1. sarkans
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    sarkans New Member

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    Stephen King's prompt

    Discussion in 'Writing Prompts' started by sarkans, Apr 18, 2014.

    I'm reading King's book On Writing and he gives one (and only one) prompt.
    Just so you know what ''fossil'' he's talking about - he compares plot to a fossil, which the writer must uncover piece by piece, while writing. Ok, here's King's prompt:

    [..] I am going to show you the location of a fossil. Your job is to write five or six pages of unplotted narration concerning this fossil. Put another way, I want you to dig for the bones and see what they look like. I think you may be quite surprised and delighted with the results. Ready? Here we go.
    Everyone is familiar with the basic details of the following story; with small variations, it seems to pop up in the Police Beat section of metropolitan daily papers every other week or so. A woman—call her Jane—marries a man who is bright, witty, and pulsing with sexual magnetism. We’ll call the guy Dick; it’s the world’s most Freudian name. Unfortunately, Dick has a dark side. He’s short-tempered, a control freak, perhaps even (you’ll find this out as he speaks and acts) a paranoid. Jane tries mightily to overlook Dick’s faults and make the marriage work (why she tries so hard is something you will also find out; she will come onstage and tell you). They have a child, and for awhile things seem better. Then, when the little girl is three or so, the abuse and the jealous tirades begin again. The abuse is verbal at first, then physical. Dick is convinced that Jane is sleeping with someone, perhaps someone from her job. Is it someone specific? I don’t know and don’t care. Eventually Dick may tell you who he suspects. If he does, we’ll both know, won’t we?
    At last poor Jane can’t take it anymore. She divorces the schmuck and gets custody of their daughter, Little Nell. Dick begins to stalk her. Jane responds by getting a restraining order, a document about as useful as a parasol in a hurricane, as many abused women will tell you. Finally, after an incident which you will write in vivid and scary detail—a public beating, perhaps—Richard the Schmuck is arrested and jailed. All of this is back story. How you work it in—and how much of it you work in—is up to you. In any case, it’s not the situation. What follows is the situation.
    One day shortly after Dick’s incarceration in the city jail, Jane picks up Little Nell at the daycare center and ferries her to a friend’s house for a birthday party. Jane then takes herself home, looking forward to two or three hours’ unaccustomed peace and quiet. Perhaps, she thinks, I’ll take a nap. It’s a house she’s going to, even though she’s a young working woman—the situation sort of demands it. How she came by this house and why she has the afternoon off are things the story will tell you and which will look neatly plotted if you come up with good reasons (perhaps the house belongs to her parents; perhaps she’s house-sitting; perhaps another thing entirely).
    Something pings at her, just below the level of consciousness, as she lets herself in, something that makes her uneasy. She can’t isolate it and tells herself it’s just nerves, a little fallout from her five years of hell with Mr. Congeniality. What else could it be? Dick is under lock and key, after all.
    Before taking her nap, Jane decides to have a cup of herbal tea and watch the news. (Can you use that pot of boiling water on the stove later on? Perhaps, perhaps.) The lead item on Action News at Three is a shocker: that morning, three men escaped from the city jail, killing a guard in the process. Two of the three bad guys were recaptured almost at once, but the third is still at large. None of the prisoners are identified by name (not in this newscast, at least), but Jane, sitting in her empty house (which you will now have plausibly explained), knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of them was Dick. She knows because she has finally identified that ping of unease she felt in the foyer. It was the smell, faint and fading, of Vitalis hair-tonic. Dick’s hair-tonic. Jane sits in her chair, her muscles lax with fright, unable to get up. And as she hears Dick’s footfalls begin to descend the stairs, she thinks: Only Dick would make sure he had hair-tonic, even in jail. She must get up, must run, but she can’t move . . .
    It’s a pretty good story, yes? I think so, but not exactly unique. As I’ve already pointed out, ESTRANGED HUBBY BEATS UP (or MURDERS) EX-WIFE makes the paper every other week, sad but true. What I want you to do in this exercise is change the sexes of the antagonist and protagonist before beginning to work out the situation in your narrative—make the ex-wife the stalker, in other words (perhaps it’s a mental institution she’s escaped from instead of the city jail), the husband the victim.
    Narrate this without plotting—let the situation and that one unexpected inversion carry you along. I predict you will succeed swimmingly . . . if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave.
     
  2. Fabulous Jewels
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    Fabulous Jewels New Member

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    Oh, come now. No replies? None? Okay, I'll bite. After all, On Writing taught me everything I know as a writer. And I do love King. To me, he is the undisputed master of fiction, better than any and every other writer out there. But that's just my opinion, and it's a professional one. I don't know him personally and I missed my chance to meet him when he came to my city on his recent book tour. I must say that I do regret having missed that opportunity, but, whatever. Anyway, this is my first post here and hopefully I’ll be able to stick around for a while and get to know you all. Okay, so, here goes; let's do this.

    Dick stared at the TV, tendrils of fear creeping down his spine as he watched the blonde reporter who was standing outside the Cliff Falls County Jail. "Officials say that three women escaped from the county jail earlier this afternoon. Two of the three have been apprehended, but one inmate whose identity has not yet been revealed, is still at large," the woman said. Jane, Dick thought, his legs turning to Jell-O as he remembered her last words to him before she'd been led away in handcuffs. "I'll be back for Little Nell." At the time he hadn't put much stock in what she said. After all, she was being arrested for attempted murder of her own husband and by the time she got out of prison, Little Nell would be all grown up, probably with kids of her own. By the time Jane was set free, Little Nell wouldn't even know who she was or who she had been. And Dick intended to keep it that way.

    But now, remembering her words, his fear was quickly turning to panic. The dead calm in her voice, the way her eyes had bored into him as she'd made that promise--I'll be back--the way she hadn't stopped staring at him until the deputy had pushed her into the police car, all of it came back to him now like a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky. The reporter on TV was still talking, but Dick was no longer listening. He'd heard all he needed to hear. His thoughts turned to Little Nell, and suddenly a sickening feeling came over him. He had to go and pick her up now. She would be angry, furious even, that she hadn't been able to stay for the duration of her best friend Milo's birthday party. But Dick had no choice but to cut her visit short. If Jane was on the loose, Little Nell would not be safe.

    Dick stood from the easy chair and that's when it hit him--the smell of her perfume. At once, it was both intoxicating and sickening and a feeling of deep dread settled like an anchor in the pit of his stomach. "Jane," he whispered, his head turning just in time to see the butt of the gun before it slammed into the side of his head. An explosion of stars interrupted his vision. Then the world went black. When he came to he was sitting in a chair at the kitchen table, his wrists and ankles bound by zip ties. Jane was sitting across from him, the gun in her hand as she studied his face. "How did you escape?" He asked, licking his lips and tasting the blood that had run down the side of his face. The pain on the left side of his head was excruciating. It felt as if he'd been hit by a Mack truck. He probably had a concussion, but that was the least of his worries right now.

    “How isn’t important, Dick. I told you I’d be back for Little Nell and as you know, I’m a woman of my word. Unlike you, I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.” Her brows furrowed and a dark look came over her face as she stared down at the gun in her hand. “I should have known you’d cheat. God, I was so naïve! You were my first, my last, my everything, Dick! You meant the world to me!” Tears came to her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “We could have had it all. But you fucked that up.” She tapped the gun against her forehead and laughed as if it were some elaborate joke, the butt of which she’d bared the brunt of..

    “Listen, Jane,”

    “No, you listen. I don’t really care if you don’t love me anymore. What we had, it was great while it lasted. But Little Nell belongs with me now. She’s mine.”

    “No, she’s ours, Jane. I am her fucking father! And nothing you say or do is ever going to change that.”

    “Tell me where she is, Dick, or I swear to God I will blow your brains all over this shitty shag carpet.”

    “Not on your life.” He wasn’t afraid to die, not if it meant protecting Little Nell from her insane mother. His heart raced as Jane slowly raised the gun and took aim at his head.

    BANG!

    He winced, taking a ragged breath as she laughed some more. “You really thought I’d do it, didn’t you? Look, I don’t want to kill you. I just want my daughter back. So you listen to me, and you listen good.” Jane got up and slowly made her way to where Dick sat. Holding the cold steel against the side of his face she bent down to whisper in his ear. “You will give me what I want. That’s just the way it is. And the sooner you figure that out, the better.

    The doorbell rang, interrupting their lively little conversation, and Jane's eyes darted toward the front door. “Mr. Anderson!” A man’s voice boomed from outside. “This is Detective Wells with the Cliff Falls Police Department! Open the door! We have a warrant to search your home!” Salvation, Dick thought—maybe not for him, but at least now, no matter how this nightmare scenario ended, Jane would not get away, and would not be able to kidnap their daughter. Holding the gun with a steady hand, Jane looked toward the front door, then back at Dick. “Open the door now! We have a warrant!”

    “I’ve always loved you, Dick. In spite of what you did to me, in spite of all the crazy shit that’s happened since all this started, I’ve always loved you.” Tears were streaming down her face as she held the gun to his temple. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see anything the moment she actually pulled the trigger. His heart pounded in his chest as he heard something bang against the front door hard enough to crack the wood holding the doorknob and deadbolt in place.

    “It wasn’t supposed to end this way, Dick. You weren't supposed to cheat on me. Till death do us part, remember?”

    More banging, more wood giving way, until finally the door burst open. The cops were inside now, running, their guns drawn. “Police! Drop your weapon!”

    Jane took the muzzle of the Glock from Dick’s head and put it against her temple. “Till death,” she repeated. “I will always love you.”

    “Drop your weapon now!”

    “Jane, don’t do it!” He didn't want to see her end it this way. He’d been mentally prepared to take a bullet to the brain, but this ending was somehow worse. Watching her commit suicide and living with the aftermath of it was not something he was prepared to do. "Please don't." She smiled at him through the tears and pulled the trigger. The explosion of gunfire was deafening, the single self-inflicted shot to her head spraying Dick with blood and bits of her brain. He watched in horror as she fell to the floor in a bloody heap, never knowing that this scene would replay in his mind over and over again for the rest of his life. For all of time her death would haunt him.
     
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  3. Fabulous Jewels
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    Fabulous Jewels New Member

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    P.S. I love the Snow White avatar that's snorting coke, sarkans. She must be high as a kite! Up, up and away!!!!
     
  4. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't see how the "inversion" would make the scenario any different or challenging, or worth writing about. I don't mean I couldn't write something based upon it but I cannot see how it would be a learning experience since the situation is so mundane and done to death on TV and in films.
     
  5. Fabulous Jewels
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    Fabulous Jewels New Member

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    I can see your point of view. And I don't disagree with you. My version of the prompt wasn't very good. I know this. But I'm rusty. And I'm just now getting back to focusing on writing so it's going to take some time to improve my skills.

    But back to the stalker type stories with female antagonists, I think Glen Close did a great job of stalking Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction. On the flip side, Fear was definitely worth watching. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing The Boy Next Door. It's gotten rotten reviews, I guess mainly because, just like you said, it's a story line that has been done to death, but whatever. I love Jennifer Lopez.
     
  6. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Though I intend to read Fabulous Jewels's take, I also don't see any good the reversal of sexes would make. Maybe an interesting exercise for King himself.
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the inversion could be interesting. If you're writing horror, you need to crawl right inside your characters' heads, right? Figure out what makes them afraid? Would it be the same to be inside the head of an abused man as inside the head of an abused woman? Maybe the male character is physically stronger than the woman, so you could explore the real power of fear, the way it paralyzes him. Or the social stigma he faced for having been an abused man, or the stigma against fighting back against a woman. Maybe you tell the whole story from Jane's POV and make her an unreliable narrator, so we start the story thinking she's been victimized and wrongly convicted (playing on the readers' likely attitudes toward domestic violence) and then only gradually shift to realize that Jane's the true monster in the story, and Dick's the victim.

    But, honestly, I think the story could be interesting without the inversion, too. It's not the basic plot that makes stories interesting, it's the little details.
     

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