The assignment for my creative writing class was a fun one: Write a story under 300 words that includes all the parts of ABDCE structure (more on that in the challenge), give your protagonist a strong desire, have your protagonist learn that he or she only has 24 hours to live, and give your character a choice between their life or their great desire. My response:
Shawn, the Butter-Knife Killer
Julia’s fingers struck her laptop keys like a line of tap dancers keeping a maddening rhythm. After months of tormented revision—and nine rejected endings—she had reached the perfect conclusion. Shawn Littleton, her handsome protagonist, had visited her dreams last night and finally revealed his motivations. She had heard his whisper in her ear and thrilled to the imaginary brush of his hair against her cheek as he explained that he had not murdered his neighbor with a butter knife through the brain in vain. She had been typing furiously all morning, trying to capture all the details of the dream before they escaped her. Just in time too. Her publisher had given her a firm deadline: If she didn’t bring them an acceptable revision by noon today, they were giving her publication slot to Hilda Warbles whose romance novel, One Night as the Pigeon Flies, had caused an excited stir at the publishing house.
Julia typed and typed, only pausing to gulp coffee. She was almost finished. Nothing was going to stop her. Then her phone rang. It was Dr. Felsburrow. She let the phone ring five times before she answered. As Dr. Felsburrow babbled on and on about her appointment two weeks prior, she typed a few more sentences on the page, misspelling words along the way—“fredome,” “butter nife,” “thretened,” “feerful,” and “Shown Lottatin”—before she interrupted the doctor and explained that it was not a good time to talk.
“Well,” he said with an irritated huff, “I am sorry to inform you that the test results were conclusive: you have a rare and fatal case of caffeine poisoning.”
Julia spit the coffee out of her mouth, splattering her laptop screen in brown drops. “Fatal!”
“Yes. Are you drinking coffee now?”
“I have had three pots since I woke up this morning!”
“Hmmmmm. In that case, you have, at best, 24 hours to live.”
Julia hung up, trembling. She corrected her misspelled words and glanced at the time on the bottom of the screen. 11:35 AM! She had less than a half hour to submit Shawn, the Butter-Knife Killer to the publishing house! A brown drop ran to the bottom of the screen, revealing the “11” to be a “10.” She might not survive until her lunch date with her brother tomorrow, but she was going to submit this book. Her masterpiece, Shawn’s cutlery conundrum that spread through the pages thick like hand-churned butter, would outlive her. She continued her mad-paced typing. The phone rang. It was Dr. Felsburrow again.
“Good news! I have found the antidote, but it will only work if you take it in the next 90 minutes. Hurry!”
Julia sighed as Dr. Felsburrow’s needle pierced her shoulder. She had made it in time for the shot. She would live, but Shawn Littleton and his butter-knife mystery would die.
Writing structure is important, and, contrary to the idea of boxing a writer into a formulaic writing cage, I believe that good structure can help unlock our creative genius, allowing us to develop our characters in deep, meaningful ways. Structure is a key that helps to set our characters free on whatever journey we have them taking. Solid storytelling structure gives our readers natural anchors and keeps them from drifting aimlessly through waves of unnecessary narrative or drowning in endless description.
The ABCDE structure for storytelling comes from Anne Lemott’s Bird by Bird:
- A ~ Action, begin with a concrete action to draw the reader in
- B ~ Background context for the story
- D ~ Development, rising actions, twists and turns that challenge character
- C ~ Climax, the biggest rising action
- E ~ Ending, showing the change in the character
For May’s challenge, I invite you to try your hand at this assignment. Be sure to link to your response in the comment section so that I can share it in a follow-up post. As we all have our own version of “busy” and “crazy” dealing with Covid-19 and its implications for our lives, we will not be doing any editing this month. Have fun, don’t stress, and stay safe!
Here is a little window into my “busycrazy” April and a slightly silly aphorism (maybe we will talk about the use of aphorisms in storytelling next time?):
If you can’t leave your house, grow stuff where you are.