Elizabeth: Story Improv

writing_sessionMy To-Be-Read pile of books is eclipsed only by my To-Be-Listened-To collection of podcasts. In an attempt to make some headway, I’ve been listening to a podcast instead of my usual playlist during my gym workouts (bonus: it makes the time go by faster). Right now I’m working my way through the StoryWonk Sunday writing podcasts by Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens.  The podcasts ran from 2012 through 2014, but discussions about story and narrative don’t go out of style and there have been some really thought-provoking discussions.

Anyway, in one of the episodes I listened to last week they did an improv segment where they took a randomly generated story idea, added some characters, and brainstormed a story. It was a lot of fun to listen to and I thought it might be something fun to try here. We’ve talked a lot about story and craft on this blog, so let’s put all those skills into action and write a story (or at least brainstorm one).

First thing we need is a story idea. I’ll just click on the StoryWonk Story Generator and see what comes up. . . .

Sorry, got distracted clicking through randomly generated ideas. Anyway, here’s our story idea:

He’s an adventurous lounge singer with a ten-year-old cell phone; she’s a bitter interior decorator with a powerful amulet. Together, they must uncover a global conspiracy while pretending to be married.

And of course we need some names for these characters. Off to the Character Namer:

Josh Bishop and Natasha Gibson

Okay, so now that we’ve got the basics, it’s time to get brainstorming. Who are these people and what’s going to happen to them during the course of the story? Drawing a blank? Here are some questions to get you thinking:

Why does Josh have a 10-year old cell phone?

Why is Natasha bitter?

Where did she get that amulet?

Who is involved in the conspiracy?

Why do they have to pretend to be married?

Okay, now it’s your turn. Post your thoughts in the comments and let’s see what kind of story we come up with.  Lani and Alastair did it in 15 minutes, but we’ve got all day.

23 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Story Improv

  1. Ok, here’s my go. (This really woke me up this morning… Glad to know my brain isn’t actually bruised or dead.) 😀

    10- yr old cell phone…. It’s the last thing he has from his sister who was lost when they were hiking to Shangri-la, somewhere near-ish to Nepal. It has a message on there from her with a riddle he still hasn’t figured out yet.

    They have to pretend to be married because where they have to go to figure things out is on tour as part of an exclusive couples only package… And they both showed up alone.

    Who is involved in the conspiracy? The Chinese government, NASA, and quite possibly MI6.

    Natasha is bitter because she got stiffed on a job- literally, the guy died, just one in a string of failed relationships & job noteriety. The stiff did leave her the amulet – no payment, no explanation, just the amulet and one word on a piece of yellowed paper in the amulet’s box…tucked under the edge of the velvet lining. She might not even find the word until later.

    • That’s good, Penny. Your ideas are better than the ones I had thought up when reading the post. I blamed the 10-year old cell phone on Josh being a bad lounge singer and Natasha is bitter because she is poor and her clients are all rich as Croesus and buy $75,000 rugs for their dens.

      • Michille – I like the idea that Josh has an old phone because he’s not very good at what he does and Natasha is bitter because of her rich clients. Maybe they meet each other at a casino. Natasha has filched the amulet (which is a sought-after relic) from one of her rich clients and now she’s trying to keep it out of the hands of the bad-guys who are trying to steal it back before she can uncover its secrets.

        • Bitter interior designer reminds me so much of Tilda Goodnight! She resents the poor taste of her clients, and the fact that they want giant sunflowers over their dining room table, or water lilies in the bathroom. I had to go a little deeper to understand that in “Faking It”, but I can see her point (although, I loved Monet’s water lilies and put them over my dorm desk at school so I could relax when I went to bed . . .).

    • Penny, great brainstorming. I love your idea of Natasha getting “stiffed on a job.” So Josh has a 10-year old cell phone with an unsolved riddle from his sister, Natasha has an amulet, and they’re on an exclusive “couples only tour” while trying to unravel the conspiracy. Are they trying to find his lost sister, who has potentially been captured by the Chinese government/NSA/MI6?

  2. I can’t top Penny. But here’s mine: Josh found the 10-year-old cell phone on the Stratosphere, the 1,000-ft freefall ride in Las Vegas on his day off from his singing gig at Nick’s Casino and Car Wash. The only thing on it is part of a recorded message of a song that is so powerful it makes men cry when they hear only a few bars. Josh knows that if he can find the rest of the song, he can hit the big time.

    Natasha is bitter because her last interior decorating gig was designing rooms to match Imelda Marcos’s 3,000 pairs of shoes. After 10 years and 2,936 designs, Imelda fired her without paying for the last two years’ work. On her way out the door, Imelda’s maid slipped Natasha an amulet that Imelda had stolen from a powerful Filipino shaman; the maid said Natasha “would know what to do with it.” Natasha doesn’t know what to do with it, but she’s noticed that when she wears it, she can bend metal. Also, the barista at her local coffee shop gives her an extra shot for free.

    The global conspiracy involves the Filipino shaman, the Marcos family, the CIA, Interpol, and Josh’s brother-in-law.

    They pretend to be married because then they can sleep together without the shaman getting all twitchy about it.

    Wow, that was fun. Although I see I didn’t do much in the way of plot development or even character arc. I guess “events ensued” will have to work for now in the discovery phase.

    • Kay – love “Nick’s Casino and Car Wash” 🙂

      So Josh is trying to hit the big time (a challenging goal if he’s Michille’s not-very-good lounge singer) and Natasha is trying to figure out what to do with the amulet. Maybe whenever the amulet gets close to the cell-phone, another note or two of the song is uncovered, so Josh is sticking to Natasha like glue until the whole song is uncovered. Not sure why Natasha is letting Josh hang around. Maybe his skills in other areas exceed his singing skills. Now the question is, what’s the global conspiracy? Does it have to do with the amulet? Is there something hidden in the lyrics of the song being uncovered that they don’t want known? Inquiring minds want to know.

  3. I love all of these! Here’s my theory:

    Josh has a 10-year cell phone because he and Natasha must go back in time to 2005, to do or prevent Something Important at the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles at Windsor Castle.

    In 2005, before it all went pear-shaped for him, Josh was a promising young Welsh opera singer who won a national competition to sing at the Prince of Wales’s wedding.

    Natasha is the latest in a long line of powerful druid priestesses and she inherited the amulet from her great-great grandmother in a mystical ceremony in an Ash grove in a remote Welsh valley. Among other things, the amulet permits her to travel through time. Edited to add: which means she’s really, really good at finding vintage pieces for her interior design jobs 😉

    They have to pretend to be married because the wedding invitation was for Josh and his wife.

    Natasha is bitter because Prince Harry (who looks beyond hot in his army dress uniform) is making eyes at her, and she’s pretend-married to some hammy loser of a lounge singer.

    The thing I haven’t figured out yet is – what is Natasha’s druidly mission?

    • Still haven’t figured out the mission, but I’m betting Josh steals the amulet because he wants a do-over on the disastrous Incident that torpedoed his career.

      • Jilly – great conflict having Josh pretend to work with Natasha while planning to double-cross her and steal the amulet. What happens if he steals it and manages to get himself stuck in the wrong time-period?

    • Jilly – love the time-travel / druid priestess angle. Now to figure out Natasha’s mission and what they are going back in time to do/prevent. Maybe Kay’s “Filipino shaman, the Marcos family, the CIA, Interpol, and Josh’s brother-in-law” are involved somehow 🙂

      • What’s Natasha’s druidly mission? I suppose the Holy Grail would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Maybe a sword in the lake? For the youngest prince of the realm? Who in the future is going to (fill in the blank)? (LOL, love the British flavor.)

  4. I think Josh’s lounge singer thing is just a cover. It pretty much lets him go anywhere and seem unimportant and easily NOT noticed, except by chicks…. A lot like the whole crooner thing. He may be MI6. He recognizes something about the design of the amulet, or the word(s) symbol in the box with it. I didn’t originally feel his sister was kidnapped, I felt he thought her killed – mishap on the adventure, but thought she might turn up.

    Natasha ended up,in his gin joint, needed some help. She thinks someone is after the amulet or her. Josh has other agents and stuff after him and a task to do. Josh tries to help her, she thinks it’s her, he thinks it’s probably him, and they end up on the run and taking over another couple’s spot on the tour as they try to go where everone and everything has told both of them not to go. The Chinese are always trying to block off Tibet and NASA is involved because they, like Josh, and others, are trying to get there… “A downed sattelite” … The amulet’s comes from Tibet and Nat is on a quest to find out more about it and take some time for herself. Josh is on a mission current and past.

    • Thanks for the brain work out Elizabeth. I could’ve just passed on it, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve been sweating how to “fix” and finish my current WIP and get it done and out. Of the projects I have going, it was not the one I thought would be my first big finish – but it looks like it will be. I find I have been having pantser problems – plot holes, antagonists that don’t antag enough, a need for more conflict, etc. (I’m starting to see a trend and it might be the current achilles heal I have to get past). I have to learn to love, and retrain my brain, to “get” that setting up the story outline is the creative part and the writing is the gravy bit. I need to exercise my pantser-ness on the outline.

      I had an author, whose scene skills I admire (aka covet), randomly ask me how my WIP was going the other day. When I told her I was spinning my wheels a bit, she offered to do a brainstorming call with me. I’ve never had anyone to brainstorm with, so I am excited. (I feel like I’m locked up in a cave somewhere sometimes.)

      Anyway – I’ve been in a funk/slump on my writing for the last couple of months, whilst running ragged for work and learning new webby skills with a full functional redesign of the website and running all over the country as back-up on another project. I was glad that my brain just kicked in and well – worked. Thanks for the kickstart and the reminder that “This funk too will pass”. I really do enjoy the 8 Ladies – thanks for sharing your journeys, the good, the ugly, and the eh, with us. 😀

      • Penny, good luck with the WIP. Sounds like you have had a very full plate these past couple of months. It can be hard to feel creative when you don’t have time for it. Glad you are enjoying the blog and, definitely, “this funk too will pass.”

  5. He’s Spanish, and she’s American of Russian descent. He was given the phone from a friend of a friend, and it’s full of old information, including little bits of the global conspiracy that some clumsy (and now dead) conspirator forgot to wipe off the phone. They pretend to be married because of his visa problems, but now the conspiracy (a bunch of evil magicians who use singing to raise power) has turned their eyes on him because 1) he’s got the phone and 2) his dead friend told them he’s got powerful singing vibes. The amulet, they discover, amplify his singing to unheard-of levels.

    Lessee, she married him because he paid her to — the bitterness comes from money problems and the fact that she sees these musical vibes and thinks she is going insane. And she can’t afford mental health counseling. But, of course, she falls in love, and as she realizes that he’s being entrapped by this conspiracy, she has to decide whether she will ditch him and go back to her lonely, bitter, complacent lifestyle, or if she will take the chance to work with him to save him (and it turns out the world) and gain a better life full of love and happiness and good harmonics.

    The conspiracy can’t let him go to the Light Side, and they also want her amulet.

    I don’t think those are their real names (-:. Maybe Natasha. Jose Cardinale?

    That’s all I got (-:. Now, to read the comments!

    • Michaeline – I love that you’ve worked romance into this fantastical, bitter, conspiracy. Here’s hoping Natasha (or whatever her real name is) decides to take that chance to gain a “better life full of love and happiness and good harmonics.” 🙂

      • LOL, after I posted, I realized that maybe we could have all worked together — this would be a very fun game for a live tweet. Assuming we could find a time when we’re all awake at the same time.

        (-: It’s a fun game as is! Nice refreshing break.

  6. Pingback: Jilly: Season of Fruitfulness | Eight Ladies Writing

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