Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Get The Juices Flowing . . .

By: Kathleen Pickering

DSCN1177Twice now I’ve enjoyed writing workshops presented by my friend, Heather Graham, where she uses an effective, interactive writing technique employing random words to build story ideas. My first effort resulted in the horror lampoon, “A Zombie Love Story,” which became a short story included with Heather’s and other FRW authors in the Florida Romance Writers e-book anthology, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies, Oh, My! Pickering_SM

Heather’s great method either helps bring new story ideas to life, or move an already stalled story forward. When creating a new story, random nouns describing three people, one place and three adjectives  become the cornerstone for a full page of narrative. While we haven’t experimented with moving a current story forward with this technique, I’d suggest choosing three characters from a current story, a site they’d go to, and adjectives best used in the story’s particular theme. Using the first words that come to mind for each category works best.

Let’s test the creative juices.  My latest words drawn from Heather’s pool were:

People 1. Alligator Wrestler. 2. Ventriloquist 3. Girl Scout.

Place: an RV.

Adjectives: Crass, Distant, Startled

In the workshop, Heather supplied the lead sentence:

“Blood dripped from the wall . . .”

Just for kicks, take five minutes or less to try your hand at creating the first paragraph (or two) of a story using the above words and Heather’s sentence. I’d be curious to see what  you build. I’ll post the paragraphs I crafted from these leads later on in the day. (Fair warning: my son’s birthday is today. I’ll most probably be distracted until evening.)

Best of all, would your results entertain you enough to consider growing them into a story? Enjoy!


  1. Oh, boy. Basil and Miller are going to have a field day with this.

    Great exercise, Kathleen.

  2. Kathleen, that was great! How does Heather select the words?

  3. I tried to play, really I did! For some odd reason writing exercises just don't work for me. Whenever I'm stuck, it's much more productive for me to whip out my Alphasmart and write stream-of-consciousness style, without worrying about grammar or anything but the emotions and basic action I want for the scene.

  4. So that's what I've been doing wrong.

  5. Miller---As long as you breathe, you shall not die. A great writer told me that once.

    Surely a gator wrestler, ventriloquist and a girl scout could be an inspiration.

    And Joe, I agree--this post was made for Basil, too.

  6. "Blood dripped from the wall of the RV. It was a lot of blood - dark red with bits of brain matter mixed in - but I didn't notice. Not at first.

    I was selling cookies that day. The RV looked like any other I'd seen a thousand times in the swamp. I thought I could maybe make a sale, so I went to the door and knocked.

    My last mistake.

    The cookies made me do it."

  7. Thanks Kathleen. That was fun. When I re-read the list of people I immediately thought of using the girl scout's POV. She's dead, by the way. Selling those cookies really was her last mistake. It came out kind of interesting and creepy in a train wreck sort of way (at least in my head). I think I could turn it into something if I wrote anything paranormal. Perhaps a nice fireside ghost story? I did want something like that for my WIP later. I think I will use it. ;)

    I must second Joe Hartlaub's question. How does Heather select the words? And is she willing to share her lists?

    Oops! It seems I've forgotten the adjectives. I definitely get a feeling of 'distance' in the POV, but I haven't included the rest yet. Then again, this did unstick my writer's block and wasn't that the point? Again, thanks!

  8. Very nice, Pics... The first time i saw her use that at a conference, I thought, wow, that is awesome, you give some words out and they do the work for your hour...Genius...And then i heard some of the small groups and what they came up with ...it was amazing!!! I loved hearing the different groups and how they wrote a paragraph or two in just about 30 minutes... See you soon!

  9. I'm not usually good at writing exercises, but here goes:
    Blood dripped from the wall of the RV, the only remnant left of John the alligator wrestler. Startled by the ventriloquist’s display of his talents, John had lost his focus. That had been his last mistake. Girl Scout gave her wide toothy grin as she devoured him then slithered toward the distant pond to digest her meal. Maybe it’s crass of me to admit, but the gator won my admiration that day. Maybe we should make her part of our circus act.

  10. Blood dripped from the wall. Her face covered in bodily fluids, the girl scout finally relaxed her grip on the chainsaw as she stood over the ventriloquist's body. The head rolled over to the old man as he came from behind the RV. He tapped the girl on the shoulder. Entranced, her eyes distant, the touch startled her. She whipped around, ready to strike, then she realized who it was. "Jesus."

    He held up his hands. "Simmer down now. Just me. Oohwwee! You cut'em up good." He took his cowboy hat off and fanned himself. "You sure your daddy ain't teach you nuthin 'bout bein' uh alligator wrestler? 'Cuz you sure move like you now your way 'round a lizard. Mind like a steel trap, body of a --"

    "Don't be crass."

  11. I used one extra line. Sue me.

  12. Ah, Piks, gotta admit, it's all put together from several writing exercises. They work for some people, they don't for others. They can be fun--and people like you can create great zombie stories out of them!

  13. Feel free to share, Kathleen. I wan't sure if you intended these to posted as comments to your blog or not. And thanks! This was GREAT!



    Blood dripped from the wall, creating a troubling Rorschach pattern that did not contrast well with the Forest Green background that I had painted just the week before (Glidden’s, Wal-Mart, $9.98 a gallon) in a last-ditch effort to improve my mood. I had a world full of problems that had just multiplied one-hundred fold --- most of them related to the poor guy on my floor, limp as a discarded ventriloquist’s dummy, bleeding out from a very nasty looking gunshot wound --- but the only thing I could think of at the moment was whether I could get another bucket before the sale ended.

    I should have known that the woman would be trouble. The bar up on 23 --- “The Do Drop Inn” --- had gone through several name changes since I had parked my double-wide in the RV park on the north end of Portsmouth six years before, but no matter what they called it, and any way they spelled it, it was the type of place that promised trouble on the outside and fulfilled that promise on the inside. I had decided to send ten years of sobriety ass-over-teakettle the night before, and after three hours my well-intended but ultimately ill-advised 12 step program had been relegated to distant memory as I busily created a platoon of dead soldiers across a round scarred tabletop. I was on my way to creating a full company of PBR infantry when noticed the zoftig redhead sitting at the bar by herself, flicking the ashes off of the burning end of an illegal cigarette into an Altoids tin. She had the build of an alligator wrestler but her big blue eyes exuded the innocence of a girl scout on her first hike through the woods. We were way out of each other’s leagues going in opposite directions, but before that information from my big brain had filtered its way into my consciousness my little brain had grabbed the wheel and was steering me toward her seat, possessed of such crass intent that I startled myself.

  14. Blood dripped down the wall. Marlin Perkins unwrapped the python's pulsating corpse from around his body. He had severed the snake's head, but its mouth was still attached to Perkin's head by twin rows of curved teeth, looking for the world like a carnival headdress designed by a snake freak.

  15. Great job, everybody! Here is what I came up with when I did the exercise in Heather's workshop:

    Blood dripped from the wall of the RV as the girl scout in the ugly green uniform dropped from the open jaws of the alligator wrestler's favorite trophy.

    Earl stood there, stunned, unbelieving that crass Darlene from the trailer next door lay unconscious at his feet. He turned off the blaring country music that kept him from hearing her sneak up behind him. He'd been waiting for his peanut butter cookies for weeks. Now, the boxes lay crushed beneath her prone body.

    Damn. None of this would have happened if that dummy belonging to the freaky ventriloquist didn't start jabbering all on its own that the Indians had a contract out for his one-eyed Granny and all her kin because she renegged on gambling debts at the casino. No way anyone would keep him from winning the gator tourney tomorrow.

    If only Darlene hadn't snuck up and startled him by poking his back with those cookies. He wouldn't have used is best toss and she wouldn't be layin' here in her own blood--maybe even dead if she'd just spoken up! Worse of all? No cookies. Now what was he gonna do?

    Earl grabbed the dummy in a head lock and high-tailed it to the distant woods where he knew Granny was hiding.


    Fun, right? Don't know if I'd use this, but is sure would make for a fun shorty.

    John--Heather used a thesaurus and a table full of friends to jot down 30 to 60 nouns, adjectives and let's participants pick three/two/one out of separate bags. All nouns and adjectives are random. She's so clever!

    Again, everybody, great job. Loved reading your responses. Thanks for playing and commenting! xox

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  17. Blood dripped from the wall. It was actually ketchup, spattered liberally across the wall and furniture, all for the sake of the show, but to the untrained eye it was close enough to blood. The alligator could tell though, he could tell right away.

    "Ah yes," said the alligator wrestler, his fake Australian accent a bit too twangy. Although he had learned it from informercials about food choppers and laundry soap, it worked for most of the southern and mid-western US, "the wild Aussie-gator, about to be captured. This is a dangerous operation."

    "Wait a minute," a girl scout stepped out of the live audience, an incredulous look on her face, "Australia doesn't have alligators you moron, they've got crocodiles."

    The alligator glanced up at the girl, then swiveled its head to the man with the bush hat, one side of its brim pinned up. The gator belched, a loud rumble that startled the man and eliciting a laugh from the girl scout.

    "Same difference, crass damn lass," said the alligator wrestler using his ventriloquist skills to make it seem the alligator itself had spoken. The alligator, Horatio was his name although the self-described alligator wrestler had no clue to that fact as he had never bothered to learn the alligator's language, was confused by this. The ventriloquism had been so well done he started thinking he had said the words himself. Realizing he could not have said those words in English, for he was a proud member of Gator Francais clan, the alligator took umbrage with the man for putting the words in his mouth.

    The alligator raised it head and opened its huge toothy mouth in a yawn, startling the man, who recovered then feigning horror, faced the growing audience and said "Oh, he's hungry, about to attack!"

    A small crowd had formed, the skeptical girl scout glanced toward the distant buildings waiting for her leader to come pick her up from this boring show.

    The alligator scanned the crowd, waited for the man to build the tension then, without warning, in one smooth motion, so fast the "alligator wrestler" had no chance to react, leaped up and clamped his jaws across the man's midsection.

    Intestines ripped open, spilling poorly chewed bits of hot dog, still smothered in brown mustard, onto the dirt track beneath his feet. Eyes wide, mouth agape with a silent scream that would never fully form, the alligator wrestler's body hung in the gator's grip. His gaze drifted to the wall behind him, real blood spraying the wall, displacing the ketchup, the difference between the two substances now clearly discernable.

    The alligator released the man and let him fall into a bloody heap on the ground. The girl scout looked down at the beast, placed her hands on her hips and scolded it, "Bad alligator. Very bad! Don't do that again!"

    To which the alligator replied, "Il m'a appelé un crocodile. Je ne suis pas le crocodile! Mais à la différence de moi, ils sont affreux. Je suis beau, tres beau."

    And thus was formed the bond between the girl and the gator, and they lived happily ever after touring the country in an RV under their new show name, "A Girl and Her Gator, Interpretive Performance in the Tradition of Riverdance Meets Deliverance."

  18. Okay, Basil . . . YOU WIN!!!

    Oh, and apologies for the typos and the wrong use of posessive case in my last post . . . I was hurrying. Had to get back to the birthday festivities.

  19. I've taken Heather's fun exercise before. And the stories that people come up with are quite interesting as well as fun.
    And the most interesting thing is how different each groups story is!
    The interesting point for me was that someone can steal a story premise, but even so the stories would still be quite different!

  20. Okay, this was so much fun I had to try it...

    Blood dripped from the wall of the dilapidated RV as Heather looked past the creepy man who answered the door. Startled, her voice quavered as she tried to paste a smile on her face. “Good afternoon, sir, would you like some Girl Scout cookies?” The man wasn’t focused on her, his eyes distant and crazed as he stroked the face of the clown doll he held.

    She saw the man’s Adam’s apple bob, but his mouth didn’t move, and a high-pitched voice seemed to come from the doll, whose lips did flap. “We’re a little busy right now, but if you could come back later, I’d be happy as a clown!” The man’s eyes remained unfocused, but the dummy seemed to be staring right through her with an evil glint to its glass eyes.

    Trembling but determined to uphold her honor as a Girl Scout, Heather asked meekly, “Is everything okay in there? Do you need some help?”

    Before the Killer Clown from Outer Space could retort, a shrill scream erupted from inside the tiny vehicle, followed by an ear-piercing popping noise. Heather jumped, then strained her neck to try to see further inside around the door jamb. She caught a glimpse of an oafish man, just as he dropped what looked like a gun on top of an unidentifiable green monstrosity, with splotches of red. Eyeing the man with a wide-eyed gaze of disbelief, she realized the spots of red were coming from his dripping arm, or what was left of it.

    Trying not to panic, Heather cried, “Your hand! I have a cell phone. Let me call 9-1-1.”

    “Hell, no.” The man’s voice was crass, his scowl deep and unwelcoming. “I don’t need no woman.” As if to punctuate his anger, he kicked the lob of green, and it rolled over.

    Heather gasped. It was an alligator! Sputtering to find her voice, the puppeteer scooted carefully into her vision. “Go home.” This in the high-pitched voice and supposedly coming from the possessed doll on the other man’s arm. The dummy reminded her of Pennywise from It, beyond creepy when coupled by the blank expression on the man at the door.

    She took a step back but didn’t leave the patio.

    “Oh, go on then. We do this shit all the time.” The gruff man who bled profusely offered in a careless tone. “We do this all the time. Chester here’s not my first gator, won’t be my last, and I’m not that hurt. Gotta keep practicin’ for the big event. But you don’t need to get all freaked out on me. Just go on home, forget you ever saw the likes of it.”

    A girlish giggle, and the dummy held its stomach, though its owner didn’t seem to move at all. “Ya, you never know when the beast might wake up and have an appetite for little girls.”

    Still giggling, the pair slammed the door in Heather’s face, nearly knocking her from the patio in the process and startling her once again in the process. Her heart beat wildly, and with one last glance at the RB, which could have provided the backdrop for any scary movie, Heather pivoted on her heel and ran flat out all the way home.

    Sell cookies door to door my ass! she thought, staring around at all stacks of cookies in her kitchen and telling herself she was paranoid and yet knowing she’d never sell cookies door to door again. In fact, maybe it was time to leave the Scouts altogether.

  21. Bravo Robin!

    (Why do all these seem to center on the girl scout?)