If you’re like me, and have the gall to consider yourself a writer but haven’t actually written anything worth squat in far too long, I highly recommend story challenges as a much needed butt-kick.
Just pick any muse-object: a photograph, a movie, TV show, other book, a person, a situation, or song.
Then pick a challenger. This part may seem silly, but for me, it’s essential. Something in me just gets kicked into gear only when there’s an element of competition involved — or at least the knowledge that somebody, anybody else is going to read and truly care about what I have just written.
Then have at it. You and your challenger riff off the muse-object. Use that object as the inferno’s spark, the Patient Zero, the avalanche’s first snowball — and let loose.
For my most recent challenge, I was lucky enough to find out that Vinny Carrella, a co-worker I admired for his game design chops and general grin-with-a-grimace attitude about life, was also a novelist who published a wonderfully twisted and originally lyrical novel called The Serpent Box.
One day, musing about the life of literary writer as commercial game developer, I tentatively suggested the challenge and he bravely accepted.
Vinny suggested the muse-object: The song Lay It Down by the Cowboy Junkies.
His story is called “The Killing of Clyde”, and can be heard here, on the Bound Off audio-zine.
My story, Cottonwood, started slow then flowed out quicksilver-like. I was in Marblehead, MA on vacation and wrote it sitting in an uncomfortable pine chair overlooking that mean grey-green ocean which even the sunset can’t sweeten.