#WriterinMotion – Playing with some plots

There are many different ways to approach plotting and I have studied and tried a bunch. Most plots, and thus outlines, follow a form of Three Act Structure and I have found that this is true for short form as well as long form.

I’ll start with The Hero’s Journey. Using ideas from Arwen Lynch’s book Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book, I’m going to continue plotting with tarot to see what fresh ideas come to mind.

Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey

  1. The Ordinary World:Three of Coins
  2. Call to adventure:Five of Coins
  3. Refusal of the call:The Moon
  4. Meeting the mentor:Ten of Swords
  5. Crossing the Threshold:Judgement
  6. Test, Allies & Enemies: Four of Wands
  7. Approach the Inmost Cave:The Hermit
  8. The Ordeal:Five of Wands
  9. Reward: Nine of Wands
  10. Road Back:Ten of Coins
  11. Resurrection:King of Cups
  12. Return with Elixer:The Fool

My interpretation: My MC (main character) is finally seeing some reward for his gritty determination. He has been through really hard times and feels the extra pressure of trying to raise a child alone now that he’s lost his job and his wife took the house. But he’s making the best the small house and property he inherited from his grandfather and his child is happy and healthy, so he finally feels that there’s hope until he gets in a spat with an herbalist who trespasses on his land which leads to child protective services at his door.

The judgement he sees in her eyes in the last straw. Shattered, he feels he’s come to the end of the road, but when he thinks further about the meeting, he has clearer judgement and can see the positive decisions he has made for himself and his son. He sees what is wrong with how they see him, that their judgements are biased. He prepares for the next visit feeling he has the power to liberate himself from the situation. He feels that the time alone, away from society and social norms is very important as he reflects on his life journey so far. When the women return, his hope is shattered again by proposed unsettling changes, and opposition. Top-heavy egos lead to a lack of coordination and team spirit, but plenty of adrenaline and racing pulses. Everyone has their own idea of how things should be done.

After the meeting goes badly, my MC expects trouble on the horizon, his biggest fear: separation from his son, so he debates his next moves, trying to be honest with himself about what is best for his child. He doesn’t want his son to ever be hurt like he has been hurt, he doesn’t want him to feel abandoned, but he doesn’t want him to feel hunger, or thirst, or cold, or have limited opportunities due to his own selfishness. My MC doesn’t want to face his fear, but he feels weary of a constant cycle of conflict in his life. While he awaits next steps with social services, he works the land. He wants to have a sustainable garden, to provide enough food. While working, he rests under the green ash and notices a carving in the bark that leads to a remarkable discovery. Though he no longer has to stay at the property, he and his son decide to stay, happy to be different and unique. He finds compassion and kindness deep inside himself and hires the herbalist, the person whose snap judgement started this trouble to help him create a beautiful garden of his land.

A New Plot!!

This Morning, I stumbled on a new (to me) plotting approach “The Virgin’s Promise.” Unlike the Hero’s Journey in which the main character leaves the comfort of home to learn and change, the main character of the Virgin’s Promise goes on an internal journey of discovery, finding her authentic self, breaking with tradition and sharing a new way of thinking. Let’s see what the cards have to say about my story as a Virgin’s Promise. My understanding of this plot form is from diyMFA.

The original work to research the structure can be found in Kate Hudson’s book The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening

Virgin's path with Levi

  1. Dependent World:  Six of Coins
  2. Price of Conformity: Two of Swords
  3. Opportunity to Shine: Queen of Swords
  4. Dresses the Part: The Tower
  5. Secret World: The Magician
  6. No Longer Fits Her World: The Fool
  7. Caught Shining: The Hermit
  8. Gives Up What Kept Her stuck: Ace of Pentacles
  9. Kingdom in Chaos: Eight of Swords
  10. Wanders in the Wilderness: The Moon
  11. Chooses Her Light: Three of Wands
  12. Re-order (Rescue): Temperance
  13. Kingdom is Brighter: Five of Swords

My interpretation: After a very tough time my MC is offered a lifeline. He knows that there are expectations for his son’s living situation and is doing his best. He finds that being honest with his son is proving him a good parent. He also discovers that he is good at living off the land, and building/carpentry, things he never expected and that nature provides a learning experience for his son. My MC begins to let go of all the hurt and anger of his hateful divorce and see the potential of what he has been given.

But then there’s a knock at the door and the trespasser from last week is there with another woman, a woman who is there to check on his son’s welfare and he is shaken to the core. This sudden wake-up call of the world he feels happy in versus expectations of society leaves him confused and worried about whether this really is best for his son. Everything suddenly feels immediate when before he felt like he had time to figure things out. He knows he has everything he needs to succeed, but how will he showcase those talents under CPS guidelines?

The judgement of the people who arrived at his door makes him doubt himself and whether he is doing the best he can for his son.  He finds a way to invest in the future that he never would have done before, giving up a belief that kept him stuck. He refuses to go along with the social worker and herbalist’s wants and demands escalating the conflict with “the system,” leading to threats of removing his son from the home. After bucking the system, he feels unsure. He starts wondering if he and his son should run, but where would they go. He feels his greatest fear, their separation, but he knows he has to face it.

Once he decides that he has made the right decisions for his son and will continue to work his land and create a home, he builds momentum and feels self-confidence and enthusiasm though he risks separation and failure. When the herbalist sneaks back on the property, she is shocked by the change. She completely changes her mind about the father and son living there and brings the community to his side, working to take back the damage she has done. My MC wins his battle with CPS and with the help of the herbalist, the social worker and other neighbors creates a lively, nurturing environment for his son.

Notes:

That was fun. I’m glad I found the Virgin’s Promise. I found it interesting that even though I shuffled and cut the cards three times before and after the first layout, some of the same cards and some of the cards from the celtic cross from the other day came up in the second. Though the over-all ideas stayed mostly the same, the conflict started later in the Virgin’s Promise and the ending completely changed. It’ll be interesting to see how the story plays out once the characters start interacting. Plus, it gives me another way to go if the ending needs to change during revision.

Other fun plotting tools:

Even though my plot is pretty clear, I did a few of these just for fun.

The plot-o-matic inspired by John Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?

  • A florist, who wants to be a hermit, irons clothes at 2 am.
  • A tollbooth attendant, who wants to make a discovery, saves someone’s life then dies in a freak accident. (That was the first time I drew more than one card from a stack. I liked the result, so I tried it some more)
  • An exterminator and a butterfly collector want to be in the news. They go to a medium then fin baby bunnies in a nest and meet a woman who wants to die.
  • A conspiracy junky sasquatch hunter, who wants to be happy again, pretends to be blind.

Rory’s story cubes

  • A left-handed drama teacher tries to fix the set of a castle using a flashlight because the power went out. S/he disturbs a sleeping bee that doesn’t die after stinging and then seems magnetically attached and won’t leave him/her alone.
  • A child with a monster shadow sees shadow footprints that s/he follows to a small house. S/he finds a phone number written on the wall inside and calls it. The CEO of a huge company answers and after speaking with the child parachutes to the house in the moonlight and has a key to free the child from the shadow monster.
  • A detective meets an alien in the forest at 4 am. The alien apologizes for accidentally crashing a plane which solves the detective’s case, but that causes drama for the detective because s/he can’t tell anyone. The detective is so conflicted that the alien locks his/her mind with magic.

The Writer’s Emergency Pack
Both cards I randomly drew were “Zombie attack (there are two cards that go with each prompt),” so I’ll think on that. Is doesn’t have to be literal zombies. The prompt question is: What would my hero do if confronted by a mindless, unstoppable horde? He may see the women who come to his door as just that since they represent a government agency and the larger community. The other prompts are:

  • Does the horde have a leader? Will my hero try to confront, take over as leader?
  • What does the horde want? If they get it will they go away or grow stronger and refuse to leave?

These are good questions to ask Eugene as I journal today.

Oblique Strategies  (the cards created by Brian Eno)

  • Listen to the quiet voices
  • Turn it upside down
  • Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
  • Question the heroic approach

I love that last one. Serendipity of finding The Virgin’s Promise.

Each of the plots I came up with today were in a mostly linear order of events. I’ll want to play around with the plot points and think about non-linear story possibilities. Next, I’ll use everything I’ve done so far to fill in some quick outlines, then start the draft.

#WriterinMotion – the brainstorm

rahul-pandit-CDrP01O2n-w-unsplash resized

prompt photograph by Rahul Pandit

After my first thoughts, I printed out the image on a nice piece of matte photo paper. The colors printed even more vibrantly and got me thinking about color meaning and how I will use the colors in my story. I recently talked about specifics of color naming and thought I would start there.

The Colors

I explored interesting color names over at Sherman-William’s paint colors and explored color meanings at Canva color meanings and color symbolism on Wikipedia.

Names

Red: Stop, Showstopper, Tanager, Poinsettia, Habanero Chile, Peppery, Stolen Kiss, Beetroot, Wild Poppy, Cayenne, Cherry, Tomato, Burgundy, Blackberry,  Brick

Orange: Obstinate Orange, Knockout Orange, Determined Orange, Raucous Orange, Husky Orange, Rhumba Orange, Adventure Orange, Serape, Invigorate, Navel, Carnival, Sun Salutation

Yellow: Gusto Gold,  Goldfinch, Lemon Twist, Daisy, Forsythia, Icy Lemonade, Pineapple Cream, Sunny Veranda, Cheerful, Goldenrod, Citronella, Lively Yellow,  Confident Yellow

Green: Center Stage, Electric Lime, Direct Green, Envy, Lucky, Greenbelt, Jitterbug Jade, Verdant, Grasshopper, Olive, Gecko, Parakeet, Organic Green, Pickle, Julep, Lark Green, Frosted Emerald, Emerald, Mesclun Green, Picnic, Frolic, Romaine, Kiwi, Reclining Green, Oakmoss, Artichoke

Blue: Turquoise, Aqua, Splashy, Teal, Calypso, Dynamic Blue, Bluebell, Sky, Celestial, Mariner, Fountain, Freshwater, Aquarium, Periwinkle, Indigo, Navy, Powder Blue, Adrift, Mountain Stream, Moonmist

And that’s just to name a few. Looking at how many of the color names come from flowers and foods, I thought about how my characters might choose color names from their surroundings: perhaps red is foxtail and yellow is butterfly, green is fern or tree frog or unripe berry.

I also see this as the beginning of a word collection. There are some vivid words in those color names like “obstinate”, “determined”, “invigorate” and “raucous.”  As I chose color names, connections and meanings began to form, but now I want to look at some traditional meanings for the colors in the image.

Meanings

Red: vitality and celebration, evil and destruction, love, passion and lust, anger/wrath, power, violence, aggression, danger, heat, good luck, happiness, importance

Orange: fresh, youthful and creative, activity, energy, socialization, healthy, attention, safety, warmth, excitement

Yellow: sunshine, joy, cowardice or fear, caution, optimistic, playful, happy, mental clarity and intellect,

Green: nature, healing, soothing, fertility, renewal, growth, relaxing, money, greed, wealth, prestige sickness, jealousy, inexperienced/new, youth, zest

Blue: trust, cleanliness, loyalty, tranquility, serenity, stability, inspiration, wisdom

Most of these colors can have conflicting meanings. That could come in useful to show differing viewpoints and how perception can completely change an image.

Characters

For a while now, I’ve been working on a tool to help me quickly brainstorm characters that are unique, interesting and multi-dimensional. I call it The Character Creation Spreadsheet.

While I was reading The Playful Way to Serious Writing by Roberta Allen, her exercises inspired me to start a spreadsheet of possible occupations, physical character traits, hobbies, fears and minor mishaps. I liked the idea of creating unique and interesting characters through randomizing different traits and finding how they fit together.

I started by making columns of last names then first names, followed by occupations, hobbies, physical traits and fears. My spreadsheet is ever-growing and now includes religions, philosophies, causes and countries. I can choose to include as many or as few of the columns as I want. For each column, I use a random number generator to select the aspects of my character. When I’m done, I evaluate how that character may or may not work in my story. Let’s give it a try. My first column, last names, goes to row 241, so in my random number generator I enter lower limit 2, upper limit 241 and get 3 = last name Grabner.

  1. Grabner, Alyssum, herbalist, the youngest of way too many kids, she became an aunt early in life, dropped out of school, but got her G.E.D.; she has always been disobedient; she has a club foot and a hooked nose; her hobbies are coloring and collecting teabags; her fears are ego-death (losing herself) and clowns; she has a mishap becoming drenched in a storm which leads to the epiphany that the journey is more important then the goal. Her story emotion is wariness. 

    Sometimes the random selections don’t work together,  so I just keep hitting enter to get another random number until I get a selection that seems to work ( for example Alyssum’s occupation took three tries).

    Sounds like an interesting character, someone who could possibly live in that small dwelling or happen upon it while trying to find some particular herbs. At this point, I will look up the name meanings and history to glean more possibilities for her genealogy, family and history: Grabner – German to dig (especially “a digger of graves or ditches”). Alyssum is the name of a group of plants. The flower is said to symbolize beauty, but I like the meaning from the Greek alyssos meaning “curing madness” because it was thought to cure rabies in dogs.

    All sorts of neat stuff there. I’m liking her name, her hobbies, surprising character traits and her occupation bringing her to discover the little house. I’m already hearing distant echoes of Goldilocks and Snow White.

  2. Luckman, Josette,  youngest of three, online degree, takes self too seriously, can’t keep a secret; she has false teeth and a shaved head; she enjoys table-top and role-playing games and collects flowers; she fears mutilation and animals; she bangs her head leading to an epiphany that you aren’t what people say you are. Her story emotion is Eagerness.
  3. Palmberg, Eugene, single father, greasy vast guru, used to be a customs officer, gloomy, unconfined;  he is covered in freckles and has shaky hands; his hobbies are swimming and fencing; he fears separation and books; he steps in dog poop which leads to the epiphany that Beliefs are nothing to be proud of. His story emotion is amusement/denial

A good step at this point is to look up the characters’ story emotions in The Emotion Thesaurus and think about how the characters will physically show those emotions. Do they have little ticks, physical habits, do those emotions come out in the way they speak, habitual phrases?

POV

Now that I have some idea of who my characters will be, it’s a good time to think about my possible points of view. Who do I want to tell this story? My three adult characters will be equally important in the action of the plot. Though the plot is focused on the child character (Eugene is a single father), he or she will be talked about or around, the child won’t have a say, or will s/he? Point of view ideas:

First:

  • Point of view of Alyssum: the character who discovers, stumbles upon, the cataloger, the reporter.
  • Point of view of Josette: the instigator of change, the representative of society, normalcy, expectation, government intervention.
  • Point of view of Eugene: representation of free will, leaving societal norms, parenting outside of social norms, doing the best he can with what he has through a difficult situation, standing his ground.
  • Eugene’s child: the unseen, unheard subject of all of the conflict.

Second:

  • Outside narrator: Imagine you live in this idyllic setting . . .
  • or Imagine yourself a single father . . .
  • or Walk for a moment in Eugene Palmberg’s shoes, now slip into Alyssum Grabner’s boots . . .

Third:

  • Omniscient: Maybe the hills tell the story, or the land/ nature tells the story, the ferns are omniscient or get some info from the whispering green ash?
  • Close: same considerations as first. I think the contrasting/ not completely reliable/ biased viewpoints of either Alyssum or Josette will be the most interesting.

Surprisingly, I like that last second person POV idea, and the telling in first person from   Eugene’s child’s POV could be powerful, but I’ll probably tell this story from Alyssum or Josette in first or third.

Time to start journaling and letting them talk.

plotting with tarot for writer in motion

Plot

The moment I randomly selected Palmberg, Eugene, single father, my story idea became clear. I can picture my three main characters and how the conflict of a life-changing moment for all of them will present itself. I can see how my characters’ occupations, hobbies, and fears will escalate the conflict, so instead of pulling out all of my plotting tools, I think I’ll see what Plotting with tarot brings to the table.

Using  Mark Teppo’s interpretation of the Celtic Cross for plotting from Jump Start Your Novel, here’s my plot:

  1. The Protagonist: Five of Swords
  2. The Opposing Factor: Page of Wands
  3. The Root Cause: Death
  4. Immediate Past: Ace of Swords
  5. The Goal: Wheel of Fortune
  6. Immediate Future: Temperance
  7. My intent: The Fool
  8. How the outside world sees protagonist: Three of Wands
  9. The guide: The Hierophant
  10. The outcome: The Empress

My interpretation: My protagonist card indicates engagement in conflict and suggests disagreement with others that leads to hostility and tension. Despite the fact that my protagonist thinks s/he has won, s/he may still lose because s/he has annoyed or hurt the people argued with, creating a path to isolation. The opposing factor, the cause of this conflict, is someone who believes they have made a discovery. The root cause of the situation is not a literal death, but a major life change. My protagonist’s life has been turned upside down and s/he is trying to make a new start with the little left. My protagonist is facing the reality of the situation with a goal of wisdom and self-understanding and trying to see hope in the fact that the wheel of fortune turns and its time for the bad to turn to good. However, the immediate future is someone arriving to create balance through a union of dualities. My protagonist’s ability to let things go and be amused by others’ hang-ups which is the only way to cope at the moment, becomes a conflict with those that see balance differently.

My intent for writing this story is to come to the page and the project with unlimited potential. I want to be open, joyful and accepting of every aspect of the experience and grow through each step of the journey, returning with the elixir that will improve all of my stories.

The outside world sees my protagonist as a man on a cliff looking at distant mountains, as someone opportunities would widen horizons in many areas. They think s/he could open his/her mind and embrace change.

Traditional values and institutions, an embrace of the conventional, a certain desire to follow a well established process, adapting to certain well-established systems and beliefs leads the entire story to connect with beauty and happiness of life, femininity, expression, creativity and nurturing are the culmination of this story.

My reaction: I love how card one defined how the story will open in action and conflict. I now have a better understanding of my protagonist, antagonists, the conflicts and perhaps the resolution. The affirmation of my intentions for joining this project was a nice bonus!

I now have so much to let simmer in the brain-pan.

Tomorrow, I’ll share more plotting and outlining. For me, today proved that beginning with creating characters leads to easy plotting.

 

#WriterinMotion Begins! the prompt

rahul-pandit-CDrP01O2n-w-unsplash resized

To my surprise, I’ll be working from a visual prompt: this lovely photograph by Rahul Pandit of a small house in nature. This project being about sharing the process from draft creation to polished piece, I thought I would share from the very beginning of my process, through brainstorming to idea before I get to the draft.

First thoughts

I really like the colors: The blue tones in the hills and the glowing light around them separating them from the sky; the lush green of the plants and trees; and the contrast of the small building’s yellow and red that makes it jump out from its surroundings.

Setting

Where is this? Where do I want this to be?

I’m curious about the specific name of the flowers and the trees, so I zoom in and crop a picture of the flowers and head over to name that plant for quick identification. Sadly, that didn’t work, neither did any of the other picture plant identification programs, so I tried comparison identification and believe it is acanthus mollis otherwise known as bear’s breeches which could be fun. It flowers from late spring to early summer, which is the seasonal feel of the photograph, a moment of reprieve before that small structure becomes a summer oven. Next, the trees.

To look at the trees’ possible identity, I went to The Arbor Day Foundation’s What tree is that? After answering the questions, guessing often, it identified my trees as Green Ash. After looking at some pictures of green ash, it’s plausible.

So now I have some specific details for my setting and the lighting, golden hour, puts my story during those magical slanted-light moments of dusk or dawn.

Because of the isolation of the dwelling, I started wondering if my character would eat the bear’s breeches and drink the ash leaves as tea. It turns out both are considered medicinal, so that’s an interesting possibility. I also learned that the acanthus mollis has a sweet scent that attracts insects and the short stalks of the flowers and the area without many flowers can mean that the soil is too rich and the plants may be harboring snails.

 

 

Writer In Motion: A five week writing and revising challenge

Levi at work

Summer is here. The weather is gorgeous, but sweaty-hot. Levi and I are adjusting though motivationally-challenged. He gets away with napping and bathing all day, but my stories won’t write themselves. So, I found a challenge to keep me working through August.

For the next five weeks, starting August 1st, I will be participating in the Writer In Motion blog project. I’m excited to give it a try.

The Challenge

I will receive a prompt on August 1st and write a first draft of a story. Then I will revise it to a piece of flash (up to 1000 words) and read and provide feedback with other participants.

I will be posting each version here as I revise and talk about my revision process, so you can join in the experience.

By the end of the five weeks, I hope we’ll have learned how to turn a draft into an amazing story and be able to apply what we learn to our other work.

Anyone and everyone can participate. I hope you’ll join me.

 

#dVerse Poets Quadrille Monday: Blue

 

The Blemishes are only Another Color Blue

Blue is the color spreading
lake to sky on this sunny day

at every other time they lay in shades of gray

reflection, refraction, illusions
of the light perceived

and the clouds that lord over

or come to play
melt this mountain into blue.

 

*The prompt at dVerse Poets Pub’s Quadrille Monday felt like an easy release after too much tension, so I felt like all those spots I can’t clean out of my lenses suddenly had purpose: Another shade of blue. For once, I saw them not as a fault, or blemish, but a part of the blue of the images.

NaPoWriMo 2020 Poetry Anthology Comes Out Tomorrow (and I’m in it)

AB-NaPoWriMo-Anthology-2020

I’m happy to announce my poem, “A Review of Wonderment,” is included in an anthology!

The Auroras & Blossoms NaPoWriMo Anthology: 2020 Edition will be released as an e-book tomorrow (June 23). It includes poems written during National Poetry Writing Month (April) from 38 poets with a focus on positivity and inspiration.

Give yourself, or someone you love, the gift of positive poetry!

Happy Reading!

And you can check out some of the other poets’ sites (these are the ones I found with a quick search) :

MiMi DiFrancesca

Fiona D’Silva

Kate Duff Poetry

Judy Dykstra-Brown

Amanda M. Eifert

Stacie Eirich

David Ellis

Michael Erickson

Alicia Grimshaw

Jenny Hayut

Patrick Jennings

Cendrine Marrouat

Angela van Son

Michele Vecchitto

Penny Wilkes

Gemma Wiseman

 

 

 

 

 

A Morning Reading Great Poetry: Why don’t we tweet poetry books like TV shows or movies?

This morning, I enjoyed reading a lot of great poetry.  As I read, I needed to write down at least one line from every page with fervent excitement. I wanted to share my joy with everyone.

I thought, “why don’t people tweet poetry books the way they tweet TV shows and films?” Start them at the same time and tweet out exciting lines and moments. Then I thought, who would do that? Who could I start that with? Who would relate to and be excited by these poems the way I am? What I was relating to especially were the water and swimming details in the poems, the place and sensory details, of course, so I thought, I need to start following local poets, How do I find more of them?

Luckily, WA state has a wonderful Poet Laureate and she is also Seattle’s Civic Poet Laureate, so I have something amazing to share:

Washington Poetic Routes

Seattle Poetic Grid

Claudia Castro Luna, author of  This City and Killing Marías created these wonderful maps. Each dot, when clicked, opens a poem about that location. I have so much to explore, and so many poets to get to know.

Read Poetry!

Happy reading and writing

How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: A Scenario

If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll want to read through my last post about Setting and Characters, so this makes some sense. Okay, back to the action:

Since Luchinda dressed for her character, the rest of us decided to dress up too. Woody wasn’t too excited when I handed him a cape and the closest thing I had to a beret.

“Look, honey, I’ll wear one too,” said Luchinda. That worked. Now, the group is all dressed up and ready for the first scenario.

all dressed up and ready to play

 

The Situation

Miss Blue puts on devil horns, “I have a feeling I’ll be playing devil’s advocate,” she says. “Now, where to begin?

“I’m thinking all of you have to meet and start your quest, so let’s say that Mr. Caldwell contacted Dr. Jetland at the university because he believes he has discovered proof of knowledge of an active wormhole and wants her expert opinion. Dr. Jetland brings her Post Doc along to assist and Natalia is at the meeting as Mr. Caldwell’s body guard and to protect the evidence.

“So this first situation is the characters meeting and seeing the first evidence of the conspiracy. What will your goals be?”

“My goal will be to convince the doctors to take me seriously and help me find the wormhole,” says Woody.

“Good. Right. And my goal will be to protect him, protect the evidence and make them do it!” says Luchinda.

“My goal is to examine the evidence objectively and determine if there is any scientific basis for Mr. Caldwell’s discovery,” I say.

“Then what’s my goal?” says Teddy.

“To assist me, of course,” I say.

“I think I should do more than that,” says Teddy, “My goal will be to add some passion for astrophysics and perception to your observations. Maybe not be quite as objective.”

“Fine, sounds good,” I say.

Actions

Miss Blue says we should start on her left and go around the table, so Luchinda looks at her cards and plays the Jack of hearts. Her character Natalia Bash, goes against her nature to give Mr. Caldwell, his research, and theories a rousing introduction while attempting to seduce the new arrivals into joining their cause.

Woody, not having any hearts, plays a 6 of diamonds to introduce Mr. Caldwell’s theory that futurism of the 50’s and 60’s was actually realism from another planet found through a stable wormhole.

I play a 9 of clubs to show that Dr. Jetland doesn’t have time or patience for lofty words, but came to see proof of a stable wormhole. I see Teddy pulling out a 6 of spades. “You would want to see the evidence first, wouldn’t you Dr. Bernstein?” I nudge.

Teddy lays a 7 of clubs adding 3 to my 9.

All attention on Miss Blue

Miss Blue smiles, I was beginning to think I was going to have to create some conflict already, but it looks like Natalia and Ottis will have to beat an 11 of clubs before they can win over the doctors to their cause.

“That’s easy,” says Luchinda. She lays a King of clubs and a six of clubs. “Natalia beats them into submission.”

“I don’t think physically beating them is going to get them to help us,” says Woody.

“Right,” says Luchinda. “I use psychological warfare to bring them to our side, making them think it was their idea.

“Good,” says Woody, placing a four of diamonds on the table. Now that they are listening, I will continue explaining my theory.”

I play an Ace of spades and a seven of spades in alignment with my Wisdom focus to get around Natalia’s psychological tricks and demand to see the pages that Ottis had told me about.

Teddy plays a Jack of hearts attempting to soften my demands and ask more nicely to see the proof.

Luchinda plays a 7 of Clubs, “Natalia still does not trust you. She guards Ottis and the evidence watching you closely, ready for a fight.”

Woody looks around the table with a slight curl to his lips. He plays a Joker. “Ottis never doubted he could convince you. He unlocks his top desk drawer, pulls out a few diary pages and clears his throat to read–”

“Just then, the janitor who had come in and emptied the waste basket pulls a gun on Ottis. ‘I’ll take those,’ he says and runs out the door.” Miss Blue looks pretty proud of herself.

“The cabal,” Teddy says.

“What? I didn’t get to fight him,” says Luchinda.

“Not yet,” says Miss Blue.

“Are you sure we’re playing this right?” I ask.

“Are you having fun?” says Miss Blue.

“Yes,” everyone offers.

“Then what does it matter? Let’s keep going and learn as we go.”

“We still have cards left for this round. It’s my turn, so let’s finish off by deciding if we go after him or make a different plan,” I say.

We all agree.

I play a six of diamonds offering that we should let him go and try to discover more clues.

Teddy plays a Queen and a six of spades to align with his wisdom focus to evade any confrontation with the armed man and get Ottis to write down what he remembers from the stolen pages.

Miss Blue pulls a complications card. An Ace of Hearts. An innocent will die. “Can anyone beat that? No? Sorry guys. As you are discussing your next moves, the man with your pages ran into the street and expecting you to follow, took a hostage. When people crowded around, blocking his path, he shot the hostage and slipped through the shocked bystanders.”

Luchinda plays her last card, a six of diamonds. “Great, Natalia should be fighting and she’s thinking. Maybe I think I recognized the man, a fellow mercenary.”

Woody plays an eight of spades to evade the doctors’ questions about why Natalia might know the gunman.

I play a Jack of hearts and Dr. Jetland makes an emotional speech about how it is now vital that we find the wormhole before a killer does.

Teddy plays nine of diamonds while Dr. Bernstein thinks long and hard about leaving his Post Doc and teaching elementary school.

Woody is the only player with a card left. He plays the two of spades. Ottis Caldwell is still hiding something and, though meekly, tries to evade.

End of Round One

Reviewing My Experiment

There it is. One round of play. I was surprised how much there was to think about and experience with only five cards each. Of course that pesky Miss Blue threw some wrenches in the mix. Though the story and the game had only begun, my friends had to go home and my short story has been submitted and reviewed, so I thought I’d do a quick review of the experience.

photography – The set-up was intensive and time-consuming, but fun. Any reason to pull out costumes is good for me. I found the space around my dining room table very limiting for trying to take pictures of all four actors. The windows, even with the drapes and blinds down, backlit the best angle for the full tableau. However, for a first attempt, I thought I got some interesting shots.

writing – Creating friends from my objets d-art, giving them names and backgrounds and then having them create characters was a fun and constructive way to get a story brewing. I had never really worked on meta story writing before and I enjoyed the layers of it. I enjoyed everything about the card suit meanings for set-up and though I only played one round, game-play definitely led to unique ideas, I would not have enjoyed contemplating otherwise.

the game – This is the first time I’ve tried a table top roleplaying game, so I am not the person to compare it to other games. I also doubt we played it exactly as intended and having human friends with their own thoughts, most likely would have made play more lively. However, as a writer using it as a creativity engine, I had great results. I wrote the short story for The Writer’s Games and received positive feedback on the characters and their interactions, so Full Deck Roleplaying is a proven character development tool. I also received positive feedback on my premise and setting, so overall, my intended use was a success.

Thanks for playing along. If you’re feeling stuck or looking to add some fun to your writing process, I recommend giving Full Deck Roleplaying a try.

 

How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: Setting & Characters

I’ve been talking a lot about poetry lately, but I’m also participating in The Writer’s Games. The challenge to write a short story to a prompt each weekend started two weeks ago. I’ll be getting a new prompt this evening.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have found many fun plotting games and devices over the years:

story plotting is fun

Yesterday, I happened upon a new one. Writer and game designer Jason L. Blair did a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds introducing his new tabletop RPG (role playing game) Full Deck Roleplaying.

I downloaded the Playtest PDF to see what he was talking about and enjoyed that the game is played with a regular deck of playing cards, so I could play along right away.

As I began to read the instructions, I instantly knew this wasn’t only a game, but my kind of writing tool: simple, fun, and full of beautiful illustrations!

The game rules set up categories for scene and character creation based on the four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds or clubs. I’m excited to get started, so I’m going to start drawing cards to see what I’m working with. I found a brand new, unopened deck of bicycle fire cards in the cupboard, so that’s fun. It took me a while to break them in to shuffle well.

As I read through the game play again, I was inspired to try a real test run of the game. To do that, I needed some friends to play with, so to have some much needed fun today (since my internet has been so slow as to be useless for two days now), I decided to create a photography tableau of friends playing the game and run through a scenario.

ready friends

Here are my friends:

Teddy has lived with me since before I was a Swedish exchange student. He has traveled the world with me and is a great travel companion: We never bicker, probably because he doesn’t mind letting me lead, and we like the same things.

Miss Blue and I met in New Orleans. We met at the hat shop I worked at in the French Quarter. She always liked my designs the best. We went for drinks when I got off of work one day and became fast friends. She can be a bit self-centered and is always borrowing my clothes without asking. I get over it quickly though because she looks good in them and she’s a warm fuzzy in my life.

I met Luchinda in San Antonio. She has a very vibrant, spicy personality. Being so passionate, she can also be quick to anger. She and I have a great time, in small doses.

Woody was introduced to me by my artist friend, E. Spencer Matthews III. Woody’s an old fashioned kind of guy who always looks a bit haunted, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think he plans on cheating; just look at his deck of cards. He and Luchinda are a fun couple, very lively, great energy, at least, when they’re not fighting.

I thought Levi might join us. He seemed interested when I was setting up the table, but he doesn’t like my friends. He’s playing kitty in a drum right now. Maybe he’ll join us later. If he does, he can play my character while I take pictures.

Miss Blue has printed out game booklets with the rules and player sheets for everyone and will play as the dealer. When she set out a deck of FLORIDA playing cards as the challenge deck, we all laughed.

“I bet there are some unimaginable challenges in there,” I said.

“I hope there won’t be any gator wrestling,” said Teddy with a little shiver.

“I’m up for any kind of wrestling challenge,” said Luchinda.

Woody stared at the Florida deck with a haunted look. I wondered if he had experienced some Florida challenges he would rather not remember.

Miss Blue starts the game by drawing the setting cards.

the setting

Setting

Time: Jack of Spades = Past

Theme: 7 of diamonds = Sci-Fi

Trope: King of Clubs = Conspiracy

“Well that’s just Roswell,” Luchinda blurts out sounding disappointed.

“Or kinda Stargate,” I say.

“What’s wrong with Roswell?” You loved the museum, if I remember correctly,” Woody says with a sly smile.

Luchinda blushes and giggles.

What do you think, Teddy?” I ask. “What setting do you think the cards tell us to have?”

Teddy takes a sip from his candy cane shot glass and says, “The past doesn’t have to be long ago past. It can be last week or a year ago. What if the conspiracy is Bio-weapons and we are trying to find the horrible labs where they are experimenting with the viruses and stop the pandemic before it happens?”

Everyone, other than Teddy, moans.

Miss Blue pats his paw. “Teddy Dear, we’re playing this to escape the pandemic, pretend it’s not happening for a few hours. Lets try something more fantastical.”

“I know, ” she says, “let’s play that all those ideas in the fifties and sixties of space-age colonies and things were true, but they were built on another planet because what really happened is they discovered a wormhole and found abandoned human futuristic buildings and dwellings. They sold these places to the super-rich and kept it secret. They were so happy and secretive, they didn’t have children and the secret died out. We discovered some clues to how to find and activate the wormhole. What you think?”

“Yeah, and there’s a cabal trying to stop us,” says Teddy.

“Sounds good to me,” says Luchinda. “I’ll wrestle the entire cabal of selfish bad guys so we can live happily ever after. Won’t I honey?” she says to Woody, pushing out her full lower lip.

“I’m in,” says Woody. “What do we do next?”

Miss Blue says, “Now, you each get to draw cards from your own decks to create your characters. Shuffle, if you want, then turn over your top card. That will be your character’s focus.”

Woody's asking Luchinda if she shuffled her cards because she has drawn three Jacks in a row

Character

Focus: Teddy and I both got spades which is Wisdom, makes sense, Woody got a heart which is empathy, not sure about that. I guess it’s a character not him– but Luchinda drew a club which means strength, a little on the nose, so now I’m wondering about Woody.

Motivation: This time I matched with Woody: We are both motivated by honor. I mean, our characters are, I mean, we drew clubs. Teddy got a heart which is Love and Luchinda drew a diamond which is money. Woody couldn’t stifle a chuckle at that. Luchinda knocked his hat off. He left it off. I like his bald head.

Light: We each got a different suit which should be good for game play: I got clubs, Woody diamonds, Luchinda hearts, Teddy spades. So my good is that I’m talented, Woody is Affluent (I don’t think that’s true, but he is secretive), Luchinda is Generous (that made everyone laugh, I mean, she is in spirit) and Teddy is Perceptive which everyone knows is true.

Darkness: As for our dark sides, Woody and I are both obsessed, Luchinda is violent (really, it’s like her character is just her), and Teddy is greedy.

So now we get to state three things about our character’s first impression and name them.

Final Details

We chat for a while then Miss Blue gets our attention and says, “Okay, so tell us the name of your character and three things we would notice upon first impression. Woody, why don’t you start.

Woody loosens his tie slightly and says, “His name is Ottis Caldwell, he’s an art historian who is also an activist. His cause is human equality and thinks everyone should have access to space travel, not just the super-rich. Three things that people notice about him right away, are the stains and paints on him because he is always cleaning art or making art. He often smells of turpentine. And he drives a fancy sports car that seems incongruous with his beliefs and activities, but belonged to his father and he tends to it obsessively.”

Everyone  claps, “Maria, tell us about your character,” Miss Blue says.

I look at my notes and feel nervous for some reason. “Dr. Estelle Jetland is a professor of Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology and often consults and works with NASA. She is fascinated with wormholes. She often seems like she’s not listening when you talk to her, but her eyes shine and her whole body appears to vibrate when she gets excited by an idea. People are often surprised that a physics professor has such a beautiful singing voice and can play so many instruments. When she becomes interested in something, she will obsessively research it until she has read everything there is to find on the subject. Teddy is her post doc assistant.

Teddy clears his throat. “Uh, yes. My character is an astrophysicist named Dr. Björn Bernstein. He is doing his post doc with Dr. Jetland at Florida Tech. People don’t really notice him because he always has his head in his work, but what they do notice is he’s quiet, but when he does speak–”

“Boring,” Luchinda interrupts. “I’m a bad ass mercenary named Natalia Bash. First off, I’m gorgeous, tall and lean, but second, every bit of me is muscle. Third, I’m gruff, and confident and nobody messes with me. Right. Where’s my leather jacket? There. Now, let’s play!”

choosing our characters

What color is your portal? Change it with online paint chips.

I opened a portal

I opened a portal (2020)                 bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Yesterday I started a new Coursera course: Songwriting:Writing the Lyrics with Pat Pattison through Berklee College of Music. One of the first lessons conceptualized a song as three boxes, stacked with the smallest on top. The top box fitting inside the middle box and both fitting in the bottom box. He used this imagery as the build and progression of the song.

I liked how he used “the boxes” and thought it would be a good way to approach a poem, so I thought I would take a look at what was going on at #dVerse Poets Pub to inspire some words to put in my boxes.

I felt like the #dVersepoetics prompt presented by HA: About Portals, was perfect for my poem. I talked a bit about portals and doorways while I was Excavating my mind. The prompt inspired me to open a portal in the side of the house and capture some photographs of the dimensions on the other side.

Where we can see the virus

Where We Can See The Virus (2020)    bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Where there are tiny dinosaurs in the trees

Where There Are Tiny Dinosaurs In Trees (2020) bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

I thought I would combine my portal ideas with Linda L. Krushke’s Paint Chip Poetry Prompt. I was looking for interesting color names a couple weeks ago for a poem, but didn’t find what I was imagining. The paint chip poetry prompt got me thinking and I searched again. Sherwin-Williams color families is exactly what I was looking for, so many creative color names with history and symbolism and oddity. It’s great. I can also explore Behr’s colors.

Armed with great inspiration, I lost all energy and interest 🙂 But I came back to it this morning, so I’ll call that a win.

The poem

Portals to here

Doors block and stop
when closed and locked hold
secrets and mysteries, create
yearning and discomfort, force

vocal expression out of context
the imagination runs rabid,
but when the key is found
and the door creaks, cracked

upon its hinges, it becomes
but a frame, lines and angles
to accentuate or break
the nouns within

Portals are but separators,
organizations to define
yours from mine from ours,
space from time, earthly from divine

find the vibration to pass
through the membrane,
concentrate, believe, transform
pass through to here

How long will it take to
notice the subtle differences
What color is your portal now?
Is it the drab aloe vera of the desert house

where I shaved my head
for the first time, or is it marine
like the flap of my tent I call the hurricane
that accompanies me on all my travels

did you walk through the door
that glowed like a sunset behind
the intricate carving of the head of Medusa
that I continued to visit every day in Venice

or is your portal no color at all
a carved opening in a cliff dwelling
showing the complete eclipse
where you look down through infinity, trapped