Cheat Sheet

On January 1st I wrote “A New Year’s Challenge.” Let’s not make this more difficult than it is. Recall, the challenge isn’t to write a story every day, but a snippet every day (of course, you can do more).

When I think of story I typically think fiction with its standard three divisions: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Further, a fictional story will contain five basic elements: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution.

As for snippet, recall it’s simply a small part or piece of a story. For our purposes, it can be most anything. To name just a few: a snippet could be a sentence or two, even a paragraph, about a particular character, a certain setting or part thereof, something about an event, or a snapshot of conflict, such as an argument between two characters or a struggle between a character and a raging sea. Finally, it could be dialog that takes place during the story’s climax.

If you need a little nudge in writing a snippet, look at a newspaper or two (this is why I titled this post, Cheat Sheet). Granted, ‘story’ isn’t limited to fiction. We tell stories all the time that are true. For example, I’ve recently written two non-fiction stories: “The 2022 Orange Bowl,” and “A Plumbing Adventure.” Both are based on my own personal experiences.

Back to using newspapers. Start with a non-fiction story or two and use parts of both and fictionalize them. Of course, you don’t have to use two stories, you can fictionalize one of them.

Here’s two headlines I read earlier today: “New year, new babies,” and “Tragedy strikes twice.” I picked these at random and couldn’t help but notice that the first one reveals a happy, joyous occasion. The latter, is a heartbreakingly sad story of parents losing both sons to auto accidents in eight months.

When I say fictionalize, I obviously intend to change names and any fact (s) that would prevent someone from thinking I was writing about what actually happened to the people in the original newspaper accounts. Of course, you can do this but it comes with risks that I won’t address here.

My idea of combining the above two headlines into a fictionalized story is rooted in what a grandfather said of his newborn granddaughter. “She a gift from God.” My thinking is I could write a snippet, say of a grandfather at a funeral of his fifteen year old granddaughter who was killed in boating accident. As a song (name the song) is sung he thinks back to her birth and how he claimed she was a gift from God. He now, sadly, he questions himself. We obviously could go on from here.

Again, the purpose of this is to find a seed for a snippet (of course, seeds can grow into full blown stories). It’s simply a brainstorming exercise to get us writing. Again, for our challenge purposes, to write a snippet everyday during 2023.

I’ll close with a couple of snippets, one Lydia Davis’, and the other mine own. By the way, I’ve recently discovered Ms. Davis and her writing, a lot of which are mere snippets.

Here’s one titled, Ödön von Horváth Out Walking, from her book, Can’t and Won’t:

“Ödön von Horváth was once walking in the Bavarian Alps when he discovered, at some distance from the path, the skeleton of a man. The man had evidently been a hiker, since he was still wearing a knapsack. Von Horváth opened the knapsack, which looked almost as good as new. In it, he found a sweater and other clothing; a small bag of what had once been food; a diary; and a picture postcard of the Bavarian Alps, ready to send, that read, ‘Having a wonderful time.'”

Here’s mine. It’s actually a longer snippet but it meets our definition of being a small part or piece of the whole:

The afternoon had been a week long. So it seemed to Millie as she tossed her purse and computer bag into the back seat of the twenty-year old Sentra. The going away party was the only thing that had made today tolerable. Actually, it wasn’t a party at all, just a holdover gathering in the conference room after the weekly case review meeting. After the others left, Matt and Catherine had huddled around, wishing her the best. These two were the only ones at work who knew she was leaving. Both had been so nice, so sympathetic. Matt had even slipped her five hundred dollars in cash, and whispered, “I hate losing the best paralegal I’ve ever had, but know your secret is safe with me. Forever.”

Now, it’s your turn.

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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