Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grab Your Lab Coat! (Experiment #2 by Glam)

Last week's experiment was so much fun that I just have to do it again this week! I know many of you are writing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) so maybe you won't be interested in this experiment. But, it might just help you out, so perhaps experimenting will be great for you!

I went to a writer's retreat this past summer, and it was so much fun. Probably one of the funnest things we did was a writing exercise that really got me out of my shell. We were each given three words - a person, a place, and a thing. We were then given 20 minutes to create a story out of those three things.

I write really slow.

However, with this exercise my brain was on fire! I wrote 6oo+ words in 20 minutes. And I wrote something funny. I don't write funny. And I don't write fast. And how did I come up with a full-fledged story and character without any planning or outlining?

The answer's simple: I let go.

I'm telling you, if we just write with no ropes, no rules, nothing, our subconscious can do incredible things. Sometimes all that "garbage" you're spitting out for NaNo - what feels like garbage, is actually quite brilliant. Or it could be brilliant if you let it be brilliant. Maybe you just need a bit of practice with a very short prompt and a few minutes.

And for those of you who are thinking about entering the Genre Wars Contest we're holding until December 1st (or even if you've already entered and want to put in something else) this may be a fantastic way to get the start of something great! If you want to post your prompt anonymously, we're okay with that.


Here are your words. Time yourself for 20 minutes and just write. It goes by fast, I promise promise promise!

scuba diver, Swiss Alps, dandelions

(2) Copy and paste your finished (or unfinished if you ran out of time) prompt into the comments section to share. Feel free to just leave a comment if you really don't have the time to do this.

(3) Come back here after 7:00 EST. I will have posted below my thoughts on your prompts.

Here are the words I had for my prompt: sanitation worker, sea cave, telescope. And here's what I came up with:

The garbage man wasn’t really a garbage man. Well, he was, but he did more than that. Oh, he wore the blue overalls with the name “Stan” sewn onto the left breast. But his name wasn’t Stan, either. In fact, he did the opposite of garbage. He found treasures.
This particular morning Stan was running the G route up Madison Avenue. He looked at his watch and then glanced at his order sheet on the empty seat next to him. Angela. Hmm, that sounded promising. He shifted the truck into gear and headed up the road, his heart starting to beat faster and faster. Mondays were the easiest for some reason. That’s why he loved this route. Most of the single men he saw took their trash out early before work, still dressed in their boxer shorts or PJ’s. Stan always tried to find the ones who were at least decently dressed and clean.
It looked like Angela was looking for a tall one. And rich. Well, this was the neighborhood for rich. He drove past the exquisitely designed houses, maneuvering the mechanical arm of his truck with expert precision. He never dropped trash like the other guys. And he wasn’t even really a garbage man!
Finally. He spotted one. Stopping his truck, he leaned forward to look through the telescope attached to his dashboard. Perfect. He was even dressed in a suit. At least it wasn’t a neighborhood rich enough for most of the people to hire servants. At least these people had to take out their trash. Stan eyed the man with a careful gaze. He looked like he could belong to an Angela. Perfect. The man walked away from the trash can, brushed off his hands, and got into his BMW. Stan shifted his truck back into gear and followed him.
When he had first started this job he thought the men would think it odd that a garbage truck was following them. But they never paid attention too much. Stan at least expected this man to drive downtown. Instead, he took the Torrey exit and headed along the coast. Great. Stan kept his distance, wondering what on earth this guy was doing heading out to the middle of nowhere. He followed for miles and miles until finally the BMW stopped alongside the road and the man got out. He peeled off his suit jacket and threw it into the front seat, then slammed the door shut and stood staring at the ocean. Stan drove by and stopped a few miles up the road. He turned his truck around and peered through the telescope. Now the man was walking down the beach. What the hell? He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Maybe this guy wasn’t for Angela. Or maybe she really liked suit-wearing men who stopped by the beach before work. He watched in fascination until the man disappeared into a rocky crevice—what looked like a sea cave. Okay, that was it. Stan couldn’t take it anymore. He drove his truck up the road and parked half a mile behind the BMW, then jumped out and headed toward the cave.
The one thing that worried Stan most about his job was that he might get a bad egg. This one might be a bad egg. But that would be her decision. He groaned. He never knew how things turned out. He just handed over the information and told the client good luck. All they really needed was an address, a description, a list of habits, etc. But this was the strangest habit Stan had ever seen. As he approached the sea cave, he chewed on his bottom lip, wondering how he would explain his presence if this man suddenly saw him.
Then Stan saw her standing outside the cave—the last woman on earth he expected to see while he was working: his ex-wife, Jane, in blue garbage-man overalls with the name “Angela” sewn over her left breast.


I think the results are that people are busy. Probably with NaNo!

I really liked the stories Rick and Christina put in the comments section. Vastly different from each other, like I expected. And very creative. Thanks, you guys!

~MDA (aka Glam)


  1. We used to do this sort of exercise all the time in one of the groups I was in. I rarely ended up using what I wrote, but the execise was good for a couple of reasons for me...
    One, it did exactly what you said -it helped me let go and just write. No judging, no editing, just pure writing.
    Second, I loved hearing what everyone else wrote because usually we all went in completely different directions after being given the same prompt.
    Thanks for reminding me how fun these can be!

  2. Matt: You're welcome! Now take 20 minutes and show me what you wrote! Hehehe. If you can, I'd love to see what you come up with. These kind of experiments always help me see that I'm a writer with every ounce of my being.

  3. Understanding the changes to our earth over time can be a daunting task. Fossils of seashells found at the top of the Alps (I can’t recall if it was the Italian Alps or the Swiss Alps) have been used by some in the scientific community as evidence of plate tectonics and the massive span of geologic time, and by others in the theological community as evidence of the Great Flood.

    Frozen mammoths have been unearthed with dandelions in their mouths. Or maybe it was buttercups. Honestly, with only 20 minutes to write I can’t be distracted by fact-checking and research. Even more honestly, with 20 days to write those same obstacles are still readily avoided.

    The great unknowns of history have been used by many a writer as the premise for a story. What killed the dinosaurs? Who built the pyramids? Why does the Mayan calendar end in 2012? Who shot JR? The list goes on and on.

    So how did the seashells get to the top of the Alps? I support the plate tectonics theory.

    My second guess is that the crustaceans got really tired when flying because their shells are not hollow like the bones of birds and they stopped to rest and never got back up.

    What caused the tundras to flash-freeze with such suddenness that mammoths were killed mid-bite, without even the time to spit out the tasty morsels and say “WTF was that?” (spoken in mammoth language and not English, obviously).

    My first guess is the semi-distant impact of an asteroid or comet that clouded the upper atmosphere, blotting out the sun and causing temperatures to drop and winds to pick up. I’m not sure of the scientific validity of that hypothesis (see aversion to research, above). It’s just the first thing that popped into my mind.

    My second guess is that Walt Disney, famous for being suspected of cryogenically freezing himself, also created a time machine and went back in time and froze the mammoths with the plans to unfreeze them shortly after he himself was unfrozen so he could use them as attractions in his theme parks. He will be very disappointed when he does thaw out and found out that rogue scientists already thawed out his mammoths.

  4. Crap, I forgot the scuba diver. I used seashells instead.

  5. That is absolutely awesome. I love how much you put into something on the fly like that. Of course, the process you describe of just letting go is how I usually write anyway. Only recently have I begun any true planning. Nice post.

  6. Your story is very compelling, Michelle. I kept wanting to find out what was going on. I still remember doing this same exercise in the very first writing class I ever took. I don't remember all three words, but two of them were "drown" and "whale."

    Letting go is really important. Like Eric, I think I often write like that. If you get anything good, you have to be careful with the revisions to make sure you don't lose that spark that was there originally.

  7. Thanks, Davin. And thank you to those of you who have participated so far. I wasn't sure if this would be something anybody would do. Now I know. :)

    I'm glad it's been fun for a few of you!

  8. Eric, that's fantastic that you normally write in this fashion. Has planning and outlining helped you a lot do you think? Does it kill your creativity or feed it?

  9. Hey! I'm going to a writer's retreat this weekend. We'll have to try it!

  10. Time is a precious commodity, indeed. I didn't frame mine as a story because the words struck me in more of a historical / essay sense. The flow was much more in the voice of my blog then in the voice of my story-telling, very whimsical. The stream of my consciousness is an odd place ;-)

  11. Rick, I liked how whimsical it was. I sometimes wonder that if, when I write like this, I get some other voice going on than in my other slower-written work.

  12. Hey Glam. I couldn't get over here yesterday. Too busy with hospital stuff. I might try this experiment on the weekend. Sorry I missed it.

    Loved what you wrote. I am NOT good at writing on the fly. Especially when so much is going on around me. But I will try this experiment at home. Hmmm, I don't have a lab coat and goggles, and I'm sure I will need them. :)

  13. Robyn, yes, it can be a highly explosive experiment. I was so surprised when I did it because I'm not good at writing on the fly, either. This changed my mind. Good luck!

  14. I know I missed the deadline, but I thought it was a great exercise so I decided to do one late. (And I confess it took me about 25 minutes to finish it.)

    The nuns at Catholic school taught me God promised man He would never again destroy the earth with water. I wish those ruler-wielding bitches had lived long enough for me to rub their noses in how wrong they were.

    Here I was, one of the few left after the oceans rose and washed billions into a watery grave. And somehow I got roped into helping reclaim what was left of civilization. So I had to listen to some French pecker named Maurice lecture me like he was leading this operation.

    “In the mid-30s, after the waters started to rise, several governments worked together to try to preserve what they could. Part of that effort was the establishment of seed banks to house seeds from all the world’s plant species. There were seven spread throughout the globe: three in Asia, one on Mount Kilimanjaro, two in the Americas, and this one here in the Swiss Alps. The tunnels leading to it are underwater, so we’ll need a forty-minute dive to reach it.”

    “Whatever.” I reached for my tank, but Maurice blocked my path.

    “I’m watching you, Harrison. Markham told me about you.”

    “What’s that?”

    “That you’re a borderline trained killer.”

    “Nothing borderline about me but my patience for fools. Out of my way.”

    I grabbed by tank and mask and dove in. Let Maurice try to keep up.

    I passed miles of dark tunnels flanked by pipes and huge silent electromagnets. There were hastily erected guardposts along the way, but it was all as empty as a porno theater at nine am. As I finally reached the airlock, Maurice had caught up. We went in together; the rest of the team had to wait for the air to recycle.

    It was a vast cavern of cabinets and drawers built in to the walls. Maurice opened one of the first ones, No. 898, and pulled out a handful of wispy dots.

    “What the hell is that?” I said.


    “Why’d you pick that one? What about wheat or rice or something?”

    “Grains and trees aren’t here. This is the flower bank.”

    Someone must have known. Maybe it was Maurice, maybe it wasn’t. I pulled my Colt and double-capped him in the face.

    “I didn’t come here to steal flowers,” I said.

  15. Lady Glamis, Im pressed for time so I would be able to add a story, but I really like your entry. I like the end, very intriguing and makes the reader want more.

    Rick, you rock! Funny stuff. Nevermind the drivers.

  16. Jabez, thank you so much for your piece! I enjoyed it a lot. What a way to link everything together!

  17. Crimey, thank you! I know you're pressed for time, just as I am. I think the next two months are going to slow everyone way down in the blogosphere.

  18. Hey, I know I'm late but can I still play? (now with two word changes)

    The SCUBA diver threw up as the plane banked unexpectedly. It was, he insisted, that he hadn’t expected to see the Swiss Alps rise up like that, out the window. His seat mate didn’t care what the reason might have been; she wasn’t pleased at the prospect of smelling vomit for the next nine hours, and she knew that, no matter how quickly he had gotten his “seat reserved” bag into position, she wouldn’t be able to stop smelling that smell.

    He had boarded the plane late—so late that she’d thought she’d have the luxury of two seats to herself for the entire flight. Had she succeeded in hiding her disappointment, she wondered, and then wondered why it mattered. They didn’t know each other. They weren’t going to see each other after the flight ended. She wondered why she worried about such things, about the impression she made on transitory people, instead of her relationships with her family and friends.

    “Less real risk,” she decided, before settling in to watch the remake of “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” on the tiny video screen built into the seat in front of her.

    After technical difficulties had brought an unexpected, but not unwelcome, end to the video, she and the SCUBA diver had ended up talking. He liked to talk about himself which was restful. She had learned about the bends, about the best SCUBA destinations, about how “SCUBA” had originally been spelled with all-caps since it stood for “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus” and that some people, specifically her seatmate, felt that it was important to insist upon the all-caps still. She tried to nod at the right times. She tried to breathe through her mouth and not to think about throwing up.

    "Not much is happening," she considered when he had at last excused himself to use the bathroom in order to brush his teeth, so she reached under the seat and felt to make sure Chekov’s gun was still securely stowed.

    Some hours later the plane landed safely. Once away from the plane, away from the airport, away from the scuba diver, she breathed deeply and ran through a field filled with dandelions.

  19. Mary, that was lovely! Heheh! I love the whole capitalizing the SCUBA thing until the end. Brilliant. Thank you so much for playing!


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