Monday, May 09, 2005

A Story Is Born: An Inside Look at the Process of Plotting

Part of the reason I started this blog was because I wanted exercise. Writing exercise, that is. Writing is like any other skill, if you leave it for too long, it atrophies. A short story now and then, I thought, would keep me in shape. The problem is inspiration. I've never been very good at coming up with new ideas. Once I have an idea, sure, I can shape it and expand on it, but coming up with that original kernel of an idea is very hard.

To that end, I've decided to try something different. Using Merriam-Webster Online's random word display, I'm going to attempt to create a story based entirely on random words. Plot, characters, everything: any time I'm stumped for what to write, I'll use the first random word I get to provide direction.

Ok, first things first, I need a basic story idea. What will the story be about? Random word: "heart". Heart, hmm. Makes me think of love and sentiment, but that's too vague. Heart surgery! The story will be about a heart surgeon! Wait -- a heart surgeon who falls in love!

Ok, now for the heart surgeon himself, what is he like? Random word: "originate". Originate? That's a tough one. Originate -- maybe he originated heart surgery? Hm. No, I don't actually know who invented heart surgery or how they did it. Something else. What's the etymology of the word? Derived from Latin originem, meaning beginning, source, or birth. Birth. Hmm. He's also an obstetrician? Interesting, but I need more. Another random word: "Baron". Ooh, now there's an interesting one. Baron von Liechtenstein, heart surgeon and obstetrician! He'd have to be pretty smart, to be both kinds of doctor. Crazy German royalty who decided to play around being a doctor? I can go with that.

Now, the female lead. Random word: "flow". Hrm. Flow, like a river. Perhaps she's a riverboat operator, like a steamboat. That kinda sets the period: Mark Twain's era. Interesting. Another random word: "trickster". Ooh, nice. She's some kind of scam artist, piloting a riverboat and scamming people out of their money. But how? Maybe she has a gang of miscreants who pretend to board the boat and rob the passengers, and then they split the loot. But wait, a female riverboat captain in the 1800s? Not likely. She must play the part of a wealthy widower who owns the boat, which means she must have a captain for the boat. He seems like a major character, let's see what he's like.

Random word: "deep". How appropriate for a riverboat captain. All wise and philosophical. But why would he be working with ruffians like these? A random word will tell me: "possible". Possible? Oh, that's a lot of help. Maybe... ooh! Maybe he thinks it's "possible" that he's this trickster woman's father! But he doesn't know for sure, so he doesn't say anything.

Ok, so we've got a crazy German heart surgeon -- actually, wait, now that the story is occurring in the 1800s, it does seem more possible for him to have invented heart surgery, rather than being an obstetrician. Good. I didn't want to have to write about someone giving birth anyway. But... arrg. I can't let it go to waste. There'll have to be a birth involved somewhere.

Ok, yeah, so we've got a crazy German Baron-Doctor, a trickster riverboat owner woman (who I think I'll name "Floe", after the word that inspired her), and a wise old riverboat captain. I think it seems pretty obvious that the Baron-Doctor is going to be a passenger on this steamboat. That means there needs to be other passengers. We'll have a young couple about to have a baby, that'll give us our birth scene. They need to be filled out some more.

Random Word: "reconsider". Well, it looks like our young couple will be having doubts about their marriage. But why? Random word: "bad". One of them is bad. Bad how? Random word: "eager". Eager? Ummm... a bad kind of eagerness. Overeagerness, I guess. Overeagerness for what? Random word: "rarefied." Rarefied? Give me a break here, Mr. Webster! You're making it really hard! Ok, rarefied. Means "of, relating to, or interesting to a select group." A select group, eh? Like, some sort of elite thing. Like a club. What sorts of elite clubs did they have back then? Masons -- too elaborate. Um... a bird-watching society. Yes, I like that. He's obsessed with bird-watching, and wants to see enough different kinds of birds to get into this elite bird-watching club. I like it.

Ok, but what about her (and why did I automatically assume that the overeager one was the guy?)? Oh well, random word: "immoral". Ouch. That poor kid. Immoral -- maybe this bird-watching guy is rich, and she just married him for his money? And now this baby is putting a crimp in her plans, and she's getting sick of his incessant bird-watching. This works. One more word, though, to fill her out: "haunting". Well, I don't want this to be a ghost story, so some other kind of haunting -- she's being followed? "Haunted" by some mysterious pursuer? Aha! Perhaps a former victim who's back for revenge!

Man, the women in this story are not coming off well...

Ok, I think I need one more character to round things out here, some sort of ship-mate. Random word: terror. Oooh. He's a spineless little coward who's terrified of everything. And one more word: "beauty". Hmm. Note it's not "beautiful", but "beauty". Maybe he's obsessed with beauty and beautiful things? Like a pack rat -- he likes shiny things. But also, perhaps he's obsessed with one of the women -- the riverboat captain, perhaps. That makes for an interesting love triangle.

Ok, I think we've got enough here to start a story, but it looks like a rather long one. Several chapter's worth, anyway -- too long for a single post. It's getting rather late, and I have to work tomorrow, so I think I'll work on the story tomorrow, maybe. Now that I have all this plotting done, it should be easy.

Here's hoping!


Benz. said...


Sputnik said...

Hey that's a cool way to write a story. You should do that for you big novel you are writing and that you will get rich off of. It seems like a good way to write a book.

SEZ said...

Looks like writing a short story is no SMALL matter! All the best
from YM

Karyn said...

hey jared, haha that's kickin. You're too smart for you're own good. I wish I could do that, it's very clever, hmm clever indeed. hehe awesome blog. later dayz. :)

Becca said...

I like the women in you story Jarod, they remind me of me... my mom's side of the family comes from German royalty, but I am a trickster, and some might say immoral (but I don't know why;) and I like boats... okay so that was a lame attempt at identifying with the characters, but hey, I tried!

Krig the Viking said...

Did you just call me "Jarod"?

Rusty said...

Hey... I was into that story! So don't stop! Awesome writing, I like your mind and how it works.

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