Monday, February 6, 2012

Building Short Stories with Cubes

I continue to merge and mingle my left and right brain together to be a smarter writer and a more creative business person. My business head is looking at production, how many titles can I produce and publish in x amount of time or stated differently, given x amount of time, what could I produce. Some “artistic” writers may be repulsed by my notion of wanting creative writing to fit in some sort of production schedule. Creativity isn’t supposed to work that way. I would argue that writer’s are at their most creative when faced with a deadline. 
There’s a common metric that a writer can generally produce 1,000 words an hour. I’m not saying they are in perfect order, grammatically correct or even spelled right but they are in a workable form for later revision. I’ve never tested this until last week and for me, that number holds true. I can spew out about 250 words in a fifteen minute span. Knowing that helps with production numbers. 

How long would it take to write a 3,000 word short story? Three hours. A 50,000 word NaNoWriMo type challenge? 50 Hours or a little under two hours a day for a month. So a 90,000 word novel, if I were so inclined, would take a 90 hour investment spread out over some period of time. I’m not talking about quality, I’m just talking about speed and the “I don’t have time” myth. I know if I can find one fifteen minute block somewhere in the 96 that are offered each day, I can get 250 words down.

In February I created the goal of writing 29,000 words beyond what I’m already committed. If you’re following along that’s 29 hours for me, or one hour a day of extra writing. Pretty good, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to use those words and that time on. There’s no shortage of choices. I have several works in progress in various stages that all could use an extra hour of daily attention but most of them, are thankfully already scheduled. So, why not ramp up production? 29,000 words are 10 or so short stories. 

I’m fairly new to the short story form, but that’s where all my bigger stories start. If I want to continue writing, and earning income, then I’ll always need some more stories. In the past, I used to write fiction when I wanted to. When the mood struck or I wanted a diversion to recharge my batteries. When I had deadlines like contest submissions or events like NaNoWriMo, then writing would become an event and I felt I had to outline my story and create some type of structure. 

I’m not a pantser (one who writes by the seat of their pants) unless you count my journals. I’m an outliner, barely, because they don’t have too much detail. See, left and right brains coalescing again. Are you paying attention Congress? I believe in a loose structure so I created a grid that had these general elements;
  • Current State
  • Wants / Goals
  • Fears
  • Sacrifices
  • Rewards
  • Inner Motivation
  • Inner Conflict
  • Outer Motivation
  • Outer Conflict
  • Resolution

If I was going to write ten new short stories in a month I would need a plan. I had no story burning to get out. I just needed to meet my commitment to writing something new every day. I pulled out a set of Story Cubes from the family game collection. 

Story Cubes are nine dice with different images on each side which act as story prompts. There are countless ways to play and my family has had great fun using them to tell stories; some terrific, some stinkers. That’s life. I used those Story cubes to randomly populate my short story grid. I closed my eyes, rolled a cube and assigned it to each element, except Resolution. It was a little bit like placing bets on a football pool, but soon the grid was filled with five story ideas. I read each one from Current State through to outer conflict and if a natural resolution to the story didn’t present itself I would pull a random cube and force one. 

Now I have the outline to five short stories and have already written three. Some are very short but by the time I’m done with ten or more a couple may turn into a story worth telling over the course of a novel. I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t have any expectations beyond getting 29,000 new words out but as I look over the grid I created, some stories do excite me.

It’s been said that for every twenty-four pictures you take one is worth sharing. I don’t know what the ratio is for writers. I suspect it depends on the writer. To one extreme there are those with hubris, who think all then pen is magical and to the other is the disheartened who regularly second guess themselves with every comma and period. Most fall between the two and need to chart their own way. All I know for certain is that the best writers are the ones who write.