I went to a Chinese festival this week because I’ve never been to one. It wasn’t big, but it was inspiring.
Not inspiring in the I-want-to-learn-the-dragon-dance kinda way, but in the story fodder way.
- I saw a man with eyebrows long and pointy enough to form scale-model curling Maui waves over each eye to the point that his vision was partly obscured.
- I met several women who were visibly shocked to have a door opened for them.
- Among the traditional dancing, singing, tai chi, and guzheng demonstrations, I witnessed an excellent Mexican dancing troupe.
A step (which here means: an hour-and-a-half drive) out of my normal routine led me to think about characterization and story. First, physical traits should be unique. Second, people will react when their ingrained expectations are challenged in even the smallest of ways. And third, sometimes random, cool things happen that enhance the experience. Here, the juxtaposition of the Machete dance with stomping, whooping, and rhythmic clanging machetes highlighted the nearly silent Chinese dancing. What seemed kinda out-of-place, made the overall presentation more powerful.
Step out of your routine this week, writing friends. Notice new things and use them for inspiration.
This photo by Mo Gelber was a finalist in a contest sponsored by Ron Howard. The winner wins a movie based on the photo. Unfortunately, Gelber announced on facebook an hour ago that his photo was not chosen.
But, wow! What a cool idea to base a whole movie on one instant caught in a snapshot.
When I was an editor on my college newspaper, we did a similar ritual for the April Fools’ edition. Chuck, the photo editor, had access to all photos that had ever appeared in the newspaper. Note: this was in the days of film photography. Chuck dropped a stack of black and white 8x10s on a table, and we spent an hour or so sorting through them to find inspiration for fake news stories. (We only did that for the April Fools’ edition, I swear.) I chose a close-up photo of a line of policemen in full riot gear and wrote a little article about how the university had hired tuition cops to torture students into paying their debts.
Flashing forward many years, writing about photos is still a powerful way to unlock a story. In my high school literature class, I show photos from the news as the starting point for discussion as well as grammar and writing assignments. As a writer, I take a ridiculous amount of photos, sometimes of the most mundane things, in order to get a mood right for a future story. If I don’t have a camera with me, I pull a Cam Jansen and record it the best I can in my head and write it down later. That brief moment can be the spark that any writer needs to creating a masterpiece.
Mo, your photo is amazing. Thanks for being an inspiration.
More awesome cures for writer’s block. Poetry, short story ideas, prompts, writing games.
Very cool site.
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True stories told in one sentence.