By Louise Ure
A writer friend sent me a present this week that I initially thought might possibly be the finest gift (short of a lifetime publishing contract) that any writer could get.
It’s called “Deal a Story.” Or Plot in a Box. Or Writers Unblocked. Or How to Waste an Afternoon and Call it Work.
It’s the size of a canasta game, a box with two decks of cards in it.
- · 16 Hero cards
- · 16 Heroine cards
- · 16 Villain Cards
- · 16 Flaw cards
- · 16 Plot cards
- · 16 Genre cards
- · 5 Wild cards, for when you get stuck.
Just deal yourself a hand and all your troubles are over!
Let’s start with the genre cards.
I’m not writing “Inspirational Novels” or “Fantasy,” so I can put a couple of these aside. (Cornelia, there’s not one card here for “Literary Fiction” so I guess I can’t help you with the plotting in that non-genre category.) Inexplicably, they have five separate cards for “Thriller,” “Action,” “Crime,” “Mystery,” and “Suspense.” I could argue for a little consolidation there, but I understand their desire to offer sixteen separate cards so they used a little literary license. “Patriot Games” is a Thriller according to them, but “Ice Station Zebra” is an Action book. “Mildred Pierce” is a “Crime Novel,” but “Along Came a Spider” is a Mystery. Go figure.
The Hero cards are defined as:
- · The Outcast
- · Mr. Nice Guy
- · Mr. Organized
- · The Knight
- · The Explorer
- · The Daredevil
- · The Conquerer
- · The Confidant
- · The Boy From the Wrong Side of the Tracks
- · The Born Leader
- · The Avenger
- · The Absent-Minded Professor
- · The Wanderer
- · The Rogue
- · The Rebel
- · The Playboy
They’d probably consider Jack Reacher and “Avenger” or a “Knight,” but I prefer the notion of a Palladin. (He’s definitely not a “Wanderer,” as they describe that character as: “Lonely, he is easily hurt emotionally by criticism and censure, is unsure of his own abilities and feelings and is discontented with life. A vulnerable soul looking for acceptance.”) Not Jack Reacher at all.
I don’t want to write about Wanderers or Mr. Organized. Blech. What kind of hero would they be?
Heroines are equally pigeon-holed:
- · The Innocent
- · The Girl Next Door
- · The Darling
- · The Dark Lady
- · The Comedian
- · The Caregiver
- · The Bookworm
- · The Zealot
- · The Working Girl
- · The Wise Woman
- · The Trail Blazer
- · The Siren
- · The Rescuer
- · The Princess
- · The Orphan
- · The Know-It-All
I know I’ve written about a “Rescuer” before, but I hope never to create a “Darling” heroine, as their description reads: “The Darling grew up loved and adored by everyone around her and tends to make decisions with her emotions. Self-assured but impulsive, she often finds herself in a ‘pickle’ and needs help getting out. However, most of the time her ‘crazy’ logic will save the day. See Elli Woods in ‘Legally Blonde.’” God help us all.
The Villain cards run the gamut you’d expect: Evil Genius, the Devil, Corrupt Leaders, Assassins, Aliens, Psychopaths, Monsters, Machines, Tyrants, Terrorists and Traitors. I think they’ve forgotten that some of the most vile behavior is carried out by those closer to home: the Selfish, the Cruel, the Zealots.
I thought the Flaw cards might be the answer to all my problems. Deal a Story separates their suggestions onto cards labeled Challenges, Secrets and Attitudes among other flaw categories. On the Flaw/Challenges card, you’re encouraged to create a character that has “lost a limb, or is wheelchair bound, or has a speech impediment, or is unattractive, or is hearing impaired, or is awkward or is blind.” WTF? Being unattractive is now a flaw that a hero has to overcome? Sheesh.
I won’t bother much with the plot cards as I guarantee that they won’t be descriptive enough for you to say, “Eureka! Now I know what my next book is going to be about!” (Unless of course, you’re bowled over by headings like Puzzle, Pursuit, Relationships, Rescue, Rivalry, Conversion, Coming of Age. Hell, I could have gotten better ideas by reading the dictionary, let alone the TV Guide listings.)
In short, my afternoon of dealing myself a story was a bust. I could write a “(Genre Card)Suspense Novel” where the “(Heroine)Working Girl” who is a “(Flaw card) Nosy Parker/Blackmailer” takes “(Plot Card)Revenge” on “(Villain Card) Tyrant” who fired her father.
Hell, it’s probably better than what I’m working on right now.
So tell me, ‘Rati. What tricks, games and self-deception do you use when you’re stuck in a story. How do you deal yourself a story?