrespected me.” Albert muttered while he paced along the boards. “Ain’t nobody disrespect me.”

“So you are going to kill them all?” Daphne shook her head, considering whether to move the conversation indoors. She glanced up and down the street, placing each vehicle and person into friend or foe status. Everything within three blocks was recognizable. Cops really hated surveillance during the winter; the cars got cold when they couldn’t run the engine for heat without giving themselves away.

“Yep.”

She snorted at that simple statement as he stopped moving, legs spread and fists on his hips facing her and the front door instead of watching the street. “Yeah, that is going to learn them all some lessons.” She adjusted the afghan on her lap, tucking the edges back under. The blanket had moved when she had laid the knitting down.

“Fuck yeah.” Albert sneered in triumph, his black eyes sparkling.

“No it ain’t.” Daphne spat. “Sit yourself down right now son.” She waved at the short stool on her right, not the second rocking chair on her left.

The five foot ten inch nineteen year old glared at his mother before he resumed pacing between the small seating area and the white painted railing.

A Smith and Wesson semi-auto pistol jumped in Daphne’s hands, the light of the laser sight dancing across Albert’s center of mass. “I said sit. Don’t you go speak about respect and disrespect me.” Her voice was a calmly lethal as the weapon.

Albert quickly hunched down on the child stool, struggling with his long legs until they ended up crossed in front of him, half keeping him from toppling off the chair.

“Now you ready to listen or do I need to pound you some sense into your thick skull.” She pantomimed striking his head with the grip.

“I’m listening mom.”

Daphne slipped the gun under the blanket, wiggling a bit because the metal weapon had taken some of the ambient air temperature while out. “Right. You don’t go killing randomly.”

Albert surged up, growling, “It ain’t random.”

“I’m talking here.” The gun reappeared, and this time the red dot aimed at his jean’s zipper.

Albert sat right back down, scooting the stool for a better angle to watch his mother’s face.

Giving him an evil eye, Daphne waited until he stopped moving before tucking the gun away again. “You don’t go killing randomly, you hear me?”

After a couple seconds of silence, Daphne cuffed her son lightly on the ear. “Answer me when I am talking to you boy.”

Albert swallowed before asking, “Now?”, the sneer and gangster confidence long gone.

“When else, smart mouth?” Daphne reached for her knitting, confident in her ability to control the situation now the teen anger had been removed. “Do you hear what I am saying?”

“Don’t kill randomly.”

After arranging everything to restart, she gripped the needles in her left and gently stroked her son’s cheek with her right. “Good. This is why you’re my favorite, aside from being the only one not in prison.”

Clicking needles filled the void in conversation for a moment.

“You kill precisely. Got that?” Daphne said conversationally as she started the next row after glancing up and down the street again.

“Kill precisely.”

“You kill too much and people start expecting it.”

Albert nodded.

“You kill too much and it cheapens the killing.”

His thick eyebrows met. “Are you talking economics?” Watching her watch the street, Albert tried to read something in the bland face of the woman who executed her own husband at the order of the mob boss, ten years before she took the fucker out and fixed the gang to her own extracting standards while he was in high school.

“Yeah, supply and demand shit.” She paused in her knitting to stare into his eyes. “Listen up boy, you kill all the time, and you flood the market. Killing becomes like fast food, cheap and quick and you don’t want that. When you kill you want it to mean something. A gift, only a very nasty gift. Got that?”

“Umm.” Albert tried to break eye contact. He didn’t want her to think he was challenging her. But he couldn’t, until she dropped her gaze to her knitting, then he blinked several times.

“Beat up people all you want. Scare them.” Her calm, mother-knows-best voice continued. “But only kill them when you absolutely got to.”

“Because killing gots to mean something.” Albert hoped he had the right answer.

“That’s my boy.” She paused in her knitting to stroke his cheek again. “Now go get some of your buds and hospitalize those blancwoggs.”

Hopping up, Albert nodded at his mother and strode to the front steps.

The clicking needles stopped when he reached the bottom stairs and turned toward the O’Dare house. “Don’t get caught sweetie.”

Flash: Waves Against the Pier

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following post was written June 5, 2013.

ConCarolinas 2013 – On Sunday I attended a writer’s workshop. The panelists were:

Moderator – Joe Naff (http://www.moonwingmedia.com/) – Writes fantasy and supernatural thriller with strong female lead characters. (Eternal Forest; The Chronicles of Shyra (Series); The Gospel of the Font)

Panelist – Catherine McLean (http://www.catherineemclean.com/) – Write space opera. (Karma and Mayhem; Jewels of the Sky)

Panelist – Winfield Strock III (http://adventures-above-the-aether.blogspot.com/) – Writes steampunk. (Adventures Above the Aether, Aether Legion)

With this eclectic group of speculative fiction authors overseeing the workshop, we were instructed to write “A scene where the scene expresses the emotion of what is happening.” for fifteen minutes. Okay, I can do that. Below is what was written word for word; no time for editing.

***

Waves crashed around the pier, throwing a fog of salt water around Clyde. Angry tears trickled down his face, leaving tracks in the sea-mist sweat. Life wasn’t fair, he thought.

A scream escaped his wounded heart and was torn away by the unforgiving wind. Soon he would need to leave. The blood-red sunset promised a storm, no matter what the weatherman had said. He looked forward to spending the night in the creaky beachcomber shack he rented, fighting leaks and rattling panes.

She shouldn’t have left him. He had done everything right. From the first spell of summon to the last spell of binding, his high school sweetheart should have stayed with him until death parted them.

What had gone wrong?

An incoming wave driven by tide and storm pushed him back a step. His sopping jeans cling to his skinning legs like lichen. His bare feet slipped a bit on the slimy mold.

He couldn’t even summon her back. The last binding spell made her immune to hearing siren energy. She should have held steady.

(Words 176)

 

We did a round robin with the participants reading their pieces and giving feedback. Then we got the kicker for the second hour of the workshop. Write the same scene but with an opposite or strongly different emotion. Characters may be changed, but the location/scene needed to remain the same. Oh, boy. … I think I can do that. …. Ummm, okay …

***

Waves dashed in ahead of the storm, hurtling towards safety in the sand. Clyde remained on the mossy pier, digging his bare feet through the slimy green coating for firmer footing. He waited impatiently through the ruby sunset for full dark. The storm promised big ones to curl, dare and ride. Wind ripped at his pony-tail, lashing at his back and check.

Should he do this without backup? His partner had left him, refusing to even set foot in the rickety shack they rented each year, after they fought all the way from the city. Hell, Clyde didn’t even know how he was going to get back after the weekend. His high school buddy had left in a spray of sand and gravel.

An incoming wave rushed the aging pier, diving him back a step with its force. His wetsuit prevented him from felling the icy touch, but salt clung to his lips, wetting his appetite for adventure.

Soon, soon. The midnight ride through white crests and driving water would be his world. Centering him as nothing else did. Only in the blue, with water under and over him, when Neptune tried to bury him and he could laugh at the gods did he feel alive.

Unable to wait longer, he checked the tie on his ankle. He picked up the board and ran screaming off the end of the pier and started paddling into the failing light.

(words 238)

 

I really like the parallel I was able to pull. The screaming by the main character and the loss of a special friend. The timing of the second wave pushing him back. The mold/slime on the ancient pier and the existence of the shack to live in. The exercise was fun, and also showed I really need to work on adding more description to my writing. Flash needs most of it stripped, and my long-form writing has suffered because of my concentration on flash writing. I am really glad I attended the workshop.

(post initially published 6/5/2013; republished in new blog format on 7/2/2017)

Flash: I am Not the Crazy One

Image acquired from the Internet Hive Mind

Many people complain about morning people – us “perky” people who get up during daylight hours and function like it’s something humans have been made to do through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Truly the weird people are the night ones.

True life story:

*ring, ring*

“hhhello?” I ask, my throat scratchy.

“Let’s go to the Beach,” the perky person on the other end states.

“Beach?” not really understanding the word. I peer at the glowing red numbers on my nightstand, squinting. “It’s 11:45 … at night.”

“Yes, we can get there in an hour. No traffic. It will be great – the boardwalk is open, lots to do.”

…. Real conversation … what I remember of it.

And I did go to the beach that night. When the dawn came in, I woke up enough to drive us home. *stupid night owl friends* – love you guys, but sometimes it is really, really hard.

(words 157, first published 6/25/2017)