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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Story Behind "Headin' for a Breakdown"

This story came as part of a prompt that was given in my final Fiction Workshop class at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. The idea was to give us restrictions to help release creativity. The results were interesting. While many of us had similar concepts, there were many others who came up with stories that were fairly different in structure. Even among those of us with similar concepts, the outcomes often turned out to be vastly different.

I want to give you the full details of the prompt, but first I want to point out the character of Daryl McGrady. In the story he shows up to help Crystal and Elias. This character was purposely meant to evoke the character of Elroy McGrady from “Elroy McGrady’s Blues”. This takes place a few decades after “Blues”, and therefore Daryl is meant to be a nephew or grand-nephew of Elroy (Elroy has no children).

Following you’ll find the prompt that was used to create “Headin’ for a Breakdown” (the title, like many of my titles, comes from a song; lyrics in the song “Breakdown” by Relient K). Hopefully, some of my fellow writers will find this prompt helpful, and should you choose to use it I’d be interested to see what you come up with!

Car Broke Down Story

As an experiment, you’re all going to write a story of about 10 pages using the same basic ingredients and procedures. Bring in two completed copies, proofread, double-spaced, pages numbered, etc., to class next week, on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Characters: A & B, a couple. A third character, C, must enter before the end of the story.
Initial Setting: Side of the road, inside or outside the car.
Inciting Incident/Complication: Car has broken down.
Background circumstance, surface: Driving to A’s parents’ place for a family gathering.
Background circumstance, sub-surface: B is contemplating breaking up with A, but is genuinely unsure whether that’s the right choice. A may or may not know this; it’s up to you.
Other Problems: Feel free to add other surface and sub-surface problems, just don’t overload.
Surface goal: Get to the family gathering, 30 miles away. They will not get there by story’s end.
Sub-surface goal: ? Up to you.

POV: Use 3rd Person Objective/Dramatic (like a movie camera, this POV can record any physical observations and facts, but can’t go inside any character’s head or heart). It is OK to tell objective facts like, “She was starting her senior year and would be the first person in her family to graduate from college.” I will allow you up to 3 sentences that reveal a character’s thoughts/feelings, if you must. But ideally you’ll be able to reveal thoughts and feelings through dialogue, gesture, tone, etc.
Be real. For the rest of the semester you may do as you wish, but for this story, keep it realistic.
Love your characters. Do them the honor of taking their strengths and weaknesses seriously and of working hard to capture their complexities.
No Death or Major Bodily Injury.

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