Story Forge Plot Card Update: The Menage A Trois Plot

For those of you who bought the Story Forge cards (and for why you should, if you haven’t already, here’s my review of them and a sample spread), creator BJ West has released a new spread: the menage a trois. (Spread… probably not the best word to use in this particular situation, although I find “layout” and “grouping” almost as problematic.)

Menage a Trois Spread

Once you have all of that established–plus the backstory that leads up to it–you’re going to have a major chunk of your novel done. If you use one of the other plot spreads to create a story plot that’s going along while this love triangle is working itself out, you will have enough to make an entire novel–maybe more than one, depending on the pacing.


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.

Let’s Play with Plot Cards

These are now available for purchase. Click picture for link.

This morning, I laid out a basic story spread with the Story Forge plot cards. I thought I would share it as a writing exercise.

I would really love to see all the variations people come up with, so I encourage everyone to write the story, post it online somewhere, and share a link to it in the comments. If your story is flash fiction (1,000 words or less), you can share it directly in the comments, or you can share your first page.  (Yes, I’ll do up a story and share it, too!)

This is from the “Once Upon a Time” spread, which is short and fairly basic. You could get a rough outline for an entire novel from this, but it really seems best for short stories/novellas.

The Protagonist: A doctor or healer.

The Current Situation: Catastrophic physical disaster for individual, community, or humanity.

What Makes the Situation Unstable: Red tape

What Prevents the Protagonist’s Involvement: Lust

What Overcomes the Resistance: Epiphany (In an overwhelming instant, the true nature of the universe and one’s place in it is revealed.)

What Pushes the Protagonist into Action: The Officer (A career soldier with many years of training, combat experience, and a life in the military.)

Direction the Protagonist is Pushed: Courage (Emotional fortitude is found. Even in the face of impending doom, the will to go on is within reach.)

Goal: Solitude (The goal must be pursued alone. Either assistance is not available or it must be refused.)

Four of the eight cards were destiny cards which “represent the big issues in one’s live, those events that strike like lightning and leave everything completely changed forever.” So this catastrophic disaster is going to cause a major life change for our protagonist.

I debated whether or not to leave “solitude” as the goal card, because that’s not exactly a resolution, is it? But I decided that I liked it because it leaves the end more flexible. Does the hero conquer the disaster? Succumb to it? (Death is the ultimate solitude!) Or is he going to have to fight the good fight for the rest of his life? Solitude also implies that he loses his lust-mate, but it can also mean that he loses his officer mentor/partner/friend. Or it might mean that he is the sole survivor or has to shut himself off from others in order to work on a solution. (Think I Am Legend.)

There is nothing that says you have to adhere to the entire spread. For instance, “red tape” might be something that you don’t bother to represent (especially if you’re wanting a fairly short story), or it might appear towards the end of the story rather than at the beginning. The point of the cards is to give you an idea for a story, not write the entire story for you. So use them as a jumping-off point and feel free to deviate where necessary.

I will try to have a rough draft (or at least a start) by next week. So we’ll revisit this next Thursday and see what we come up with. Writers, start your computers!

Getting and Giving Reviews

I got a review for my contemporary romance, The Widow:

what a wonderful story! i’m not normally into contemporary stories or “internal” stories (ones that deal with emotions and thoughts). i blush to admit that if something’s not exploding every five minutes or if there’s no dragons/spaceships/time travel/etc, i just can’t hold my focus.

but this story kept my attention through to the end.

one quibble: normally i truly appreciate things to be kept down to the need-to-know. by that, i mean i get impatient with the type of writing that goes on and on and ON and after fifteen minutes’ reading, the character has managed to get in the door and take off his coat. in the case of The Widow, however, it’s a bit *too* spare. i can see her as the 1920s model – but only as a faceless mannequin. same with the other characters – i cannot visualize them. not sure what’s missing, but something is.

the other thing is that the last bit, describing how his art finally takes off, is rushed. there was no hint that their relationship was evolving – i’d gotten the impression they’d parted ways. perhaps a mention of, for example, “she clapped wildly as he was presented with [something or other]” or “after yet another wildly successful gallery show, they collapsed onto yet another hotel bed” or whatever.

i think otherwise it was wonderfully done – the line about being stuck in a moment is fantastic and really encapsulates the book, like she’s trapped in a bubble that finally goes “pop!”

I’m really pleased, because I must confess that no one read this story before I published it. Normally I consider that a cardinal sin, but I don’t actually know a lot of people (none, really) who like contemporary romance. In fact, I never read contemporary romance and this is the first such story I’ve ever written.

Then why did I write it? Because it was there. I used my tarot-plot cards, laid out a plot, and instantly came up with the story. So, given that it was all a big experiment–from using the tarot-plot cards for the first time, to writing contemporary romance, to publishing something without first getting feedback off the record–I’m pleased that it did so well.

The reviewer makes some valid points–and I may redo the ending (ah, the benefits of an e-book!)–but overall, it seems to be a win. (And if Ms. Hare is reading this, be sure to get my debut novel, Acceptance, which is coming out in October; there are vampires and a very large body count. I think you’ll get your fill of action.)

The more I read about marketing, the more conscious I am of providing reviews/feedback when I read, because that’s so important both to help the author sell a book and–when the book sucks–to help them improve it and/or the next one.

But question for the other author/reviewers out there: I know people can feel guilty about giving a bad review to something you’ve been asked to review (been there, done that), but do you ever feel paranoid that an angry author will come back and give you a bad review just out of revenge? Is it something that makes you hesitate to leave a review? Do you hold back comments that you wouldn’t hold back if you were just a reader (and not also a writer)?