Guest Post by the Talented @Taliana83
When I was in grade 10, my English teacher gave us an assignment: Write a short story from the perspective of a father who receives a letter informing him that his soldier son has been killed in the war, without using the words: soldier, letter, son, shot, dead, or war.
Kind of like, “don’t think of a pink elephant”, but with more words you want to think of. Or “the game”, which, if you play, you just lost.
I decided after a week that the assignment was actually impossible. Yes, it was my own personal (woot, opportunity for a Star Trek reference!) Kobayashi Maru. There just was no way the characters, in the most worst moment of their lives, would go to extreme measures to avoid even the thought of the words they needed the most.
It’s been more years than I’ll admit to since then, but I still think of that challenge. To tell you the truth, I miss it. I’ve looked for similar ones, anything that gives you part of the equation, and forces you to figure out the rest, like searching for X in a math problem. (Note: it takes an English major to make a math reference with a letter and no actual math.)
So here are two reasons why a once cursed assignment became a thing Indiana Jones would look for if he were a writer and real:
Reason # 1– Ideas live in an awesome abyss. It’s their natural habitat.
Don’t believe me? Okay, come up with a great idea right now. It can be about anything. Well, go on. What is it?
If you stared blankly at this post, you’ll probably agree that the problem with the awesome abyss is that while it is indeed awesome, there is quite a lot of space in it, and in space, no one can hear you scream WHY IS THERE SO MUCH SPACE? It’s easy to get lost in the vastness of possibilities when you have to choose every aspect of the story, characters, tone, medium, genre, and so on.
Yes, they say there are only seven kinds of stories, but there are so many ways to tell them, that it all seems pretty infinite. An anchor helps free you to explore the unknown aspects. If we know we only have 50 words to tell the story, or we can only set it in one location (Check out the Canadian movie CUBE!), or we can’t use “soldier, letter, son, shot, dead, or war”, that’s when we give ourselves permission to truly get creative.
Reason # 2 — We need challenges. We’re like goldfish.
Wait, I can explain! Goldfish grow to the size of the tank you put them in: the bigger the tank, the bigger the goldfish. I know this because my friend once had terrifying enormous goldfish for pets. They watched from a too-big tank in a corner of the room by the dinner table, waiting for you to squeeze by so they could eat your food and/or you.
Anyway, the point is challenges are good, and they are how we grow. If people say you rely too much on your witty dialogue, write a silent episode (like Joss Whedon’s epic BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER episode Hush). Tackle a genre that you haven’t tried, or write a character or story you would love to read or watch, if only someone else would write it.
Try NaNoWrimo and write a 50K word novel in a month.
Enter the cool Scotiabank Giller “Silm” contest (by writing a 50 word story) to win a signed copy the Giller Prize winning book 419. I recently won a round, and so can you.
No matter what challenge you choose, it should feel slightly impossible. For a while. If it stays impossible-seeming, you might need to look at it a different way. Try checking it out upside down and sideways and out of the corner of one eye. At the very least, I guarantee it’ll look different. This might mean you should try writing your drama as a comedy, your male lead as a female, or from the perspective of that favourite (and oddly more interesting) minor character.
If you’re wondering what I ended up doing for my own Kobayashi Maru assignment, what kind of a Star Trek fan are you?! Obviously, I cheated! I turned it around, looked at it from a strange angle, and wrote it from the point of view of the very confused soldier’s ghost.
Although I don’t know where that story is today, once again I have that assignment to thank because when Paul asked me if I would write a guest post, and I excitedly asked what I should write about…
He replied, “Oh! Anything!”
Wishing you the most epic of challenges and a fabulous fake end of the world,
P.S. Will you try any of the challenges mentioned in this post? Do you have a favourite challenge of your own? Please leave them in the comments!
Natalia is a graduate of Humber College’s TV Writing and Producing program and has recently written on the sketch comedy webseries THE GATE. She loves TV, movies, comics, and webseries – and aims to write for them all. Natalia lives in Toronto, Canada and on Twitter @Taliana83.
Hello, Scoop here again. One clarification to the ending of this guest post. I never said “Oh! Anything!” I actually said “Oh! Anything but goldfish!” Writers NEVER listen.