I Went to a Writing Group Today - March 27th, 2019

Relaxing and refreshing, that's how I would characterize the Left to Write writers' group. It's a good way for me to pull myself out of my own head and reconnect with the world.


Here was the prompt this week:

- - - - - - -

Take the following words and construct a story plot around them. Use them in
any order. Describe a short plot summary. Try to add something: Characters,
locations, subplots, details, twists. The more you add, the more colorful your
story will become. The only rule is that you must use all of the words. Slashes
mean you can pick between words.

Suitcase – traffic jam – star – contract–stairs/piano/autograph– apple

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Oh boy! I was a bit scared. My plotting is the process of stumbling forward. I try to console myself that walking is the process of falling without hitting your face. You do this by leaning forward and then catching yourself with your feet. When you run, you lean more. It sounds good to say I do the same thing with plotting. I simply start leaning forward into a story and then try to catch myself before I fall on my face. The issue is that I'm still like a toddler and likely to land on my face many times before I get to running. Alas, trial and error is the foundation stone of learning.

I read this prompt when I got to the group and just a few people were sitting at the table. I didn't start writing, I only write during the given writing time. I talked with people and continued making notes in my notebook about a few philosophy ideas that I've been thinking about today. I'll have another article on those at some point.

I thought about veering away from the prompt. You can do that. It's not a big deal. It's common for me to do that when I do impromptu speeches at the Toastmaster groups, and it's a lot of fun. But, I wanted to push myself to do what I wasn't comfortable with. I felt fairly comfortable with writing a scene, I was less comfortable with making a reasonable sounding plot off the cuff. Read it first, then I'll discuss it.

- - - - - - -

Once upon a time in a city far, far away Susan was running down the escalator stairs with her suitcase.

On the other side of the airport Sam held a contract file in one hand and an apple in the other hand. He looked across the cars interlocked in an intricate pattern forming a perfectly solidified traffic jam.

Susan and Sam both have presentations to make to secure the legal contract with the airport. If Susan can secure this contract it will be the shining star in her quick rise at the firm and should get her one step closer, if not all the way, to partner. She's done nothing else for the last five years.

If Sam doesn't secure this contract then his practice will probably go bankrupt. Three years ago a medical technology company that he sat on the board of was found guilty of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy. It had taken all of his resources just to keep himself out of prison.

Susan and Sam arrive at the same time. They find out that they have been scheduled for the same time. It's a tense situation, but both presentations are solid. The chairman of the board for the airport reveals that they have a serious problem which may mean a total business collapse, not including a personal scandal for him. He hires them both.

Susan and Sam have to work on the case. She questions whether her ambition has tainted her moral standards. Sam questions his past moral responsibility and what's more important, his soul or his life's work in building his firm.

They do the right thing, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

Alternate Ending 1:
They decide to do the right thing. Susan is tempted by a partnership offer at her firm and works the case without informing Sam. He goes bankrupt, is alone, and kills himself.

Alternate Ending 2:
Sam is blackmailed with manufactured evidence about his involvement in the previous fraud case. They threaten to tie Susan into it. Sam helps the airport and protects Susan, but loses her because of his moral compromise.

- - - - - - -

Remember, that's written without any editing, other than changing "5" to "five" and "&" to "and". Where it says "Susan and Sam have to work on the case." it should obviously say "Susan and Sam have to work together on the case." There are a bunch of little things, and many big things, that could and should be changed here. But, overall, I'm pretty happy with it. For writing a whole idea on the fly from a prompt in 20 minutes, I'll take it.

I really like reading in front of a live audience. When I got done with that first ending there was such a reaction. It was a mix between laughter, relief, and disappointment. It's a nice, easy, fun ending where everything feels nice and cozy, but it's just sooo cliche. That's why I wanted to write the alternate endings. I figured I would make them tragedies.

One woman pointed out that I should have made one of the alternate endings a tragedy for Susan, and I agree. That was my original plan, I would have one tragic ending for each of them. That's just not what came out of my pen. Although, I don't think Susan looks very good in either alternate ending either.

When I read the first alternate ending there was a strong reaction. It's intense and abrupt. The second alternate ending had a good reaction too. People seemed to like the alternates more than the happy ending, and I agree. I could have written many more alternates if I had more time.

I just took a writing course from Neil Gaiman, a famous writer, and he was talking about a few things that I really like. One, using colliding narratives. Have the two characters want things that are mutually exclusive. Natural and necessary conflict ensues. That's what I decided to do right at the beginning of this story. I had no idea where I was going when I started. I figured I would have a woman in one spot and a guy in another spot and then run them into each other somehow, wanting something that only one of them could have. So, that's what I did. When we got to the meeting portion I decided that both of them could have it and then it started to shift tone from a battle of wits and power story to a story about love and morality.

Doing one little scene from each of them to open is an idea I got from a writing course by Dan Brown, another famous writer. After I wrote both of those opening pieces I realized that I was in danger of continuing to write things that sounded more like scenes than a plot, so I tried to start to lengthen it out. This idea of mixing slightly more detailed scenes and then less detailed plot areas is an idea I got from an article by infamous writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Neil Gaiman also talked about something that I need to think more about because it seems important. He tries to give every character what they need in the end. This can be a good thing or a bad thing for a character, but it's what they need. It doesn't have to be what they want, unless you want a happy ending. If you want a happy ending then give all of the characters what they want in the end and it feels light and good, no matter how dark it got at some point. All's well that ends well. But, if it's a tragedy maybe you can still give every character what they need, maybe. I'm not sure that's true. I'll have to think on it more.

It's interesting to hear the different directions that people go with the same prompt. The variety always surprises me, and I like it.

Even though the discussions are usually light, there are some interesting things that come up. Depth in children's books was mentioned and I recommended "There's No Such Thing as a Dragon" by Jack Kent as an excellent book on self-deception. I think it's the perfect companion to Jordan Peterson's essay "Self-Deception Explained". I intend to write a commentary on Kent's book at some point. If you read the story think about the dragon as a literal and metaphorical problem.

One woman mentioned that she was attracted to "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman because it was a kids book with a knife on the cover. So, I recommended that she read a kids' book that's not for kids, "The Princess and Mr. Whiffle" by Patrick Rothfuss. That one's a crazy one, with layers of disturbing in it.

For starting out being hesitant about trying to make a plot out of thin air in a short amount of time I'm happy with the experience. That's one of the keys to life, to find where you're anxious by exposing yourself to different experiences and then working to overcome that anxiety by adapting to the given demands of the situation. You can follow your anxiety to growth, oddly enough.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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