Lets pretend you asked me where I come up with my stories. You’ll never believe it, but some people actually do ask authors this question. Even Myren my chauffeur asked me this once a long time ago before he knew me very well. He regretted it immediately was fascinated with my answer. I wouldn’t have much of an answer for that question except this one time in school, my nun came up with the most inventive way to get a story going ever.
Sister Joseph—a young nun with a quick smile dreamed up one of my all time favorite writing exercises. She started with three shoe boxes and a wad of paper ripped up into squares. She handed out three of the small slips of paper—the size of a standard yellow sticky although they hadn’t been invented yet–to each of us in the room. And since this was catholic school and no government regulations applied—there were about 50 of us in the class.
She told us to write two names on the first piece of paper—character names. Just the names—nothing else.
On the second slip of paper she said to write a place for the setting—anything from New York city to a corner store would do—no other details needed.
The third slip was trickier. She said to write an incident or event—for a plot.
She collected the slips putting them in their appropriate boxes for Character, Setting and Plot and mixed them around. Then we each picked one slip of paper from each of the three boxes.
Up to that point we—or rather I—had no idea where she was going by this and my curiosity was killing me.
“Now using the three elements on your slips of paper, write a story!” Sister Joseph said with her smile wide.
I still remember to this day what I pulled from the box, Madame X, Fluffy, penthouse and murder. I had such great fun filling in all the details and inventing a story around those crumbs.
Of course it was a murder, without much mystery, that took place in a penthouse committed by a glamorous woman named Madame X who owned a fancy dog named fluffy. I don’t remember why, but she murdered a guy by kissing him to death—with poison lipstick. I still had a lot to learn about plotting, but that was my first real attempt at a short story.
Even if Myren doesn’t agree, I’ve come a long way since then, mostly writing novels. But I went back to writing short with my recent novella for our Weddings on Main Street boxed set. It’s called Small Town Glamour Girl Wedding—Myren says the title is longer than the story, but he exaggerates. It’s like saying his hat is taller than he is. Whatever. Chauffeurs can be exasperating especially pretend ones.
There’s still time—all summer long—to get a copy of Weddings on Main Street, a boxed set of 11 novellas, for only $.99.