Category Archives: Writing

Mental Illness as a Plot Device and Other Bad Ideas

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Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

My forehead throbbed. It felt like it had taken on weight, like I’d played a Klingon on an episode of Star Trek and fell asleep with the prosthetics on. My teeth had gone out of alignment. My bite was crooked. My jaw had shift to the left. It wouldn’t go back. It had locked itself into place.

My eyes wouldn’t focus. The lenses refused to align. The depth of field shift from the railings in the foreground to the light in the background. The bulb was too bright, especially when my vision split it into two. The room spun.

I tried to look down, but my head refused to take the command. My neck had gone stiff. I was in a robot’s stranglehold. Its metal fingers ran from my chin to my collar. Its claws dug deep into my deltoids. It pinched my nerves. The pain wrapped around my back. It pressed my shoulders against a harsh cold surface.

The room smelt of chlorine, of summers spent at the YMCA. I expected to see water reflected on the ceiling. I couldn’t help but wonder, what kind of pool kept the temperature this low?

Goose bumps ran down my arms. My feet recoiled beneath a blanket that was too short and too thin to do any good. A breeze ran up my thighs. It occurred to me that I wasn’t wearing any pants.

I raised my hands. My palms were scraped. My knuckles were black.

There was a bracelet where my watch should have been. Something like a sundial jut out from my inner elbow. It cast a shadow that seemed confused about its light source. Its silhouette shift back and forth. It pulsed with the throbbing in my forehead.

My mind had all the pieces it needed to put the setting together, but it couldn’t. Continue reading Mental Illness as a Plot Device and Other Bad Ideas

Kill Your Tropes: Give Them a Goal

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

“Every character should want something. Even if it is only a glass of water.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

The castle looms on the horizon. Its shadow stretches across the kingdom, a beast with many heads, each poised to devour the villagers below. Its walls are aglow with an aura of amber. They lose their definition, as the sun dips behind the mountains. The spires disappear into the dusk. They join the stars, as the guards ignite their lamps.

Down below, the embers flare. The tavern owners light their lanterns. Revelers spark bonfires. Lighthouse keepers throw kindling into their furnace. They aim their mirror out over the harbor.

Still, no light in all the land can compare to the one that shines from the bell tower. The windows are lined with candles, a rainbow of wax that bleeds over the sides.

Villagers try to make out a silhouette, but all they see are the flames dancing across the giant bell, a blinding reflection, a second sun.

Lords and ladies gather around the fountain. They exchange crude telescopes. Some claim to see movement. Others say it’s a trick of the light, shadows at play.

The town crier announces, “Our grand tower has been topped with yet another ornament tonight.”

Offenders try to follow the plot from their place in the stocks. They shake the tomatoes from their ears. Peasants whisper of “The King’s trophy,” as they go to find a better view from the gallows.

The moon rises above the tower, a halo of white light. It reveals the gargoyles perched among the shingles. It brings clarity to their horns, to the curve of their wings, but not to the figure inside. Continue reading Kill Your Tropes: Give Them a Goal

The Memory Palace Mystery

An author tries to solve a mystery from inside the pitch of his own story.

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My story’s pitch starts in the parking lot. The lot is empty apart from a lone convertible, a rusty old stepladder, and a thick layer of slush from last night’s snow.

The convertible is a classic, fully restored to its original mint green. Too bad someone thought to wheel it out in this nasty weather. The fenders are caked with black slush. There’s an awful mess in the interior. The windshield does little to hide the line of cocaine on the dashboard. There’s nothing but powder from the wheel to the glovebox. It looks like last night’s blizzard happened on the upholstery. A log sits on the passenger seat, too small for a support beam, too large for kindling. It leans forward. Its bark is nose deep in the fresh fallen blow.

I pace around the vehicle and wonder why the log was staged to look like it overdosed. This is the weirdest damn crime scene that I’ve ever seen. What business does a log have with such an epic line? Then it occurs to me. This is a terrible pun. It’s a “log-line.” Every pitch has got one.

A logline is the main idea sentence of a story’s pitch. It’s the bait that get’s the audience on the hook. I must have staged this mobile drug den to remind myself to lead with my logline. Continue reading The Memory Palace Mystery