Playing with Plot Cards: Show and Tell

Last week I did a plot card spread and offered it up to everyone to see what we could come up with.

I didn’t finish my story because 1) I’m working on that whole book launch thing, and 2) I don’t do short short stories. It takes me several pages just to get warmed up and ready to tackle something important. (Which is why my short stories are always borderline novellas.)

But, I did get a start on it and it does have potential. I stepped out of my comfort zone by setting it someplace I’ve never been: Alaska. I had to spend an hour or so looking up facts and pictures and YouTube videos on Barrow, Alaska.

Doctor George Daglish locked up his clinic for the evening, lit a cigarette, and started his walk home—the gravel and dirt road crunching under his feet. It was a positively mild summer evening in Barrow. The wind off the ocean was soft and almost warm. It must have been close to fifty degrees out. He didn’t even need to button up his wool summer coat.

Doctor George—as all the natives called him—lived a quarter mile from his clinic. It could be an almost pleasant walk in July, but when a blizzard was raging he might as well have tried walking to New York.

When the clinic was closed, desperate people sometimes showed up on snowmobile or dog sled at his front door. He delivered his neighbors’ third child in his living room floor, but in most cases, he bundled up and let whomever—the police officer, worried father, anxious brother or friend—take him where he was needed. They had a proper hospital in town, but when the weather was really bad, there wasn’t any way to get someone who was very sick or hurt to the hospital. So he made a house call and stayed with the person and did what he could until conditions improved enough to get better care. He was on a first-name basis with the Coast Guard and Medivac helicopter crews that covered their portion of Alaska. They were the only way to get serious cases to Fairbanks or Anchorage; there weren’t any roads out of Barrow.

After two full years in Barrow, George hadn’t decided if he hated winter or summer more. He hated the cold and perpetual darkness in the winter, but he also hated it when the snow melted. Barrow was quite ugly in the summer. There wasn’t a strip of pavement anywhere; the roads and parking lots were a gritty—almost sandy—sort of dirt mixed with rocks. The dirt got all over everything, leaving a thick coat of dust on the drab houses and beat-up old cars and trucks. At least in the winter the snow was white and clean, and for as long as the sunlight lasted, everything looked pretty. And he had to admit that he liked the Northern Lights. It was quite amazing—and a little eerie—when the snow glowed green and purple under them.

So, all in all, he probably preferred winter. Although he really hated it when it got so cold piss froze before it hit the ground. Shattering piss was a rather amusing novelty right up until the point your dick got frostbite.

A small bus came barreling up the road, and before he could get out of the way, it went past and sprayed him with a coating of dirt. He had to turn and duck to avoid the rocks.

“Goddamnit, Charles!” he yelled. But the bus was already gone. No doubt some laughing tourist had gotten a nice picture of him as they went past.

Grumbling under his breath, he stomped the rest of the way to his house. Yes, he definitely disliked summer the most.

“That you, George?” Darla called out as he came into the house.

“Who else would it be?” he said irritably, tossing his cigarette butt in the pot just inside the front door. It was lucky it was a big pot; it had two year’s worth of ashes and butts in it. In the winter, George spent a lot of time standing at the door and looking out—evaluating the weather—and trying to decide if he was going to work or not.

“God, around here you just don’t know, do you?” Darla came into the kitchen rubbing her wet hair with a towel. She was wearing a lavender bra and matching panties. “Oliver came by a little while ago—just opened the door and came on in. Didn’t knock or anything.’

“What’d he want?” George asked, completely undisturbed by the news of home invasion.

Darla gestured to the refrigerator. “He brought you some caribou.”

George looked a little more animated. “Excellent.”

He and Oliver had an unofficial arrangement: Oliver brought him caribou, and George gave him a discount on his visits. Oliver had congestive heart failure, so he had to check in regularly. But caribou meat got hard to find in the summer as the previous fall’s stores dwindled. George hadn’t expected to get any more for another month. He suspected Oliver had hoarded some just for him.

George draped his dirty overcoat over the back of a kitchen chair and began working on dinner. Darla was a vegetarian and refused to even touch meat, so they usually cooked separate meals.

“How was your day?” he asked, as he examined his meat selection: one pound of hamburger and two big steaks. It wasn’t much meat, but more than he would have expected to get so late in the summer. He was really glad he didn’t have to share it with Darla.

“Fine,” she said from the bedroom. “I slept in this morning, then did some sketching. I’m going over to Patty’s this evening to do some work. So you’re on your own tonight.”

“Oh, alright.” A summer evening alone at home? That called for a grilled steak, a beer, and an evening in front of the TV in his underwear watching baseball.

“How was your day?”

“Meh. Sniffling kids and cirrhosis of the liver.” He slammed the fridge door shut. “Everybody’s got goddamned cirrhosis of the liver. Alcoholics everyone of them. Not a decent liver in the entire North Slope.”

“That’s rich coming from you, Mr. Emphysema,” Darla retorted. “I’d like to see the state of your lungs.”

“Smoking keeps me warm in the winter.”

“Drinking probably keeps them warm, too.”

George made a face, but didn’t reply.

“Honestly, I’d probably drink if I had to live here through the winter,” she continued. “It’s got to be horribly depressing to not see the sun for two months.”

It’s pretty surreal,” he admitted. “After a while, you forget what time it is; you can’t tell midnight from noon. And all the days blend together until you don’t know the day of the week, either.”

Darla was an Oregon artist, and she had come to Barrow the previous summer to study the indigenous art. She had made some good contacts in the Inupiat community—not to mention hooking up with George—and she decided to continue her study under a couple of specific artists. But she had refused to stay the winter.

“I couldn’t live like that,” she continued. “I’d be all out of sorts.”

This is a little slow to start for me; there’s a lot of description. I will probably go back to the beginning and cut out some of the description and move it down into the story so that I don’t have so much right at the start. But I do like George already. He’s sort of an anti-hero, which is departure from my other characters, who are good people from the outset.

This is Maddie Cochere’s story from the exact same plot spread. Feel free to share a link to yours or paste the first page in the comments.

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2 comments on “Playing with Plot Cards: Show and Tell

  1. Wallace says:

    I had meant to play along with this and write a short story using your Story Forge Cards story outline, but the short story I’m working on decided that it wanted to be more of a novella and it’s already well over normal short story size and still growing. I like the idea of Plot Cards, and I’ve even used the Deal-A-Plot cards from 1936 to set up my first two short stories I put on my blog.

    I take it from your comments that you couldn’t restrain yourself to just a short story from the cards and have decided to go with more of a novella, or maybe even another novel. You could still go with a short story for your story, tho. You’ve only written about a thousand words and a good short story is pretty much anything under 10,000 words. That would still give you 9k words to clear up all your plot points. But, from reading your first part, I have no idea where you’re going with the story.

    Alaska’s a pretty strange place for a gal from Tennessee to place a story if you haven’t been there. Of course, for nearly all the stories I write, I’ve never been there either, but they usually contain something I know a lot about. The first one being about archaeology and the second one being about mythology, which ties right in to my second degree in anthropology. The third story I’m writing now is about architecture, my main undergraduate field of study.

    Do you have any idea where your story is going and how long it will be? If I recall correctly, your last short story attempt resulted in the novella The Widow and that was a touch over 15k words.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I don’t know exactly where it’s going, but I think it will involve a flu epidemic. Certainly it will require the good doctor to get off his ass and start doing some hard work.

      My original idea was for the doctor to be on an Indian reservation somewhere out west–I wanted him in a rural, isolated place and outside the existing community. While looking up tribal areas, I noticed Barrow, Alaska. It’s such a strange, wild place, I thought it would make an interesting setting.

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