Know what a story bubble is?
Maybe you do, but you call it something else. Some people call it a web. What it is is a way to get a story started.
You begin with a prompt: an image, a word, a phrase. You write that in the middle of the page and start brainstorming. You write all the bits you come up with around the central prompt, free-associate from and between those, connect them if that feels organic, possibly leave the prompt entirely behind.
Like any tool, this is one you might use for some stories, but not for others. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In this one, I began with the word “trash.” I don’t remember now if that was a random word I grabbed from a book or magazine, or something I had on my mind. That word sparked: dogwood tree (sometimes called a weed tree or a trash tree, because it grows wild in the woods around here), a dumped dog, a dream I had about a baby being tossed out of a window like a piece of trash (in the dream, I caught it and ran off with it), a Goth girl who would devalue herself and be devalued by others, and Lena (the POV character, who would be devalued by others).
Story Bubble for “Pick of the Litter”
Act I, meet Lena at home, introduce Jack, establish the theme of discounting this thing or that person.
“Jack!” Lena barked the name, as if she thought she’d get better results if she said it in Dog. “Don’t you piss on that Japanese maple! Piss on that.” She pointed to a scraggly wild white dogwood. “That one didn’t cost anything.” Jack compromised by honoring both.
The hound had wandered up one steamy summer morning, barely weaned, his head heavy with ticks. They clung to him like anxieties, growing large and clear as they filled with heart’s blood. People did that: animals became inconvenient, and people dumped them. When Lena’s husband, Lowell, had traded his marriage for a facelift and a Corvette, Jack had been dumped again, this time with Lena standing bewildered at his side.
Act II, Lena at work, where her flowers are treated like an annoyance instead of a delight, Lena witnesses a girl treated as if she isn’t worth any consideration, Lena comes to her rescue.
Lena slipped out of the kitchen and past the girl at the counter.
“Can anybody give Holly a lift?” Yvette asked the room in general. “Hey! Holly needs a lift! Anybody?”
“Not for a couple hours.”
“That’s okay.” So much color in her decoration, so little in her voice. “I can wait. Thanks.”
Lena was almost out when she heard that same bleak voice, with a little hope in it. “Save the flowers for me till I go? Please?”
She was outside with the door closed when the question registered. She stopped and looked through the plate glass window.
Her bouquet had been parked on the shelf above the bean cases. Yvette flapped a hand at it, then at the trash can, shrugged, and nodded.
Lena went back in.
“Never mind, Yvette, give her the flowers now. I’ll take her home.”
Act III, Lena and the girl make a small, slight, tenuous connection, a validation which is ridiculously important to each of them. Close with an indication that a change in attitude, a change in perspective, might signal a change for the better in their inner lives.
Holly angled out of the car, slammed the door, and started up the cracked walk to her house.
Lena pressed the button that lowered the passenger-side window.
The girl turned to face her.
“See you Thursday. And don’t worry about a ride. I’ll bring you another bouquet, too.”
The painted face lit up. “No sh– No kidding?”
Holly raised one hand, nails toward Lena, wiggled the fingers, held them near her mouth, and shook her head. Gently, she waved the bouquet, turned again and picked her way up the crumbling walk.
Lena watched her safely in. Then she drove home to her beloved second-hand hound and her beautiful wild white dogwood.
These are excerpts, of course, and there was a little more to the story, but not a lot more: It finished at 1500 words and I sold it to a market now no longer in operation called e2k, which specialized in electronic stories of 2000 words or fewer.
Oh, the baby never made it into the story. It was in another story, kinda sorta.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Grab a random word and free associate until the jumble sorts itself out into a story start.