Words/Time: 45 minutes, revising “Pithea.” I finally went back and worked on the scene I needed to finish. It’s still not quite done, but I have a pretty good idea of the rest of what needs to be there. I also worked on some other odds and ends that left me wondering what I did do during that whole time, because I didn’t really get very far in that scene.
(For a little more explanation on story cubes, read this post. The following is what I wrote based on the cubes above.)
Stephen ran through the streets of the empty town, looking behind him constantly. There could be no natural explanation for the monster he had seen. Not one to believe in the supernatural or extraterrestrial explanation, that left only one explanation—science. He found himself in an alley with no way out but the way he came in. He tried every door he could find, but they were all locked.
Could he risk backtracking? Was the monster even following him? He didn’t know for sure. He hadn’t seen any sign of it since first encountering it.
He decided he didn’t really have a choice and darted back out of the alley. Then he stopped to think. At least he wouldn’t be trapped if the monster came, and he had to figure out where he was going. He had seen an old map of this place once. Obviously he didn’t remember it very well, though, or he wouldn’t have run into a dead end.
“Hello,” he heard behind him and spun around.
I’m dreaming. I’m sure of it now. This is a dream.
In front of him stood a little girl—she looked no older than seven or eight. She had dark hair and a red dress, but what Stephen really noticed were her eyes. They were bright and entirely too innocent. She didn’t fit here in this deserted town where a monster was on the loose.
“Are you lost?” the girl asked in a melodic voice.
Hey, isn’t that my line? Stephen wondered. He said nothing, only continuing to stare at the girl.
“Come with me,” the girl said. “We’ll figure out where you’re going.”
She walked past Stephen and turned down the alley he’d already been trapped in. He hesitated a few seconds, but decided to follow her. Nothing about this made any sense anyway.
The girl walked over to the first door in the building to her right and knocked lightly. It was then that Stephen noticed the girl’s shadow. A streetlight that he hadn’t even seen before cast a shadow on the wall, and he stared at it, paralyzed with fear. His mind told him that he was hallucinating—it was physically impossible for that little girl to make that shape in the light.
He took a few steps backwards and watched in further disbelief as the shadow morphed before his eyes. Then there became two identical shadows—his and a second one just like his that seemed to be cast by the girl. As she rapped harder on the door, Stephen removed his glasses, cleaned them on his shirt, and put them back on. Now the girls’ shadow correctly resembled her own size and shape.
Yes, because it’s perfectly natural that dirty glasses can morph shadows.
“Nothing around here is perfectly natural,” came a deep voice from nearby.
Stephen whirled in all directions looking for the voice, certain that the monster had found him. Down on the ground near the wall, a rat stared at him. Stephen stared back, as if daring the rat to speak again.
“You’re looking in the wrong direction,” the voice said again. Stephen slowly looked up. A bumble bee slowly buzzed by him. He watched it fly out of the alley and around the corner. Forgetting all about the little girl, he followed the bee. When he turned the corner, he had to stifle a scream. There on the street stood a small plane. A door on the plane was open as if it were waiting for him.
Why not? Stephen thought with a shrug. At least this is less freaky than that alley and everything in it.
He climbed through the door and into the plane. Next to one of the seats inside was a cart. On the cart sat a goblet filled with what looked like water.
Stephen picked up the goblet to examine its contents more closely.
“Noooooooooo!” the voice of the little girl cried mournfully from outside. He saw her running toward the airplane door. “Don’t drink it!” she yelled. The door pulled up before she reached it and latched itself.
Stephen didn’t know if he should trust the little girl. There was certainly something disturbing about her. However, he hadn’t had any intention of the drinking the mysterious liquid. He only wanted to smell it.
As soon as he brought it close to his face, though, he found that he was compelled to drink it after all. It was drawing him in…
“Stop!” The little girl was inexplicably next to him. She put her hand on his arm and guided him to put the goblet back on the cart. “This isn’t the way out for you.”
She took him by the hand and led him off the plane. Soon they again stood outside the door she had been knocking on.
“I got it open,” she said, pushing it in to show him. Inside was only darkness. “You have to go through alone. If you want to get out of here, you have to go through. Promise me you will.” She look at him with her bright green eyes, and an image flashed in Stephen’s head. Someone else with green eyes—happy at first, then turning scared and concerned.
“Promise!” the girl screamed, stomping one foot on the ground.
Stephen nodded and the girl looked cheerful again.
“Here, take this.” She handed him a machete. “There might be…stuff in there that’s hard to walk through. You know—bushes, cobwebs, stuff like that. Don’t let them stop you.”
When she was satisfied that he would be okay, she stepped away from the door. He took a step inside and the door started closing behind him. He turned around and watched the girl wave at him as long as he could.
The last thing he heard before the door clicked was, “See you on the other side, Daddy!”
I used to think that if I ran out of spontaneous story ideas (those that came to mind on their own, and were not sought after in any way), it would be the worst thing in the world. There have been gaps in my writing that came from not being able to go forward on my current work, but not having new ideas that interested me much, and so I simply did nothing for months at a time. Though I love NaNoWriMo, I’ve skipped several years since my first time participating in 2007, because I didn’t know what to write.
I used to think that not having an idea readily available would mean I’d have to sit and stare at a wall, racking my brain for anything that could be a story. It’s not a pleasant concept, which is obviously why I chose to do nothing instead. Most of you, I’m sure, know how ridiculous that is. I regret this attitude, and those lost NaNo chances. In the last few years, I’ve finally come to see that not having a story to write may not be so terrifying. There are all sorts of tools and exercises that we can use to find ideas. Writing prompts, plot generators, and many other things can lead to an idea.
The one I’m looking at today is called Rory’s Story Cubes. It’s a set of dice that is billed as a game–two or more people rolling the dice and using the images that come up to create a story. There are several variations of game play, including one where several people roll the dice, one at a time, in turn, and add to a group story as they go.
I’ve played with the cubes in groups a few times, and it’s fun to see what we come up with. When we first got the dice, my husband thought they may be useful for me as a writer, though I didn’t think it was likely. I believe one of the first things I said was that I didn’t know if the themes of the dice would really fit into my story world.
I’m still learning how prompts, seeds, and other tools can be beneficial to writing practice. I tend to think that if I’m not generating new ideas for my current project, it’s a waste of time. I have failed to understand that even the most innocuous writing practice can lead you to a new character, plot device, bit of dialog, or even just a feeling you want to explore.
So when I went on my writer’s retreat, I took the cubes and tried out using them alone. The method I chose was simply to mix all the dice together (we have 4 sets), choose one without looking, and roll it. Then I wrote a line or two based on the image. I proceeded to do this until i felt I had reached an adequate ending. That took 21 out of the 30 dice.
I enjoyed writing something completely unrelated to the world I’ve been so immersed in lately. Something with no importance whatsoever. I enjoyed it so much that I feel it would help keep my mind fresh for my writing if I were to do free writing practice more often. Most days, though, I barely have time to do my normal work, let alone finding extra time for that. Maybe when I can devote more of my life to writing (i.e. when my kids are older).
One thing about using the story cubes that I’ve noticed and want to mention is that I have to be willing to let whatever comes from using them be completely ridiculous. Often, the dice will lead in some sort of impossible direction, and the stories end up being supernatural or dream-like in some way. One of these days I should try the method of rolling several dice at once and looking at them together to find a way to piece them together into a story, rather than going one at a time and not knowing what might come next.
Dream for yourself: You don’t have to have a set of story cubes to be able to give them a try. I have included 4 pictures above of chains of the cubes that you could use for your own writing practice. Use the dice in order or mixed up; look at the chains as a whole, or only one die at a time. See what comes to mind. Below, I have shared the picture of the dice I rolled during my writer’s retreat. Feel free to write your own story from any or all of the cubes below, and then share it with me somehow. If you want to read what I came up with, you can find that here. (Note: If you’re thinking about writing your own, don’t read mine yet!) It would be fun to compare what other people come up with.
What are your thoughts on story prompts and other such tools? How do you fit free writing/writing practice into your day?