I recently took my first online writing course to help hone my mad writing skills. Notice I didn’t say “bad” writing skills.
It was through LitReactor and the class was taught by Patrick Wensink, a writer and improv comedian. He taught us several improvisation tools to help up over those inevitable humps we encounter in writing fiction.
The Final Exam assignment was to write a short story (500-1000 words) and include the improv tools he taught us. The day that I received the assignment was the day it snowed several inches in North Alabama. As I sat looking out the window, watching the big, fat snowflakes pile up on the deck, a story idea popped into my head.
I began to write and the story flowed until I forced myself to end it at approximately 870 words. The story was fun to write. I love stories like that.
The rules of improv we had to follow were simple:
1. CROW is established in the first few lines of the story.(Character, Relationship, Objective, and Where)
2. Say Yes, and... to everything.“No” kills the flow.
3. Never ask a question.Questions slow the momentum.
We also had to use a key word: Anguish.
The most difficult aspect that I encountered was not being able to ask questions. This isn’t feasible for full length works but for the assignment we were encouraged to not ask questions.
Anyway, the point of all this is: I got my first great review.
I did the dance for joy and high-fived my husband twice before I could tell him why I was so excited. I took a picture of the screen (see above) and copy/pasted the professor's comments into a document that I will read and reread many times in the future--especially when the rejection letters start coming.I’ve included the story below for your reading pleasure.
“I’m sorry miss, but you are going to have to turn around. This road is closed.”
“Yes, Officer...Williams, I can see that and I would love to go another route but I keep running into road closures. This is anguish. I just want to get home.”
“This is what happens when it snows in the Deep South. The dangerous road conditions have forced us to close all of the roads in the county.”
“I don’t see how I can go anywhere if all of the roads are closed.” Mary rolled up the manual window on her old car.
She ground the transmission trying to get it into reverse. After backing up a few feet, so she wouldn’t hit the officer, she put it in first gear and cut the wheel. Her car jumped forward and promptly slid into the ditch.
“Son of a—“
The car door opened and the officer pulled her from the car. “Anguish is hearing your transmission nearly fall out. That was a neat trick,” he said.
“Yes, if my goal was to wreck a car, I’d win a prize. I suppose you have to ticket me or something.”
“I could let you off with a warning. Come sit in my car where it is warm. You’ll probably have to wait until the weather clears before you can get a tow.”
“Thank you officer. I’m Mary, by the way.”
“Deputy Matt Williams, at your service.” He closed the front passenger door of the cruiser and walked around to the driver’s side.
“I guess I could call someone to come get me, but then they’d be on the road in these poor conditions. This is what you call being stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
“I can take you home when the next shift arrives to replace me in about an hour. Here, have some of my coffee.”
Mary took the lid of the thermos from him. As he poured, she noticed his features for the first time— the deep blue eyes, the strong jaw line and the cleft chin. She was a sucker for chin dimples, ever since she was a kid and saw the National Lampoon movies with Chevy Chase. When Ellen would kiss her finger and put it on Clark’s dimple— that was true love.
“You better not be laughing at me,” Deputy Williams said.
“I’d never do that.” She smiled as she examined the rim of the thermos lid before she drank from it.
“I don’t have cooties if that’s what you’re checking for.”
“I...I’m sorry. I must seem incredibly ungrateful. I’m a microbiologist, specializing in infectious diseases. I’m sure you’d tell me if you had an infectious disease.” She smiled then tightened her lips to prevent laughter from escaping.
She drank the coffee and tried not to screw up her features.
“Too late,” he said. “You are doomed to a life of anguish. The zombie virus will take over your body in about half an hour.”
“Well, you should have some too. We’d make a cute zombie couple. At least the cold won’t kill us.” She took another sip.
“Unlike your driving.”
“Or your coffee. Yuck. Talk about anguish. It tastes like feet.”
He laughed as he took the cup from her. “I’m assuming you know what feet taste like.”
“I know what stinky ones smell like. My brother has a foot odor problem. Of course, he’s sixteen and he probably never changes his socks.”
“Yeah, I barely showered when I was sixteen. Then I made an amazing discovery. Girls. They don’t like you if you stink.”
“Well, praise the Lord, you don’t stink now. At least not from where I’m sitting. I’m sure your wife is thrilled.”
He had gloves on so Mary hadn’t been able to see if he wore a wedding ring. Since he appeared to be thirtyish, she assumed he was taken. Most good-looking men their age were married with two point three kids, a dog, and a mortgage.
“Presently unattached. I’ve been raising my eight year old nephew since my brother and his wife were killed in a car accident. Makes dating difficult.”
Mary’s eyes pricked with heat. She looked out the window and blinked forcefully to keep the tears at bay. She swallowed before she spoke.
“We have something in common then. I am the legal guardian for my brother, the one with the stinky feet. Our parents died on that cruise ship that sank off the coast of Italy.”
“That wasn’t so long ago. I’m sorry for your loss. You are very brave to take on a teenager. I can barely handle a third grader.”
“Not brave. Crazy better describes it but I’m his family and I wasn’t going to let the state take him. I don’t regret it most days. He’s a good kid despite the smell that creeps from his bedroom like a dark fog. I swear it follows me down the hallway sometimes.”
“Febreze is your friend. Billy has that grubby kid smell that is attached to most little boys. I spray him down twice a day whether he needs it or not— his room too.”
“Maybe we should get together sometime and compare notes.”
“We’re together now Mary, but if you are asking me out...I’ll drive.”
“And I’ll make the coffee.”
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