Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Three Elements Writing Exercise

Jordan Dane

Lately I’ve become a fan of crazy unrelated ideas being woven into the fabric of a story. The farther apart the elements are, the bigger the challenge to make a cohesive story out of them, but I think this can be a good exercise for writers to “think/plot” out of any proverbial corner. If you can train your brain to free associate, without filtering your thought process through common sense or your inner naysayer, this could be a good way to jump start your creativity and brainstorm into something fun to write. Who knows. You might come up with a real story you’d like to develop and feel like this guy on the top of a mountain.

The idea is that plots can come from a myriad of inspirations. Recently I was asked to join a group of authors for an anthology of stories themed in an area I’d never written. I loved the authors so much that I said yes, but the crazy part came when I liked the plot so much, that I developed it into a series with a bigger scope. Keep an open mind to ideas, almost especially when they push you out of your comfort zone, because you never know where your next big inspiration can come from.

Bear with me and try this exercise. Pick one of these “3 Elements” and tell us your story. (This would be similar to pinning crazy notions on a dartboard and letting the dart decide what your next story will be.) Try the exercise below and enter as many times as you’d like (by posting your story in a comment) or pick a different “3 Elements” and go for it again. 

Pick any of these THREE ELEMENTS and tell us a story: 

1.) A priest, a skin rash, and a cell phone GPS mistake
2.) A singing competition, a family ring, and an over protective grandmother
3.) An abandoned farm house, breast augmentation, and a lumpy mattress
4.) A malfunctioning elevator, a pickpocket, and a mother’s Last Will
5.) A stolen lap top, a favorite love song, and a wager
6.) Pink eye, a get well card, and a run in with someone famous
7.) A funeral, a missing cat, and a promise

Our little family here at TKZ is very creative. Give this exercise a go and have fun. Make us laugh or share a poignant idea.


  1. I'm not going to do the exercise--no time--but I have often brought together disparate elements in crafting a story. I might have ideas 1, 2, and 3 for a mystery but don't know how at the outset to fit them into a whole. Eventually, it works out. Once you get things ruminating in your subconscious, have faith. The answers will present themselves.

    1. I firmly believe your mind works on storytelling, even when you're not aware of it. Several of the elements above even spoken to me of a larger tale. It's interesting how the creative part of the brain works. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Ooooooo....this is my kinda game. Story bubbling up...Stand by for transmission.

    1. I had you in mind, my gutsy creative friend.

  3. Pt. 1 -

    Leonard stepped out of the “Cave of Wanders” and scanned the area. He grasped at the device on a chain around his neck. The ‘sonic screwdriver’ as Cecil called it was actually nothing more than a tire pressure gauge retooled to make it into a pocket sized air horn. He didn’t know what use he’d have for it, but Cecil insisted he take it on every trip. He glanced down at the GPS in his other hand and let out a sigh.

    “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said aloud as the blank GPS screen stared back at him.

    On his Cousin Cecil’s advice he had used the GPS to navigate the “Cave of Wanders” in hopes of arriving at a more precise location. The Cave of Wanders is a time-machine. Cecil built it in his garage using plans he’d bought at a Dr. Who convention. Before he’d completed the machine, someone stole the laptop with the plans on it, leaving Cecil to guess on the last few components. While the Cave of Wanders did look similar to the famous police call box, and the inside was indeed bigger than the outside that is pretty much where the similarities ended. Leonard liked to think of himself as a ‘Time Traveller’ but since wool scarves made his skin break out in a rash he declined to put himself in the same category as his favourite ‘Time Lord’.

    As he spun into the space-time vortex something occurred to him. There was always some missing factor when Cecil came up with a ‘really cool’ idea. That factor usually hit Leonard right after he pressed the big red button. This particular fact was that there were no GPS satellites in existence prior to 1978. Which in turn meant that if heading to the past, when the vortex folded to a point before 1978 the numbers in the coordinates meant something completely different.

    Rather than stepping out of the machine into L.A. in August 1976 for a promised date with his beloved bionic woman, the young Lindsay Wagner, he opened the door of the Cave of Wanders and walked directly into the fiery gaze of a Mayan priest holding a man’s still beating heart in one hand and a large crystal knife in the other. The heart’s previous owner gaped at Leonard as if he were an overprotective grandmother at a singing competition where he’d wagered the family ring on his favourite love song, and lost. The priest stared at Leonard wide-eyed, trying to decide if Leonard were a god or a man. He blinked then rubbed the back of hand against his eyes, the whites of which were bright pink with infection, the swollen lids let out a squishy sound as he rubbed them.

    “You should do something about that pink-eye,” Leonard said to the priest. The priest said nothing in reply.

    The man on the table flapped his mouth open and shut several times as if trying to say something then shuddered and died.

    “Well,” Leonard muttered, “I suppose a get well card won’t be necessary.”

    1. Omg, you really did it. Ha! Ok, reading on.

  4. Pt 2 -

    He stood frozen to the scene, waiting to see what would happen next. The priest raised the still beating heart to his lips and bit a chunk out of it, blood dribbling down the corners of his mouth. Whether it was the look of wide eyed horror at the sight of the priest chewing on a chunk of human heart, or the high pitched screech he loosed that sounded like a cross between a malfunctioning elevator and a breast augmented actress in a c-movie horror flick, the priest seemed to take Leonard’s reaction as something less than godly.

    The crystal knife blade sparkled in the bright sun as the priest flicked it his direction and issued a loud guttural command that set a half dozen large, intimidating minions advancing on Leonard. Wicked looking hooked swords and long barbed spears pointed his direction. He twisted around to get back into the Cave of Wanders only to find it blocked by two even larger and more intimidating minions. One wore a necklace of shrunken heads, the other ear rings made of human ears. Their cheeks and foreheads had been scarred in the ancient tribal tattooing method that left their faces looking like lumpy mattresses.

    Another figure stepped out from behind the Cave of Wanders. He was tall, thin and topped with a mop of mussed hair. A large leather satchel rested on his hip, its strap across his shoulder. He wore a blue suit and Nike running shoes, and accompanied the outfit with a crazed, wild-eyed look about him that Leonard primarily associated with less than completely sane people.

    The man looked vaguely familiar. In his arms lay a cat, its tail swishing back and forth. The cat purred softly against the man’s chest, then turned and looked at Leonard.

    “Hey!” Leonard shouted, “That’s my mother’s missing cat!”

    The man smirked at him, raised one eyebrow higher than seemed possible.

    “Is that so? Leonard!”

    “How do you know my name?”
    Recognition suddenly smacked Leonard upside the head like an abandoned farmhouse collapsing under the weight of a heavy winter snow.

    “No,” said the man, “Not the Doctor anymore, I am just plain old David Tennant. After those fools at BBC were done with me they cast me off like an unfulfilled promise. But little did they know I would return as a real Time Lord! BWAHAHAHAHAhrmph….sorry I’ve always wanted to do that laugh, and now that I have it doesn’t seem as fulfilling as I’d expected.”

    “But, what are you doing here?... and… now?”

    “It was my mother’s last will, her dying wish, the last thing on her final breath when she told me at her funeral.”

    “What? Wait a minute, you’re mother spoke to you at her own funeral?”

    “Quiet, little man! It’s my story!” David Tennant composed himself and continued, “I had acquired plans to build a real Tardis, one that worked. But while speaking at a sci-fi conference a pickpocket snatched them from me while I was engrossed in a bowl of fish fingers and custard. By the time I realized what had happened he’d sold them to some mega-nerdy fan of the show. It took a long time to find the man who bought them, and by the time I did I had an idea. Rather than build the machine myself, I’d let the shmuck do it on his dime. So I let your pitiful cousin Cecil do the work, with plans to steal it for myself. Only you came along and volunteered to test drive it for him.”

    1. I've just watched David Tennant on Masterpiece Theatre. Go on.

  5. Pt - 3

    It was Leonard‘s turn to raise an eyebrow. He looked around uneasily at the blood thirsty and butt ugly minions, who stared back at him, waiting Leonard was sure, for this David Tennant gone mad to give the order to cut him open and eat his heart. Leonard’s mind raced to find a plan, but all the plans were apparently racing faster than his mind, or perhaps they were on a different track altogether.

    “Why are you telling me this?” Leonard asked.

    “Because this is what washed up television stars turned maniacal evil masterminds do to save time in the script and draw the show to a close,” David Tennant said. “Right before they kill you.”

    Leonard’s throat tightened in the grip of huge gulp that refused to go down with appropriate drama, instead bouncing back as a squeaky burp.

    “You took off in my time machine Leonard. MY TARDIS!”

    Sweat beaded and ran down Leonard’s forehead, forming at the end of his eye brows and dripping off as if from an overflowing gutter. He wiped at it with the back of his sleeve.

    “But I stole the plans for the machine, my original plans” David Tennant said. “and stowed away on your precious little ‘Cave of Wanders’…nice name by the way, very creative.”

    “Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome.”

    “But why?” Leonard said. “Why stow away on my time machine when you’ve got the plans to build your own?”

    “Simple.” David Tennant said with a condescending eye roll. “I do not want to share the glory of space and time with you. You are not my ideal side kick, I plan to leave you here for these fine gentlemen to do with you as they will. And I will take off in my Tardis, find Rose and travel the universe in search of adventure and long romantic walks along the beach of time.”

    David Tennant stroked the cat’s head, eliciting a fresh bout of purring.

    “Alright,” he said, “my rant is done. I’ve told the whole story, even gotten in an evil bwahahaha laugh, and now it is time for you to die.”

    David Tennant turned toward the Cave of Wanders calling back over his shoulder, “He’s yours.”

    The lumpy mattress faced men looked at Leonard with an expression that may have been a grin, but looked more like someone was shoving a dry corn cob into a place it was not intended to be shoved then following said action with a healthy dose of tabasco sauce.

  6. Pt 4 -

    Leonard had to think fast. He grasped at the chain around his neck, fumbling with it in an effort to calm his trembling. His fingers brushed up against the ‘sonic screwdriver’ and an idea hit him with a force equivalent to that of one year old baby demonstrating his dislike of broccoli by throwing the vegetables on the floor then flattening them with a 200 pound hydraulic hammer. He gripped the pen-like device and jammed the little blue button on the top with his thumb. A sound emanated out of that tiny device with a force best described as ‘of Biblical proportions’. The sound created a visible wave that blew outward in an expanding sphere, knocking the lumpy-mattress faced men flat and kept going. It threw the cat into the kind of panic that only cats can produce. It was the kind of high pitched screech, razor sharp claws out, long pointy fangs bared, hair standing straight, tail rigid, eyes wide as cue balls, flesh rending scramble panic that would have had over ten billion hits on facebook and started a whole new meme category called “Demon Cats From Hell!”.

    David Tennant could not contain the cat. In a blur of fur, claws and eyes, the screeching beast clambered up and over his head, leaving a bloody trail of claw marks across his face as it leaped forty feet into the air where it hung in empty space. Suspended by sheer gravity defying terror, the cat’s eyes flitted back and forth looking for the source of the sound, its face frozen in an expression that said, “Holy Crap, if I wore pants I’d have to change them!”

    Leonard leaped over the lumpy mattress faced men, shoved the bleeding David Tennant out of the way and burst through the door of the Cave of Wanders, all in one swift motion. He slammed the door behind him and slapped his hand over the big red button. As Cave of Wanders made the swooshy scrapy noises of time-space-travel initiation he heard a high shrill voice screaming from the other side of the door.

    “I will find you Leonard! And I will blgerbifradlewobblefoo gorkinmumber!”

    Confused Leonard looked out the window in the door of the machine and saw David Tennant transform into a ten foot tall squid like creature with no clothing other than a Nike running show on the end of each tentacle and a funny looking bowler hat on what appeared to be its head.

    “Ah, there you are!”

    The voice snatched Leonard’s attention back from the window. He spun around, ‘sonic-screwdriver’ at the ready. Cat-like panic started to rise in his gut, then suddenly let itself loose in the form of a small squeaky fart. He glanced back out the window, back to the figure across the room, back the window, back to the figure again.

    “Hi, I’m David Tennant,” the man said. “Someone knocked me out and I woke up in here. Say…is this a real time machine? A real Tardis?”
    Leonard nodded dumb struck.

    “Wow! I’ve always wondered if this spacey-wacey, timey-wimey stuff was real.”

    He reached for a toggle on the control panel and started to pull.

    Leonard snapped out of his daze.

    “No! Don’t touch tha………”

    1. I always suspected Tennant was a squid. Now I know.

  7. AH.....glad to get that out of my system.

    I think I hit all 21 of your key words.



  8. Our next game will be "Can you top Basil?"

    1. Hands down, no one can top this guy...on purpose. Wow. Mind blown.

  9. Yes, you did. You are amazing. Gold star.

  10. Thankya, thankya, thankyabedimahchee!

    But now I feel kinda bad though. I hope I didn't scare other folks away with my overkill. I'd hoped that several other good, shorter stories would've been up before I did mine. C'mon guys? Where is everyone?

    1. I know, right? I actually loved this exercise to stir a story, but I've been swamped this week with no end in sight. All good. Not complaining.

      Thanks for the fun read, Basil. I'm looking forward to meeting you in Sept at the AWG con.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Basil Performs Above Story Live!!

    Police and Psychiatric Ward have been notified!

    Click this link to watch/listen to me do the story on my podcast "Basil's Shorts"


  13. You are brilliant. Nice tardis. David Tennant would be proud.