First draft

Plot-generative scenes

In all these prompts, identify a big scene where you can accomplish much of the story. It would be helpful to have a few people in the scene, not just a solo act with introspection. It takes 2 to tango, 3 to rondo. Your scenes will be dynamic if you have at least two people in a dialogue. Now you don’t have enough time to create a whole story for our tutorial but you could certainly come up with a scene which could fit in a bigger story. Please don’t send me more than 5 double- spaced pages (up to 1600 words) and we will go over them together to brainstorm for further possibilities. Work on two of the following 4 prompts and you may combine them into one text or write two separate scenes.

  1. Come up with a virtuous protagonist who has a problem, namely, a strong desire that is hard to fulfill. The character could be fictional or someone you know or just you with a desire you had. A great example in literature of this: “The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol. Winter is coming and Akaky’s coat has fallen apart and it cannot be fixed. He needs a new one, saves money for it, and when he gets it, the coat is stolen, and he dies. I wrote a short story about Coca-Cola which we didn’t have when I was growing up in Yugoslavia. It was a mysterious substance. When it got to my hometown, my brother and I stole a case of it from a truck, and left the bottles in the snow, to cool overnight. They all burst. And the taste was a major let-down. I had chronic bronchitis and the drink reminded me too much of cough syrup. I had a similarly disappointing experience with the first taste of beer. If you can locate the object of desire, your story will be focused easily. “The Necklace” by Maupassant, for example. The motivating desire to create a scene could be anything: a diamond necklace, a glass of water, fancy shoes, the first kiss (and perhaps more ominously the last kiss); desire to ski, desire to buy (or steal) the best violin, desire to be loved (a story of unrequited love), desire for perfect health, desire to murder someone (it’s more common than we think), etc.

2. Write about someone who has an unreasonable fear. For example, fear of cars when you bicycle is pretty reasonable and protective. But fear of cars when you are at home—imagining that a car will fly off the highway and smash into your house and kill you is unreasonable; it serves no purpose except to mess you up. Some fear is healthy; excessive fear, not so in most cases, and certain so with the fear of bacteria. It’s reasonable to wash your hands and stand far away from people who are coughing. But if you are completely obsessed with germs so that you can’t ever shake hands with people, kiss anyone, and you constantly wash every surface at home, and nothing is clean enough, then you have a pathological problem, OCD, and could end up in a hospital. Well, maybe this sounds too much like our Covid days, but even that is a fair game. You could write a covid story about someone who is completely obsessed with the virus. Or write a story about a paranoid schizophrenic. A great example in literature of a fear- driven story is “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane. The Swede who is spending an evening in a Nebraskan tavern imagines during a game of cards that he will be cheated and killed at the end of the evening. His imagining that he is in the Wild West rather than the docile High Plains and his fear make him behave very strangely so that in the end his fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here fear as a motive force of the protagonist is combined with the wintry and misperceived setting, which intensifies the fear. Setting and psychology may work in synergy. We have a similar set-up in “Seven Floors” by Buzzati. Antonio Corte has a mild fever, and he wants to get it checked out at the hospital. He is afraid it could be something serious. Turns out he’s right! The weird hospital setting enhances the fear.

  1. In both of these assignments jump into a scene in which the motivation, desire or fear, is the driving theme and force. To work further, you might combine the two strains into one. A great example in literature of this is “Father Sergius” by Tolstoy. Father Sergius wants to be a saint, but he is too lustful. He runs away from high society, especially women, and becomes a hermit, and at one point, when a sexy pilgrim visits and tries to seduce him, he is so terrified of his desire that he chops off his finger with an axe, for it is better that you should lose a limb than your whole soul, following the Biblical advice literally. It’s very easy to come up with something that both attracts you and terrifies you. For example, if you love wine too much, you may end up fearing it and fearing yielding to temptation.

    4. So far I have given you prompts for character-driven plotting. You might write an alternative set of scenes where the setting gives rise to conflicts and anxiety. For example, a hurricane, forest fire, tsunami, earthquake, and so on. The environmental threat may not be an extreme event. You might write a scene with a protagonist stuck in beautiful nature which turns out to be threatening. “To Build a Fire” by Jack London is a great example.

    The list of stories illustrating desire/fear as the generative forces for plot:

    “The Necklace,” de Maupassant. stories/UBooks/Neck.shtml
    “The Overcoat,” Gogol.
    “The Rememberer” by Aimee Bender.
    “Wants” by Grace Paley.
    “My Oedipus Complex,” Frank O’Connor.
    “Father Sergius,” Tolstoy.
    “Seven Floors,” Dino Buzzati.
    “The Blue Hotel,” Stephen Crane.
    “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.
    “To Build a Fire,” Jack London.

Deadline to submit the first draft is until 6 p.m. BG time on 11.11.