This is the first of a series called Letters to an Author. What authors have influenced and inspired you? What did you like or dislike about them? How did they change how you perceive the world?
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Dear Michael Crichton,
For making sci-fi feel accessible, I thank you.
I have never considered myself “good at” science. It was always something reserved for the people I thought of as super-smart.
I just didn’t feel like I was good at science, and with you, I don’t have to be.
I know wires are important, but I didn’t need to know all about them to enjoy Terminal Man. I understand the concept of a camera and recognize the expertise involved in studying dinosaur bones, but I didn’t need to study those to enjoy Dragon Teeth.
Can you believe I haven’t read Jurassic Park? Don’t worry, it’s on my list – and I saw the movie!
There arre the authors we think are our favorite authors, then there are the ones we come back to again and again. It’s hard to pick a favorite sometimes. But I own more books by you than any other author. Mostly in paperback – except Pirate Latitudes in hardcover, which I loved by the way.
Thank you for making mystery fun and nerdiness magical. For making it an exploration and an adventure. For making me not only think but ponder. For helping me enjoy science.
There’s probably a huge line of people who want to meet you on the other side, and you know I’ll be in it.
Today’s post is inspired by the diyMFA writer igniter. I have used this tool a handful of times and want to start using it more to build my writing habit.
diyMFA offers tons of info on writing, reading, and building your community. You will love it!
Today I am sharing a short (very short) story I wrote based on the igniter prompts.
My process involves: 1. shuffling the igniter tool 2. spending a minute or two thinking of an idea I want to explore 3. writing for five minutes to help force some words on paper 4. cleaning up the story and adding more details
Check out the video below to see the igniter in action. (Goal for this year: laptop upgrade. What are some good laptops for writers??)
I am starting simple with this practice. You can adjust it to your level – maybe you want to write for 15 minutes straight, or even longer!
After you are done writing, you can critique your own pieces to see what worked well and what didn’t, and also ask a trusted friend (note: this is the community part of the process) what their critiques are. I have put my own critiques below the story.
As I am about to start spring semester of graduate school, I will not be doing this particular exercise every day. Eventually, I do want to do a one-week challenge where I write a mini-story every day for seven days. Perhaps at the mid-semester break!
And remember, the igniter prompts are just that – prompts. If you are inspired to go a different direction once you start writing, who’s stopping you? The prompt police? It’s not a requirement.
One caveat is this: Doing an exercise that includes sticking to the actual prompts can help you branch out your knowledge base. For example, one time I had a prompt about a water polo referee.
My knowledge of water polo is pretty limited; luckily, the situation was that they were running into an ex in a quaint European village. I made the story about how a female referee was facing backlash for a questionable call, which she firmly believes she was in the right for. However, the foul she called was against her secret ex-lover. Fast forward to Europe, and she’s going to run into him at a women’s water polo tournament.
I actually want to explore that story more because I had fun with it. And that’s the goal! Having fun and building ourselves 🙂
Without further ado, on to today’s prompt!
The Masked Magician
This was shaping up to be the strangest party Isaac had ever been asked to work at.
Where even are we? he thought as the black sedan rolled into the “parking lot” – not so much a lot as it was a crunchy, rocky area where trucks and old cars were sitting.
“Boss, are you sure about this?” Isaac said to Bill, who was in the driver’s seat. Bill was a man of great repute; he had been a magician for decades and knew all the best spots.
This barn in the middle of nowhere – that looked like it could keel over at any time – was decidedly not the best spot.
“Of course,” Bill said, but Isaac noticed a drop of sweat on Bill’s upper lip and the way Bill’s hands clenched and unclenched the steering while, knuckles white. Bill unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of the car and headed to the trunk of the car. “Props won’t unpack themselves, Isaac.”
Isaac nodded, even though he realized Bill couldn’t see him anymore. He sat in the car a minute longer and looked around.
Isaac had grown up in the city. He wasn’t used to the country life. He was fairly certain he had never even seen a real barn before. Maybe the fake one they put up for the Harvest Festival which was really just an excuse for people to party and drink, and he could perform his tricks and make a few bucks and no one would be any the wiser. He sighed and got out of the car.
“Hey, is this your mask?” Bill called.
“What?” Isaac asked as he came around the back of the car.
Isaac didn’t have time to look at whatever it was Bill was holding. Suddenly, a gunshot blasted from nowhere. Isaac dived for the ground. Bill lurched forward into the trunk. Time froze. Isaac heard distant laughter. If it was possible, Isaac also froze even more.
Who is shooting at us? Isaac thought frantically.
That’s when he noticed it: the mask.
Bill must have dropped it and it fell to the ground. Something about the mask pulled Isaac in. He seemed to forget all about the gunshot and Bill’s dead body above him.
Isaac gingerly reached out to pick up the mask. It was white, perfectly white, on one side. The other side was black, and made him think of charcoal and night. The mask was light in his hands and pliable. He realized this mask was reversible.
Isaac was trying to decide which side to wear when a voiced hollered, “You boy! Are you coming to do the show, or what?”
Isaac looked towards the voice and saw an old man in overalls. As Isaac remembered where he was and what he was doing there, the severity of what had just happened hit him.
“I can’t. I have to take care of my friend.” It would occur to Isaac later that he didn’t ask for medical help.
“Bill, he was just –“ Isaac turned back to the trunk of the car “-shot.” He grew angry as he faced the man again. “Where is he? What did you do with his body?”
Isaac’s heart raced. He squeezed his eyes, closed tight. Am I dreaming? Please let this be a dream.
“Best come inside before yer supper gets cold. Come on now.”
“I think I should go back.”
“How? You gonna walk 200 miles?”
Jesus had we really driven 200 miles to get to this dump?
“I’m leaving!” Isaac shouted. He turned to get the keys from Bill.
Crap, that’s right. Bill was gone.
And now the car was gone, too.
What the hell is going on? Isaac felt like he could have a breakdown any moment. Why were they playing games with him?
“Son, I don’t like havin’ to ask the same thing so many times,” the man said. He had come up next to Isaac and put his hand gently on Isaac’s shoulder. “Please come inside.”
The way the man said “please” struck Isaac as somehow endearing and threatening. Isaac looked down at the mask in his hands. A surge of anger and confusion went through him.
Isaac turned to follow the man into the barn. On the way, Isaac tried to decide what to do about Bill, their car, these weirdos in the middle of nowhere.
Isaac stopped on the outside of the big barn door and fiddled with his mask. He decided to wear the black side facing out – it seemed a little more mysterious.
Isaac vowed to seek vengeance as soon as he figured out what was going on.
Mask firmly in place, Isaac walked inside the barn.
Critiques: I like a good cliffhanger, so ending on this note felt natural to me. In a second draft, I would add more detail to the setting. What I wrote didn’t adequately explain what I was picturing in my head. Future me would also ask a friend for input. Someone with an outside perspective will have questions that you can answer in your writing; this will help the audience understand your vision. I picture the above scenario as the beginning of a story that would hopefully entice readers to continue reading and learn what happens next and what happened to Bill and the car. Also, oftentimes I like to read aloud what I wrote. This allows you to hear dialogue and now if it sounds natural or not.
Writing prompts can also be catalysts for bigger stories. Explore and enjoy the journey wherever it leads you!
I can’t wait to see what you create! Happy writing, friends!