Stories Everywhere

Story ideas are everywhere. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you his idea service.

Today, as I was leaving the grocery store, I pulled up next to a nice black car at the stoplight. The driver was a young blonde woman, her hair pulled back in a professional-style ponytail. It was about 6:00 PM, and she looked as if she had just gotten off work. She was very pretty, and her face was scrunched in worry. That, in itself, is enough to spark a story. What would make a young, successful businesswoman worry so? What is happening in her life?

As she waited for the light, she got a small box out of one of the grocery bags and opened it. She pulled a sheet of paper out of the box and unfolded it. The sheet had a pink border; it was instructions for a home pregnancy test. She was still waiting at the stoplight when I drove into the intersection.

You can’t tell me there’s not a story there. I guarantee it’s a very important story for the young lady. I couldn’t see if she had a ring on her left hand; depending on whether she did or didn’t, the story could go in vastly different directions.

On another occasion, I was walking with my wife in downtown Denver one frigid night. We were on our way to an Eric Johnson concert at the Ogden Theatre. As we walked, a couple about a block in front of us stopped short, dropped their bags, and faced each other, yelling. We slowed, not sure what was going to happen or if we would have room to get by. They sparred verbally, and then the man suddenly picked up his shopping bag, turned, and walked briskly up the street, away from us. The woman stood still. She called after him a couple of times, but he didn’t turn around or stop. She started crying. Gathering her things, she began to shuffle up the street in the direction he had gone, still sobbing in the cold air.

I have no idea what they were arguing about, or whether it was right for him to strand her on Colfax Avenue on a winter night. Perhaps he had some justification, or perhaps he was just a jerk. But the scene could translate almost directly into a story or even a movie script. I’ve often thought it would be a good exercise to write that scene from different perspectives: one that paints the man’s actions in a positive light, one that paints his actions in a negative light, and one that explains what’s happened in a way that neither person looks like the villain.

Observation is really all it takes to come up with the spark for a story. The writer doesn’t have to record the events perfectly for an idea to start burning; in fact, it might keep the idea from growing if the writer sticks too closely to the details. Stories that are based in reality may sometimes benefit from tension-inducing details that were not in the inspirational scene.

Tonight, I played Morrowind for the first time in weeks. I didn’t get very far; in fact, I stopped playing it in favor of reading Word Work. I should be able to finish the book at lunch tomorrow.

Moving On — For Now

I tried a few configuration and component changes on the server today in an attempt to get it to recognize the new drive. I even manually specified the drive’s configuration in CMOS and reinstalled the operating system with the jumpers in a different position, hoping it would get the clue. Still the same 7.87 Gb limit. I did find one piece of information on the Western Digital website that says, in effect, “If your secondary drive is larger than 8 Gb and Windows 2000 is only recognizing 8 Gb of it, uninstall Windows 2000 Service Pack 1, reformat the drive, and install Service Pack 2.

This is kind of tough to do, since I installed Service Pack 3 from the beginning. I think a new motherboard is the way to go, so I’m going to stop worrying about this project and try to get back to writing.

I have been reading Word Work every chance I get over the last few days. I’m still enjoying the book. The level of personal experience that Rogers brings to the table is refreshing; he writes it as if the reader is his peer, rather than his pupil. It’s remarkably similar to having a conversation with Bruce. He anticipates where the reader’s mind is very well, and addresses many of the questions and concerns that pop up in my head as I’m reading. I should be done with the book in a few days, and I’ll be able to write a review. I’m excited to do so, actually.

Distraction or Procrastination?

I’m spending the day supervising my son as he works off a significant monetary debt that he owes to his mother. The plan was that I would set him to work, be available for questions, and get some writing done.

So far, he’s done a decent amount of work and I’ve been very distracted. However, considering what Bruce Holland Rogers says in Word Work, I wonder if my son is actually the source of my distraction or if I’m distracting myself. I doubt if I would be getting much worthwhile fiction or poetry writing done right now, with him saying “Hey Dad, you know what?” every few minutes, but I could at least be working on revisions or outlining a story.

In Word Work, Rogers outlines several different types and aspects of procrastination, and that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. However, I’m also kind of fooling myself into working around it, because I’m writing something — and that something is acknowledging the procrastination. No, it’s not a good justification for not doing the real writing, but it is making me examine and be aware of the procrastination, and that’s part of the purpose of this creativity journal.

I got e-mail from Melanie Tem today, asking if I would bring my guitar to our next writing class. She wants to examine the storytelling aspects of “Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry. I’ve got the music and the lyrics for that, so it should be fun. I’ve often thought that song was similar to Hemingway’s “The Hills Like White Elephants” in that it hints at serious topics without ever directly addressing them.

It’s about lunch time, so I’m going to go pick something up for Keith and me. He’s doing a pretty good job, but this will only go part of the way to paying back his Mom.

Sophie’s Wor(l)d Work

As I promised yesterday, I did write a review of Sophie’s World today. I was a little surprised that the review didn’t come out as positive as I expected; I genuinely enjoyed the book, but I’m afraid the review may not come across that way. Thanks to Michael Main for introducing me to Jostein Gaarder’s work. (By the way, Michael, I saw the picture of the neon computer on your site, and I’m suitably jealous.)

I also started reading Bruce Holland Rogers’ Word Work today. I’m definitely biased here, since I’ve studied writing with Bruce, but it felt like he was talking to my soul in the first fifty pages. I didn’t want to return to work after lunch; I wanted to read and write. The man certainly has an infectious passion for his chosen craft.

I also replaced all of the links to my old e-mail address on this website. All new mail should go to now. If you see any other e-mail links that I missed, please let me know.

Similarities to Symmetrinas

I worked on the assignment for Melanie Tem’s writing group at lunch today. Once again, it turned into a short-short story, and once again, I had no idea where it was going or how I was going to make it work. I’m not sure it does work, but if nothing else, it’s a cool idea for a comic book character!

I also learned about Bruce Holland Rogers‘ fixed form of writing called a symmetrina. The more I dig into this, the more fascinating it looks. It has elements of structured poetry, self-reference, and even a hint of fugue. It looks like the perfect form for what I had envisioned as a series of poems about Perspective. Dang it, Bruce, you just gave me another project!

As I read the description of the symmetrina, I thought about poems I have written that have some of the same qualities. Follow along with me if you are interested.

In Two Shifts Passing in the Night, I used line length, font color, font size, and a shift in point of view (from third person to second person) in one continuous sentence to convey a sense of motion and illustrate the Doppler Effect. (Oh, and on the surface, it works as a simple poem about an unrealized relationship.)

Tikkune is the closest I have come to making a truly rigid form, with 22 lines of iambic pentameter (ten syllables per line.) This poem is based on the Tree of Life from Hermetic Kabbalah, and as such, the numbers 22 (letters in the Hebrew alphabet and paths on the Tree) and 10 (number of sephiroth) are significant. The first and fourth stanzas contain three lines, the second and third contain eight lines each. Each stanza illustrates one of the four worlds, moving from worldly to divine (Assiah, Yetzirah, Briah, and Atziluth.) The symmetry of the stanzas is meant to convey the image of the Tree of Life before the loss of knowledge (Daath, the “eleventh” sephira) and the fall of the center structure of the Tree. The rhyme scheme is also fairly complicated, with rhymes fifteen syllables apart, and couples at the end of the eight line sections, though I don’t remember exactly why I built it that way.

(Note: Tikkune is my personal interpretation of how a person might use concepts from Kaballah to increase his self-awareness, and should not be seen as any kind of Kabbalistic reference or endorsement. I have studied Kabbalah a bit, and I’m fascinated by the philosophical aspects of it. But I am no expert or teacher, nor do I advocate anyone getting involved with Kabbalah — or any religious or philosophical system — beyond the level of academic research without serious soul searching and consideration.)

The poem Ornithology is a tribute to Charlie Parker, both in words and form. It’s a sort of musical acrostic, with each stanza having its own “key.” The first notes of each line, if played or sung, create a simple melody resolving in the final note, the key of the stanza. Each stanza’s key, if played as a chord, resolves in a IV-V-I progression in the key of C. The lines are staggered according to the relative horizontal positions of their beginning notes on the Circle of Fourths (also known as the Cycle of Fifths.) If all this makes any sense to you, you win a medal!

(The graphic above is from the Vision Music website.)