Writers’ Tools – Cliff Diving or Dumpster Diving?

I just wrote a story for #amwriting (to be up in July). The only thing I had to start with was a word count of 1000. I also wanted to write an exercise we gave ourselves at Corydon Quills and Quibbles, in which we had to write a piece including “monkey”, “pinecone” and “high temperature”.

My first thought, of course, was The Stone Monkey, but I didn’t think I could keep it short enough. I’m a total fangirl of The Handsome Monkey King, The Great Sage Equal to Heaven. I mean, who isn’t?

So I decided on a character who looked like a monkey.

Then the diving began. I got my laptop and opened a document and just started writing. This is the exciting part for me: this diving in. I just write a scene, not worrying about where it’s going to go. Bring other characters in and see what they might do, how they might interrelate.

I don’t get much written, usually. Maybe a few hundred words. I play a lot of Solitaire and Free Cell and, appropriately, in this case, Mah Jongg. I play a while, do something else for a while, go back and tweak what I’ve written, cut bits out and save them to another file, start over, start over, start over, write a different scene from another character’s point of view.

As I often do, I wondered if this story could be a springboard for another in the series of cozy mysteries I’m working on, set in a Storybook Style neighborhood. That gave me a ready-made background fabric for this particular pattern, a fabric that wouldn’t be seen in this flash piece but that I would know was there.

But what would be the plot? Would there be a “plot”, or would there just be a shift of some kind, an important decision reached that would change the direction or dynamics of the set-up? It could go either way.

In church, the preacher’s sermon was about open, radical hospitality, and all the characters in my story perked up their ears, looked sideways at each other, and put on pious faces.

And I came home and wrote the story.

That’s how I like to write stories: By a combination of rummaging around in what I have, opening myself to what’s around, and diving right in.

What works for you?

WRITING PROMPT: Is your main character hospitable? How hospitable? Is he or she a great host or hostess if guests are invited, or also if guests drop in unannounced?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Writers’ Tools – Cliff Diving or Dumpster Diving?

  1. Jane

    June 27, 2011 at 10:14am

    Hi. I get started when I start seeing pictures in my head, and I realize I know what’s going on.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2011 at 10:26am

      That’s so cool! I’m so jealous of people who see the pictures without having to deliberately sketch and paint them first. heh!

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  2. Johanna Harness

    June 27, 2011 at 1:41pm

    I love reading about your process!

    I tend to hear bits of dialog first. Sometimes an argument between unknown characters will develop and I’m intrigued enough to figure out what’s going on.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2011 at 1:44pm

      Stories can come to me through dialog, character, setting, even clothing. But, if I sit down to deliberately write something out of nothing, I have to dive. Blindfolded. heh

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  3. Bob Sanchez

    June 27, 2011 at 1:48pm

    In When Pigs Fly, my main man Mack lives alone, and his uninvited house guest is not there for a social call. Mack is reasonably gracious, considering the guest just might kill him.

    I like the idea of taking a writing prompt and diving right in, though the Dumpster diving metaphor doesn’t do it for me. People who Dumpster dive tend to come out of it not smelling very nice.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2011 at 1:57pm

      Eee, poor Mack! As soon as I get my check this month, Imma buy When Pigs Fly. Mom read your post on my blog and put in a request for it. 🙂

      No Dumpster diving, eh? Cliff diving, then: dive off, grab and oyster, and have nourishment and a pearl. How’s that? 😉

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  4. Helen Ginger

    June 27, 2011 at 5:22pm

    I most often start when a character talks to me. I’m working on a short piece though that started with a picture. It’s for a contest. I’ve finished the first draft, but haven’t decided if I’ll enter. There’s still time to let it simmer a bit then I may stir it up.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 27, 2011 at 6:16pm

      Do the characters talk to YOU or to other characters? Or sometimes one and sometimes the other. I love it when they talk to each other and I overhear them. 🙂 I have one character (Bud Blossom–readers of THE KING OF CHEROKEE CREEK could guess that) who talks to me, mostly trying to convince me that he’s part of EVERYBODY’S story. lol!

      When you enter a contest like that–based on a picture or a line–do you ever worry that your story will be like somebody else’s? I worry about that all the time!

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