Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Idea Farming—growing your plot #2—Container Gardening

Idea Farming—growing your plot #2—Container Gardening
This is the second of six blogs on story farming. In this one, I’ll talk about the first farming method—Container Gardening (short stories).
Given a choice, I’d write almost exclusively short stories. There’s something satisfying in planting and growing a tale in just a few hundred to a couple thousand word container (analogous to a pot or raised bed garden) as opposed to tens of thousands of words in gardens of larger size.
Once you have a seed in mind, it’s imperative to prepare the soil. In a short story, I’m much less worried about an outline than in longer pieces. I’ve found critical, but not always essential, to have an end in mind when I begin a short story. However, at no time should you progress longer than a fraction of the growing season without knowing what you hope to harvest from your container.
As I described in my blog titled, “Idea Mining—where to get ideas for your story,” when teaching high school, I would allow students to select three plot points and two characters to include in my story based on the science topic they also selected. This process, while it does provide sufficient structure to write a story, leaves much to be desired in terms of what might best fit the science topic.
I suggest you start with a premise. In Traveler’s HOT L Volume TwoNew Tales from the Time Traveler’s Resort, the final tale Reverse Image, began with the idea of an antiparallel universe—my short story soil.
Since I have four recurring characters in the Traveler’s HOT L universe, I had a built in cast to work with. I needed a female protagonist, her male companion, and an antagonist—the seeds of the story.
Initial plot points—the LAW for the seeds—were fairly easy to determine. I needed an entry point into the antiparallel universe; a reason to want to enter—or be forced into—the entry point; a crisis—an event leading to a rescue attempt or an heroic journey by the character trapped in the antiparallel universe; and some resolution—escape or rescue.
Because I wanted this book to end with a cliffhanger, I only need to cultivate enough to get my seeds into nearly mature plants and not all the way to harvest. What I ended with was my protagonist and her companion trapped inside the universe along with one of the Time Synchronizers common to all stories. However, whether they are trapped or being held by an antagonist found within the universe remains a mystery to the readers. Of course, I know what fruit I will get from these seeds and my cultivation—if you don’t know what your end product will be when you write, how will know when your finished?
Specifically, cultivation of my container gardens involves a rough outline, minimal character sketches, and some plans for what I will need my characters to discuss in dialog format—a pretty clear idea of what the pecking order among characters looks like.
If you have never written a short story, or only written a few, I encourage you to take some time and grow one soon. You’ll find out that writing shorter is more challenging in most regards than writing longer. And, it’s excellent practice in honing your storytelling skill.
Next week: Idea Farming—growing your plot #3—The Backyard Garden
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