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: Memory of a Lifetime

Broken Egg With The Yolk And White Oozing Out

Image Courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cheryl hummed happily as she unwrapped a cracker for April. Her baby immediately started working on it with her limited teeth, making a gummy mess.

The weekend had been wonderful, just her and her husband, with the added bonus of the children spending quality time with their uncle. Having breakfast out after picking the kids up was the perfect end to the perfect weekend, giving them time to be a family before jumping back into never-ending chores and work of a two-career household. These were the memories to last a lifetime.

The waitress finished taking Joe’s order and asked “Anything for the child?” she said nodding to Scott sitting neatly in his booster seat.

Cheryl smiled with parental pride at her oldest. “I think he is old enough to order his own breakfast.”

“Okay, little man, what would you like?”

“I want to devour the unborn.” Scott carefully enunciated and spaced words, his volume only slightly less than his normal four-year old tones.

Cheryl looked at the waitress mortified. Her cheeks flushed when she realized most of the diners had heard his request. The nearest two tables stopped eating and turned to stare at her family. No one could have misunderstood what he had said.

When looking for support, she discovered her husband had covered his mouth with his hands. His whole body was shaking and tears were escaping the sides of his eyes. Cheryl shot death towards him, until he calmed enough to remove his hand and translate. With only a slight gasp he said, “Eggs, he want eggs.”

The waitress nodded cautiously before asking the boy, “And how would you like them cooked?”

Proudly Scott said. “Shattered and beaten with the juice flowing forth.”

Joe’s grin widened until he saw his wife’s face. After rearranging his features into a sterner expression, the father relayed, “Scrambled but runny.”

The waitress scratched the order down. With a wince, she asked, “And what would you like to drink, little man?”

“Utter madness.”

Joe’s head tilted as he considered the request. “… aha, Scott, do you mean ‘Udder’?” He  clearly pronounced d’s.

Scott nodded several times. “UD-DER madness.”

Turning to the waitress, Joe let her know, “He wants chocolate milk.”

The woman quickly retreated to the kitchen.

Cheryl hissed at Joe, “Your brother is NEVER to babysit again!”

(words 386 – first published 4/10/2013; republished new blog format 7/3/2016)

Flash: Inside Voice

Shopping Cart Stock Photo

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Herding cats would be easier, Cheryl thought as she tried to locate Scott while she pulled the grocery cart into the cashier lane. Maybe a leash would help she thought as annoyance got the better of her when she spotted him near the “As Seen On TV” display. She swore she would not be one of those mothers, but between juggling April who had finally outgrown the child seat and the list of errands she needed to get done before meeting with a client tonight — the “ideal mother” was beginning to be overrun by the “practical mother”.

He wasn’t breaking anything. Still, the store clerks already had a couple of messes to clean up from her foray this afternoon. Her line moved. Once the next person started unloading, Cheryl grabbed the moment to quickly retrieve her wayward four-year old.

Scott looked up as she jogged towards him. He shoved the Gentle Genie box back onto the display and tried to look innocent as he stood up. Ignoring the fact the box was now sandwiched between two MagicClean products, Cheryl instructed Scott “Come on, I’m at the checkout.”

Satisfied he was following her, Cheryl returned to the line in time to move forward. She glanced to make certain Scott didn’t get too distracted on the way back and started unloading the cart. Cheryl smiled as he picked up speed. One of his chores was to unload groceries onto the belt; he loved being old enough to help. Cheryl handed him a bag of diapers nearly as big as he was once he arrived.

She tried not to laugh as she watched him maneuver it over his head onto the shelf. While he was busy, she unloaded the glass jars of baby food and the fragile fruits. When he was ready for the next item, she handed her son a plastic jar of peanut butter.

“Yeah! I love peanut butter!” he shouted to the cashier as he put the peanut butter down too firmly. The jar tipped over and rolled a bit as the conveyor belt moved.

“Inside voice,” Cheryl admonished conversationally.

“But Mom!” He said in a stage whisper; his usual volume change after being asked not to shout.

She gave him a Macaroni and Cheese box. “Yes dear.”

“It is a really BIG inside!” He flung his arms wide since words and actions were basically the same for him, and the box escaped his grip.

Cringing slightly, Cheryl watched it sail past the other two people in line before hitting the cement walkway and skidding to a halt at the carpet edge of the woman’s clothing area.

Going to retrieve the bent, but thankfully unbroken box she admitted the boy had a point. The mega department-grocery combination store had a very big inside.

(words 464 – first published 1/30/2013; republished in new blog format 5/1/2016)

Flash: Funner (Part 2)

Opened Dictionary Stock Photo

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Joe was trying to get little April to accept puréed carrots, when his wife said out of the blue, “Yes, I believe funner is a word. Fun, funner, funnest.”

The peanut butter and ginger jelly sandwich was placed where their personal 4-year old tornado named Scott would land as soon as his milk glass was added. She returned to the kitchen to pour the final attraction, and then start assembling their more adult sandwiches. Joe wouldn’t mind a PB and J himself, but Cheryl tried to keep them on a somewhat non-strict diet. Thirties brought a little gut to both of them and she dislike buying clothes just for “upsizing” as she put it.

Scrapping up the carrots that were using osmosis to feed his favorite daughter through her cheeks and bib, Joe tried to place the conversation … it took a moment. Reorienting the food through the more proper channel of her small mouth, he was able to respond, “Nope, I am pretty sure funner is not a word. Did you look it up?”

Delivering the last of the Saturday lunch to the table, Cheryl mouth pursed in consternation as her husband got a point in the debate. “Well, no.” She pulled out her smartphone after sitting down. Booting up, she started navigating through menus looking. “Let’s see, some stuff about funner added to the dictionary in 2010 … Urban slang … oh here is something. Both noun and adjective, but not … drat.”

The arrival of their oldest made her put the smart phone aside, as she saved various glasses from spilling and laid down the requirement of eating at least three apple slices as well as half the sandwich before leaving the table. Joe concentrated on cleaning up the baby, the highchair, the plastic beneath the high chair and finally himself before joining his family at the kitchen table and snatching the phone for himself. Juggling April on one knee, and scrolling through the Google search he found a good article and passed it over to his wife after Scott started counting the Fritos on his plate.

She read through it, taking a bite of her chicken sandwich. Cheryl sipped some black cherry Kool-Aid then returned the phone and said “I believe the circumstances were very informal and therefore the usage stands.”

Joe laughed at loud, thinking back to exactly what he was doing during the “circumstances” of its usage. Glancing at the phone, he confirmed the article he had found boiled down to “Funner should not be used in formal writing, though it’s usage has been accepted for informal writing. For formal English writing, more fun should be used.”

“Agreed. In addition, I will concede we were not writing at the time.”

“Funner … Fun .. Ner … f.u.n.n.e.r.” Cheryl stated and spelled.

Laughter took them both, with April’s baby chortle joining in. Scott looked up from his counting; not understanding the joke, but enjoying the laughter, his high pitch child squeals joining in.

(words 498 – first published 1/2/2013; republished in new blog format 4/3/2016)

Flash: Coffee Urn

Coffee Pot by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Image courtesy of the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Foundation
Painting entitled: Coffee Pot
Shared under the Creative Commons attribution

Coffee. Warm, wonderful, life-giving coffee.

The silver urn bathed in the late morning sun, alone on the banquet table, steam curling from the lip. The steam barely visible to my unfocused eyes but glorious all the same.

Hot caffeine. The motion of my life’s blood. The function of my synapses.

Throbbing, my head ravaged me for last night. My tongue ached for the Columbia Black to spill over the cotton-parched muscle, burning away … burning away everything. If only there was a mug.

If only I could move my arms.

I twisted my shoulders to see how tight the bindings were.

My dry tongue pressed against whatever was stuck in my mouth preventing me from screaming, adhering to the terrycloth fiber. Blood and sweat-sock duked it out for control of my taste buds. I think the blood is mine; at least one tooth is loose. So much for the extensive orthodontic work my parents paid for during my teenage years.

Bile rose from the flavors but I manage to dry swallow it back down.

Did they, whoever they were, leave the urn as torture? For torture it was to have coffee so close and so far.

(words 196 – first published 3/27/2016)