Monday, June 14, 2010

Stobblehouse Writing Workshop (updated again)

I announce: the first  
Stobblehouse Blogger-comment-Limit Writing Workshop.

Myself and commenters each come up with one to three sets of two elements for a short-short story. 
And then you pick one set another has come up with, and you write a short-short story under 4000 characters (roughly 600 words), which is Blogger's comment limit. (The site says 4096 characters, but it seems to count them differently than my text editor. Whatever.)

Don't announce which one you're doing, it might even be more fun if more people are doing the same ones.
I'll participate myself, that's actually the reason for making this workshop, the fun of doing that.

My sets:
  • Strawberries and an alien
  • A love affair and poison
  • An escape and a long sleep

And now you add yours!
Update: from Gil:

  • A mobile home and a crown prince.
  • Golf clubs and hand grenades.
  • A journey and a revelation.

... Aaaaaand, the first story is in, from Michael. And it's so good.

update: Two stories now.
We need a few more idea sets, please!

MB's sets:

  • Automation and a broken vial.
  • A comeback and a derelict ship.
  • A diamond and 33 cats. 


pahosler said...

Are there bonus points if you include all three sets?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

In three stories: thrice the fun for you, more reading for others.
In the same story? Sounds like a mess, I don't advice it.

BTW, my sets are only the first. I am hoping for many sets and many stories.

Michael Burton said...

Each of these sets sounds like a Saki or O. Henry story.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Thanks, I think.

Any contributions yourself?

Gil said...

A mobile home and a crown prince.
Golf clubs and hand grenades.
A journey and a revelation.

Michael Burton said...

I may regret this:

Celia studied the old wedding photo on her great-grandmother's mantel. She had studied it many times before.

The groom -- her great-grandfather -- looked pale and emaciated, but very handsome. There was a kind of fire in his eyes. Celia had never known him.

The bride was beautiful. The thought made Celia uncomfortable. Everyone said she looked just like her great-grandmother, but she saw herself as mousy and plain.

Just then the old woman herself came in from the kitchen, carrying a tea tray. She was more than 90 years old, but in full possession of her faculties. She smiled at Celia and said, "I believe you have some good news to report?"

Instantly, tears burned in Celia's eyes. "I -- I thought so, Grammy," she said, with a tremor in her voice, "but..."

"Sit down," said the old woman, settling into a chair herself. "Tell me what's happened."

Celia sat down and helped herself to a cup of tea. The old woman watched her. Celia took a sip of tea, and sighed. "I did what you suggested, Grammy. I put one teaspoon of the love potion into my boss's coffee. He got awfully sick."

"Did you give him the remedy with your own hand?" asked the old woman.

"Yes," said Celia. "It worked right away. But then, for the next week, he wouldn't drink any coffee at all. When he was finally willing to try it again, I didn't put anything into it for more than a week. I was afraid that he'd give up coffee for good if he got sick again."

The old woman nodded and smiled proudly. "Very wise," she said.

"When I started again, I used just a quarter of a teaspoon, once a day. It took a while, but slowly it seemed to start working. I had to cancel my vacation, because I know I'm not supposed to be away from him for very long while it's working."

"Yes, it takes patience," said the old woman. "For your great-grandfather, it took almost a year. The effect is cumulative."

Celia glanced up at the photo on the mantel. "Well, like I said, it seemed to be working. Three weeks ago, he proposed to me."

The old woman laughed and clapped her hands. "Wonderful!" she said. "You've won!"

"But I don't feel like I've won anything," Celia said. "He's been very sweet -- very kind to me -- but his proposal just didn't feel right. He should have been happy that he'd won me as his bride, but it felt more like he'd surrendered, somehow. It just didn't feel like love."

"Love takes time," said the old woman, softly.

"He's willing to marry me," Celia said, "but it doesn't feel like he's eager. Do you understand? It doesn't feel like real love. Now, I know you said I should stop as soon as he proposed, but I've kept giving him the love potion."

The old woman gasped.

"He's been feeling bad for a few days," Celia continued, her voice quavering. "Yesterday he got so ill he had to go to the hospital."

"Celia, you fool!" said her great-grandmother, "You should give a man only enough poison to make him weak-minded, never enough to kill him!"

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Thanks, Gil.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Love it! Great!

TC [Girl] said...

Good one, MB! :-)

(funny 'nuff: captcha: "mantl" NO JOKE! :-)

Michael Burton said...

If you had noticed the man dining alone, you might have guessed that he was an accountant. You might have added that he probably specialized in some particularly dreary sub-branch of accounting, because he looked so dull that it was hard even to look at him.

If you are a certain sort of person, you might have wondered how such a dismal creature managed to get into this nice restaurant, which usually caters to a better clientele.

He was invited.

I say, "If you had noticed the man," because you wouldn't have noticed him. Even if you're the sort of person who is always on the lookout for a fresh target for your haughty disdain, he would have escaped your awareness. It was a special gift of his.

But let's imagine you had noticed him. You might have thought he looked nervous. Apprehensive. Fidgety. You couldn't have guessed just how frightened he really was.

He had been summoned to a meeting at this restaurant. His landlady taped a note to his door. There was no way this could be a good thing. His identity -- his existence -- was something beyond secret. It was not to be known; not guessed at; not even imagined. He had to learn what forces had discovered him, and what it meant.

For a long time he gazed at the flower arrangement in the center of his table, but he was alert to everything happening around him.

After a while, a waitress approached the table and said softly, "Your party will be here in due time, sir. They have suggested that you go ahead and order."

He opened the menu without a trace of interest and ordered dinner. The waitress thanked him and took the menu, and he resumed his apparent contemplation of the centerpiece on his table.

When the meal was brought to his table, he ate it with utter indifference. He wasn't hungry for anything here. And although he knew he was in danger, he had no fear that the food had been poisoned. It wouldn't matter if it had been.

He ate very slowly, but no one arrived to join him at his table.

When he was finished eating, the waitress cleared away the plates. A moment later she set a dessert bowl before him.

He looked up at the waitress. He studied her face. "I didn't order a dessert," he said.

"Your party have arrived, sir," she said. Then she nodded, turned and walked away.

The man looked down at the bowl of strawberries and cream she had set before him, and stiffened in his seat. Then his shoulders slumped and he bent his head forward in humility and defeat.

When people think of telepathy, many seem to think of words passing silently from one mind to another. This is mostly incorrect. What passes between minds is understanding; words are involved only rarely.

Unfortunately, I must rely on words to tell you that the understanding that passed from the man's mind was essentially this: "I apologize. I was mistaken." There was no need for a message from the other mind to his. He already understood.

The man left money on the table, stood up, and walked out of the restaurant forever. None of the other diners noticed. Not one human being anywhere on earth could have guessed what had happened.

Only the strawberries, exuding a faint sweet fragrance as they slowly died there in the bowl, understood. The scout would call off the invading armies of his confederation of star systems. He had foolishly concluded that human beings were the dominant species here.

The strawberries had colonized earth, like so many other planets across the galaxy. Theirs was not the only power in the galaxy, but no sentient race would be so foolish as to challenge them anywhere they reigned.

Earth was safe.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Well done, Mike.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Handling life

It had been a pleasant walk. The Prince felt royal, and fine, and healthy, and clear-headed. He walked out of the clearing.

Around him was, finally, civilisation. And it was a fresh one. Sparkling buildings and bridges of all sizes. A couple of megatowers in the distance disappeared into the clouds.

The Prince took off the high-tech nano suit which had been his "home" for two weeks subjectively, and 1789 years, otherwise.

This was a privilege of royalty: if you did your best, but you lost one of the civilisations anyway, you packed up and walked through time, until you found a time where it was worth living again.

Life was good.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

It's all a game

"Here we go," he said: "your turn".

I looked at him askance. I selected a driver. He placed a grenade on the tee, stepped back, and surveyed the sights under the hill we were standing on.

Below us were still the sounds of children's screams. Of course in the slums they lived in, in the country we were in, they didn't have places to go.

I don't know. Apart from the personal risk of whacking hand grenades, this just didn't seem like proper warfare to me.

Michael Burton said...

Wow. x 2.

When you said "short-short stories," you weren't kidding.

Now, for a challenge, try a six word story.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Is that *really* possible?

Anyway, I seem to have a knack, or at least a "tendency". My most successful story ever was 184 words. And that's the "expanded" version. :-)

Michael Burton said...


"Driving grenades into slums. Some war!"

(Off-topic: your war story makes me think you might appreciate Frontline Combat, a collection of EC war comics from the 1950s. Not at all what you might expect from a comic book.)

Squeezing some of the hot air out of one of mine:

"Invasion off. Strawberries got here first."

I may need to stick to longer-form fiction.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Under 500 words: tricky. Under fifty: mayyybe. Six words: not really a story. It's like making a good painting with nine pixels. (If you make it large enough, yeah, but then they are areas, not pixels.)

Michael Burton said...

Six-word stories may be like finger exercises for pianists. They're not the objective, but a way to get there. You learn to make every word count.

This "writing workshop" of yours could be good exercise for writers, too. I'll bet if I wrote a story like this every day for the next few years, I'd get better at it.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Sounds like a good bet. For you.

Some writers told me about workshops they do where they write an *entire* novel in 24 hours!
Sounds cool.

One guy said you almost had to fight to *slow down* after one of these.

I think I can write 50 words a minute. If I can do that for effectively 20 hours, that's 60k words, yep that's a novel. Or at least novel-length! :-)

TC [Girl] said...

Michael Burton said...
"When you said "short-short stories," you weren't kidding." short, you left off half of the set, Eo! Whazzup w/the "mobile home"? :-)

"I'll bet if I wrote a story like this every day for the next few years, I'd get better at it."

Michael, you've already gone way above and beyond what I ever imagined would become of these stories! So good, in fact, that I am, now, too intimidated to even attempt to write one! lol!

If you're not already an accomplished writer, might I suggest that you had better "get busy" doing so?! Seriously! :-)

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I agree. While I think that intelligent strawberries is stretching it, both stories were really well written, and the first one is just an outstanding story on all levels, you should send it to the New Yorker and Playboy.

Michael Burton said...

TC [Girl], the high-tech nano suit was his home, and it was mobile.

Please don't feel intimidated by anything I've said. I felt intimidated myself, by Eolake's second story, but that hasn't shut me up.

Eolake, you don't want to know what the strawberries think of you. (Actually, they scarcely think about us at all.)

Thanks to both of you for your kind remarks. I need to go out now and buy a bigger hat.

Finally, off-topic, here is my first six-word story:

"Bomb away over Hiroshima. Now, fly!"

Of course, it doesn't convey much if you've never heard of Hiroshima.

Michael Burton said...

My three sets:

Automation and a broken vial.
A comeback and a derelict ship.
A diamond and 33 cats.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Good stuff.

TC [Girl] said...

I've got some:

a tandem bicycle and a sunset

a sailboat and an island

a summer vacation and a farmer's market

Pascal [P-04referent] said...

Six word story about golf clubs and hand grenades? "*I* shall pick up the challenge!" (Um... these were NOT the 6 words of my STORY!!!)

But you might have heard this one before:

"Thank you, now watch that drive!" -- (2003 short-short-short by & © the world-famous stand-up comic improviser George Walker B., during the GOLF war)

My suggestions (warning, not for the faint of heart):
The summer vacation of an underprivileged child and extreme extreme sports.
A life-long friendship and an ant.
Santa Claus and cancer.

Another gratuitous suggestion:
"Six words, too short? Try haikus!"

I have to concur: Michael's first story was absolutely excellent. Even knowing beforehand what it was supposed to be about, I didn't anticipate the punchline!

Eolake, you don't want to know what the strawberries think of you. (Actually, they scarcely think about us at all.)"
LOL! Yeah, you're proably right.
To them, we're just the cattle-like creatures who pre-digest their seeds as part of their spawning cycle, and nothing more. ;-)

My verif: "dying". No shit!!!

Pascal [P-04referent] said...

OK, confession time:
I cheated.

I gave three sets for which I already had the stories ready.

Here are the first two of them, brief enough to be posted in one go. Added challenge: in the form of exclusive dialogue, and in two "lines". And they're really not for the faint of heart! }:-)


"Are we there yet? Mom, are we there yet? Mooooom? How far are we from America?
- Shut up, Joey, and keep swimming!"


"Oh, wow! A Playstation 4 with a dozen games? But Daddy, we're in July. Santa could have waited.
- Yeah, right. And I guess your leukemia would have waited, too?"

I'm a baaaaad boy, I am. Real baaaaad. A regular black sheep!

Finall story is long, so I'll leave it for another time.

Michael Burton said...

#1 : Laughed out loud.

#2: Daddy ought to ease up a little on the sarcasm.

But a lifelong friendship and an ant? Pfft! Can't be done!

Michael Burton said...

Less extreme than Six Word Stories: Ten Second Tales.