Daily Writing Tip 69 of 100, Things That Get Stuck In Our Heads

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Things That Get Stuck In Our Heads

Source – The Mind of Your Story, Discover What Drives Your Fiction By Lisa Lenard-Cook

I use the word “stuck” intentionally because when I visualize what happens when I obsess, I not only see a needle stuck in a groove on a 33 1/3 record, I hear the repetitive oddity such a scratch creates….For those of us who grew up listening to records, carefully picking up the needle and setting it down just past the offending scratch was something we did so often it never occurred to us that it took some skill and finesse

That repetition, that over-and-over with no way out unless someone physically lifts the needle from the groove, is how it is when something gets stuck in a writers head. She’ll start thinking about something she said (or wishes she said), or did, or saw, like that woman with the suitcase in the rain. She starts spinning the thing out, imagining what comes next. But then she gets to a certain point – and it’s always the same point – and she skips right back to the beginning.

These ruts can be maddening, and in fact, if we weren’t writers they likely would drive us insane. But when we write, there are things we can do with them.

I have spent a lot of time writing stuff that I knew wasn’t going to be good – stuff I didn’t really even want to write. But there was something stuck in my head and I knew the only way to get rid of it was to write it out.

That is how it is.

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Daily Writing Tip 44 of 100, Recognize Them When They Show Up

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Recognize Them When They Show Up

Source – On Writing, by Stephen King

Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.

Let me tell you how story ideas feel to me.

Where they come from, I have no idea. When they will come, I can’t predict. Why they come, I can’t explain – but come they do.

They feel like a serious itch – or like a stone in my shoe. Something that I, no matter how hard I try, can’t get out of the forefront of my mind. I really can’t think of anything else.

Until I write them out – write them away. Then and only then will they leave me alone and I can get on with my life. It’s a need, an addiction – graphomania, if you will.

Everyone has addictions – the question is if you can live with your addiction or even control it and make it work for you. I think that for me, for my graphomania, I can work it out.

Daily Writing Tip 41 of 100, The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly

Source – If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland

Now some people when they sit down to write and nothing special comes, no good ideas, are so frightened that they drink a lot of strong coffee to hurry them up, or smoke packages of cigarettes, or take drugs or get drunk. They do not know that good ideas come slowly, and that the more clear, tranquil and unstimulated you are, the slower the ideas come but the better they are.

Good advice… I guess. Still like my coffee, though.

Sunday Snippet – Punch Card (How I Met Your Grandmother)

I had a writing teacher once that said that ideas were swimming through the air all around us and if you didn’t catch one as it went by, someone else would.

This morning, I caught an idea for a short story and wrote down an outline before I went out for a bicycle ride. There are four scenes, spread out over, say, forty years. The working title for the story is Punch Card (How I Met Your Grandmother).

Here’s the second scene, which takes place in the past (maybe 1975 or so). I’ll write the other three scenes over the next few days – hopefully to take to my writing group. If you want a copy of the first draft when I finish it, send me an email at bill*chance99@gmail.com – except put a period where the asterisk is and the number 57 where the 99 is (take that spammers).

I hated the punch card machine more than anything I had ever hated before. I was a junior, majoring in comparative literature and since I wasn’t in the computer science department I could only use the computer lab after ten in the evening. The giant computer itself took up half of the bottom floor of the building – but nobody was ever allowed to go or even see in there. The other half was filled with a filthy snack bar, lined with rusty autobots that spat out moldy candy bars and bags of stale off-brand potato chips – and a series of dingy rooms filled with hundreds of punch card machines.

I had taken an elective class in Fortran programming because I thought that computers were the future and I was worried about paying rent after graduation. Writing the assigned programs was easy – find the sides and angles of a right triangle, the day of a date, or draw a series of boxes. I could write the code, but I couldn’t punch the cards.

My homework problems had to be punched onto these beige cards – rectangular with one corner cut off. I had to buy a case of the damn things at the beginning of the semester. I couldn’t imagine using all those cards. I didn’t know. Three months later, I had to buy another half-box from some kid in my dorm. I was always a terrible typist and would get nervous, freeze up and hit the wrong letter.

This was worse than a typewriter. You would load a stack of cards into the machine and then it would warm up and start to hum. The heat would rise and the ozone would burn your nose. The keys were big and yellow and had to be shoved hard before the machine would roar and then… “Blam!” it would whack a little tiny rectangle out of the card. A paper flake would fly through the air to join the thick layer of cardstock confetti coating the floor and, magic, a corresponding hole would appear in the card itself.

With the punchcard machine a mistake was a disaster. I never could see that I’d missed a key. Sure, the code printed out along the top of the card but they never put new ribbons in the machines and it was always too faint for me to read. When I had my stack of cards all finished I’d take them into the computer room, wrap them with a rubber band, and shove them through this little wooden door in the wall where they would fall down a chute. You never could even see what was on the other side.

Then it was time to wait. Wait for hours. I’d spend all night there, waiting for my program to run. Then, my output would drop down another, bigger, chute into a pile. Every time an output would drop, all the kids waiting would run in and see if it was theirs. It was horrible.

You see, if your program ran correctly you’d get a few sheets of paper with the code and the answer printed on it but I never did. I’d find my cards still rubberbanded together and clipped to a huge stack of pinfeed folded green and white striped paper. On the top would be a handwritten note that would say something like, “Core Dump, you loser!”

Whenever you made a mistake, even a tiny one, the core would dump and the computer would print out hundreds of pages of gibberish. You were supposed to carefully peruse the printouts and find your error in there somewhere but nobody had time for that. You’d throw the printout in this huge wooden bin, scratch your head, and start looking for your mistake. I have no idea why they wasted all that paper.

Sometimes it would be a mistake in my work, but usually it was a typo in my card punching. I figured out that the little holes corresponded to letters, numbers, or symbols and I punched out a card with everything on it, in order, and I would have to slide the thing slowly over every card I had punched to try and find the mistake.

It was horrible. I would be so tired, my eyes swimming, sitting at that huge punch machine, trying to type. I’d make a mistake and throw the card onto the overflowing trash bins and start again. Even when I made it through a card, I’d be terrified I had made an unknown error and would generate another core dump. It was killing me… but I had nowhere else to go.

Our instructor was always harping on us to put in comment cards. These were punch cards marked in a certain way that they didn’t make the computer do anything, but simply left comments. You were supposed to leave comments about what your code was supposed to be doing or what your variable represented or why you decided to do something the way you did. It was a pain in the ass and I never did it until the teacher started marking my grade down because I had insufficient comments in my code.

So I started putting the comments in, though I never commented on the code. I figured he didn’t really look through everybody’s work for these things and only took the computer’s count of how many comments were in here. Sometimes I’d just gripe… like, “Fortran really sucks,” or “This is too hard,” or “It’s way too late at night to be doing this.”

This got to be pretty boring pretty fast so I switched to some of my favorite Shakespeare Quotes, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” or “There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting,” or “I am not bound to please thee with my answer.” I might make some mistakes punching the comments… but who cared? They would still go through as comments and you could still read them.

Like it was yesterday, I remember the day when I picked up my output and, sure enough, there was the big thick stack of folded paper, another core dump, but instead of a handwritten note, there was a punched card on top of my stack. It was different in that it had been done on a machine that had a fresh ribbon in it and across the top, in crisp, clear, printing, it said, “Funny Comments Ronald. You’re getting close. Ck crd 7 error in do loop – Christine.”

And sure enough, in my seventh card I had hit a capital letter “Z” instead of a number “2.” I never would have seen that.

So I redoubled my efforts at witty, humorous, and obscure quotations for my comment cards. I was reading this huge crazy new book called Gravity’s Rainbow and one day I quoted from it. Stuff like, “You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.” or “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers,” or “Danger’s over, Banana Breakfast is saved.”

My program ran that time and the card on top said, “A screaming comes across the sky – Christine,” which made me so happy I didn’t stop smiling for a day.

The next program, I added a comment card that said, “Christine, I can’t see you – Ronald.”

And it came back with, “I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine.”

So I thought about it and worked up my courage. At the end of a program that I larded with my best quotes from the composition book I carried with me and scribbled in all the time… my commonplace book, I finished with a card that said “Christine, I want to meet you – Ronald.”

All that night I was the first to fight their way in to grab any program that slid down the chute, only to be disappointed again and again as other student’s projects ran before mine. Finally, as the sky was beginning to turn a light pink in the west, my program dropped. On top was a card. I ran back to my dorm room to read it, not daring to look at it anywhere in public.

It said, “Love to Ronald. Snarky’s at six, on Thursday. Don’t be late – Christine.”

Snarky’s was a little chain restaurant off campus not far from the computer building. My heart almost beat out of my chest. Thursday was going to take a long time to get there.

One Hundred Short Story Basic Ideas

George Polti put the number at 36. He insisted that there are exactly thirty-six dramatic situations.

1. Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
2. Deliverance
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
5. Pursuit
6. Disaster
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
8. Revolt
9. Daring Enterprise
10. Abduction
11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
12. Obtaining
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
16. Madness
17. Fatal Imprudence
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother, sister, etc.)
19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
20. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
25. Adultery
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
30. Ambition
31. Conflict with a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgement
34. Remorse
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones.

Foster-Harris said there are three – “Happy Ending” – “Unhappy Ending” – and the “Literary Plot”

Jessamyn West listed out seven.

[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion

Ronald Tobias says there are twenty master plots.

Quest
Adventure
Pursuit
Rescue
Escape
Revenge
The Riddle
Rivalry
Underdog
Temptation
Metamorphosis
Transformation
Maturation
Love
Forbidden Love
Sacrifice
Discovery
Wretched Excess
Ascension
Descension.

As for me, these are interesting ideas and a great starting point to come up with inspiration, but not really practical when the deadline is looming and the mind is empty and the panic is rising.

So, in my “Spare Time” I have started to make a list of short story ideas or plots or basic structures or prompts or whatever. I decided to come up with a number first instead of doing the list first and then counting. Makes more sense to me.

I picked a nice round number – one hundred. So, in my notebook(s) that I carry around, every now and then I’ll think of a new one, write it down and give it a number. I’m only up to sixteen so far, so I better get crackin.’

1 Revenge Story – must have downtrodden victim taking revenge on the person/people responsible for keeping him down.

2 Love Triangle – Requires a somewhat passive follower – yet very desirable- character has to choose between 2 pursuers.

3 Someone isn’t what they seem. On the surface a benevolent character turns out to be a monster underneath.

4 Wakes up to the man. Someone, probably a youth, realizes the hopeless, soul-crushing nature of existence – rebels. Successful or not.

5 Unreliable Narrator. – First person narration point of view. As the story progresses the reader realizes the narrator is lying and is not the beneficent person they portray (and believe themselves).

6 Revenge Story 2 – Someone done wrong but NOT downtrodden, takes revenge on a victim that does not expect it.

7 You might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you. A long-ago incident – secret- comes back to haunt a person in a secure well-established position.

8 Petty Crime Goes Bad – Someone steals something (notebook? Laptop? Phone? IPOD? Digital storage card or thumb drive?) and it turns out to have something unspeakably evil and dangerous associated with it.

9 (related to #8) Ordinary Object contains evil. Gift? Bought at thrift stop? Item has power but also terrible danger.

10 Fractured Fairy Tales – Take an obscure (or well known) fairy tale and set it in modern day. Kick things up a notch.

11 Rosebud – Filthy Rich self-made man – his fortune can’t cure a hurt left over from his childhood or he can’t rescue a loved one – or both.

12 Memories of Childhood nightmares. – fear of atomic attack, making noise, or other mostly irrational fear – maybe it comes true (just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you).

13 An ordinary dystopia – A terribly ordinary day is told in all of its horror.

14 Requiem for a Dream – The hero’s constant struggle for a goal, for fulfillment, is turned by a fatal flaw – dreams turn to nightmares. The core sin is that of blindness to one’s true nature – and/or ignorance of one’s love’s true needs.

15 Mediocre athlete – a person aids a naturally gifted person – that is a fraud. The mediocre person ends up relaxing and winning himself.

16 – Expert helps downtrodden – an elite unexpectedly sacrifices a bit of his own success to aid someone not as elevated.

Sixteen down, eighty four to go. Leave a comment if you have any ideas, that would be cool.

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17  Blast From the Past – A person meets someone that was a key influence in their distant past.

18 Mysterious Pest From Beyond – a hellish parasite arrives from an unknown location and attaches to the protagonist

19 Monkey’s Paw – Dream comes true, turns into a nightmare (similar to #14 – but different tone)

20 The Opposite Of Doomed Love – What if Romeo and Juliet said to each other, “I love you but this isn’t going to work out, what with the family and all.” What tragedy would ensue.

21 Military in Need – Opponents on the battlefield are thrown in with each other and must cooperate to survive.

22 What we were and have forgotten – The world from a child’s point of view. We don’t remember the fear.