Emergency Fiction

Here’s a writing exercise you guys might dig,
especially if you’re doing the short story gig.

And that is my final Poetry Month blowout.

HeTellsTheHorseDufresne calls this “a scenic paradigm,” which he adapted from Professor Steve Barthelme’s “Emergency Fiction” exercise.

I like Steve’s title better. Didn’t we have a paradigm shift away from using cliched words like paradigm?

It’s kind of formulaic, but learning the forms heightens our excitement when we roguishly break form. You can’t be a rule breaker if you don’t know the rules.

Learn ’em, then spurn ’em.

It is a great way to begin a new story or a new chapter, either from your established main character’s point of view or from a different character’s point of view.

Or a sweet piece of flash.

Here are the steps:

  1. “A scene follows an active character through emotionally charged experiences which change him or her.”
  2. Put things you like in the scene. Puppies, margaritas, a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
  3. Put things you fear in the scene. Nuclear war, disease, clowns.
  4. Name a character,
  5. And put him somewhere. He’s doing something. What? When? How?
  6. Set the tone. Details– sights, sounds, smells– establish the mood, add to the feel of the setting.
  7. Cue 2nd character; create a situation.
  8. Have character 2 say something “to emotionally charge the situation.”
  9. Character 1 responds. The situation escalates.
  10. Surprise the reader with a rich detail that develops your character and suggests his mental state.
  11. Add emphasis with drama, emotion, action, reaction.
  12. The scene intensifies further, possibly via action or statement from character 2.
  13. Up the ante again and/or bring the scene to some kind of resolution. A cliffhanger, perhaps?
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2 thoughts on “Emergency Fiction”

  1. Hi. If you’d like to see the original version of this, which shades somewhat different, I’d be happy to send it to you privately. Pls don’t call me Professor; is only funny at blackjack table.

    Like

    1. No offense intended! Just saw that’s what ‘Uncle John’ called you ;*)
      I assure you if we played blackjack, you’d be laughing at me, not the other way round.
      I’d LOVE to see your original Emergency Fiction. Thank you! I found this to be one of the best prompts in Is Life Like This? yet.
      writemybrainsout at gmail

      Like

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