Monday, February 04, 2013

I Rock! Wanna Know Why?

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.
Snow Bound
“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.”
Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts. I am going to give away a $10 iTunes Gift Card to one rockin’ commenter. Be sure to leave your email address.



Elanor Lawrence said...

I'm impressed! When I was reading over the list of what you had to accomplish I was intrigued to see how CROW would be integrated... and your first sentence was perfect. I know a lot of editors don't like it when stories begin with dialogue bc it can be disorienting, but your dialogue actually gave the story a foundation. Good job! :)

elanor_gamgee at yahoo dot ca

Meda White said...

Thank you so much Elanor. Prior to this assignment, we had to write a bunch of three-line scenes (dialogue only) to practice establishing CROW. It was a challenge but it made starting this story easier. Thanks for the kind words.

Cari Hislop said...

The dialogue, the situation, the characters are totally real. That is so hard to do in such a short story. I got so sucked in, I could almost smell the coffee and the snow. Lovely!
Now I want to know what happens next.

cari at thehislops dot co dot uk

Carla Swafford said...

Congratulations. That is a wonderful feeling to know someone enjoyed your story.

And congratulations again, I enjoyed it too! LOL! Hugs.

Lexi said...

I love this, Meda! Your story does rock, and I love the CROW concept. Went back over it with my WIP to make sure I'm on track. Great tip!

M.V.Freeman said...

Oh Meda,
This was brilliant, just brilliant. Loved this story.

And now I want to take that class.

You are a natural my friend a true natural. ;)

Looking forward to more from you!

Kimberlee said...

This is a gem of a short work, definitely worth at least two high fives!

I am terribly impressed with how you drove the conversation forward with statements. While there were places you could so easily have put questions, I neither felt their absence, nor was I left looking for more from the plot.

I will second Cari's feeling though, I do want to know what happens next! :)

Meda White said...

Cari- Thank you. I am so glad that you enjoyed it. My husband said he could almost smell the stinky feet. LOL.

Meda White said...

Carla, Lexi & Mary- Thank you. It means so much to hear the positive feedback from you guys because I admire all of your work. One of our upcoming Southern Magic programs is about Improvisation. I think it's in April- should be fun. Thanks again.

Meda White said...

Kimberlee- Thank you very much. I am so glad that you enjoyed it. I'm not sure what happens next but when I have some time, I may sit down with it and see where we go. The devil on my shoulder is saying "Why not the back seat of the cruiser?" LOL

Rashda Khan said...

Loved it! And you should definitely explore the back seat ;)

Congrats on the well-deserved praise!

bn100 said...

I enjoyed the story.


Meda White said...

Thanks Rashda and bn100. I'm so happy you enjoyed it.

Rob Cummings said...

Nicely done. Lots of information passed between the characters without any questions being asked. Your scene created an environment of trust between Matt and Mary so the passage of information was truly believable. Write on. : )

Louisa Cornell said...

I'm super impressed! Great job! This was beautifully done and I really enjoyed it. This was definitely a great class if this is an example of the results!

Meda White said...

Rob & Louisa- Thank you for the feedback. It was tricky not to ask questions. I really enjoyed the class. We got to review the work of our peers so it was neat to see what everyone came up with. It was like a little community. Thanks again you guys.

LindaC said...

This is terrific! You did quite a bit for just a few words. I learned about the character's background, problem, description of characters and setting. I wish I could write short.


Meda White said...

Thanks LindaC. When I wrote this story, I felt like I was forcing a connection by revealing so much so soon. When I write longer works, I spread out the dissemination of information. The quick connection worked for the short and I was pleased so many people thought it was believable. Thanks again.

Meda White said...

And the winner of the iTunes gift card is Rob Cummings. I will contact you via email. Congratulations and thanks for stopping by.