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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stories Don't Write Themselves

As noted a few weeks back, I plan to enter the Canada Writes contest this year. But with the November 1 deadline looming, I have yet to bang out more than a few disconnected sentences. Though I make my living as a professional writer, 99 percent of my paid work to date has been non-fiction. (I sold one short story for $50 in the 90s, and I think the publisher was merely being generous.)

Writing a publishable short story is hard work. You need to determine your theme, setting, characters, conflict, resolution and plot while considering your target market - in this case, the contest judges. I assume that the judges of this CBC-sponsored contest are probably looking for Canadiana of some kind, so maybe I should just write about a beaver who can't get the required environmental impact assessments for his dam...huh, I just threw that out there as a joke, but that's actually not a bad seed for a story, if a little obvious. But as many real writers have pointed out, having an idea means nothing; ideas are a dime a dozen. Check it out:

A Dozen Ideas for One Thin Dime
1. Ellesmere Island gets sick of the cold and decides to migrate to the Carribean, causing all kinds of political havoc and creating jealousy among the other islands of the Arctic Sea.
2. A man discovers that his bank balance goes up, not down, whenever he withdraws money. While at first he delights in his good fortune, he quickly notices that the world gets worse the richer he gets.
3. A modern-day clerk discovers secret documents revealing that Sir John A. MacDonald once rode over Niagra Falls in a barrel to save Confederation.
4. For a period of exactly ninety-two hours, twelve minutes and forty-seven seconds, nothing bad happens anywhere in the world. There are no crimes, no one dies, no bad legislation is passed, there are no accidents of any kind. When things go back to normal, scientists and philosphers grapple with the existential questions raised by this statistically unlikely run of good luck.
5. An agoraphobic shut-in deals with the sudden death of her young grandchildren by forcing herself to play with their kite.
6. Two thousand years from now, archeologists discover evidence of a once-forgotten empire called "Canada" and try to puzzle out the details of its history and culture.
7. A Hollywood film crew arrives in Kelowna to shoot a movie about Ogopogo, disrupting the lives of the residents.
8. Canada's national symbols - goose, beaver, hockey player, Mountie and maple leaf - hold a press conference to withdraw their sponsorship of the nation.
9. While walking along a new but remote section of the Trans-Canada Trail, a hiker wanders off the path and finds a decades-old truck filled with mysterious knick-knacks. How did the truck get here, and what was its mysterious errand?
10. Teenage Adolf Hitler trips and falls into a wormhole and is flung forward in time to 2011. The boy discovers a world in which there are hundreds of short stories about people going back in time to kill him as a baby. Depressed, Hitler returns to the past and makes a fateful decision.
11. At the junior prom, a shy boy tries to work up the nerve to ask his favourite girl to dance. Little does he know that she's trying to work up the nerve to ask her favourite girl to dance...
12. An artificial intelligence captures the Democratic nomination for President, and the presidential race that follows threatens to set off a second civil war.

As you can see, a dime doesn't necessarily buy good ideas. I'm not sure whether or not I'll use any of these for the contest, but in a sense it doesn't really matter. It's finishing the work that counts, putting fingers to keyboard and electrons to...inboxes, I guess. Hmm...

13. A wannabe writer discovers that in the Internet era, the old metaphors are growing obsolete.

Wish me luck...


Totty said...

In fairness, a lot of your political writing has been fiction.


Earl J. Woods said...

OOOF! A palpable hit.

Sean Woods said...

I really like five and nine; that's the essence of CanLit, IMO.

Anonymous said...

I would go with 1 and 3.
Then again I am trying to beat you in the contest so would I choose the best or the worst....?


Tammy said...

hmmm...interesting. I like 2 and 10.

"Jeff In Space" said...

I've said it before: why not write about politics - real politics as opposed to made-up fantasy wish fulfillment (I concede ther emay be too fine a line in some cases)? Change the names around. The stories you've told me about behind closed doors have always been interesting, timely, and provocative. Put some human faces and drama into the stuff you see every day (and we don't).

Mr. Klien's story would be enough as it is. His government had done so very much to kick a lot of us in the backs of our knees, and now look at him. Whatever we thought of the man, the disease is far, far worse. His story should be told.

Or come up with Classic Star Trek Season 5 as I am running out of Season 4 titles.

Never for Ever said...

Niagara. Get it right...

-Anonymous- said...

1. or 3. !!!! Those are so fun!!