On this pair of observation journal pages, I was still thinking through the three-moods approach to short fiction. That’s described in more detail here: Story shapes — three-mood stories, and has spun off into its own series of very large short-story reading posts and quite a few short stories (mostly rolled into some larger projects, such as Patreon stories and sub-stories in a current manuscript).
These pages helped me by:
- clarifying the usefulness of a three-mood structure in:
- coming up with a story-shape
- coming up with and developing ideas
- reminding me of the usefulness of having a clear final note towards which to aim (see also e.g. picture to story idea)
- confirming the power of adjectives (somewhat flippant but I do like them)
There is (as usual) an exercise at the end of this post, if you want to try it out yourself.
Here, I started trying to build up a story shape in the other direction. First I made a list of emotions. Then I picked three at random and looked at what sort of story that progression would suggest.
Here’s the initial list of moods (non-exhaustive):
After picking three at random, I looked for the sort of story which that progression of moods might suggest. For example:
- greed — doubt — aggression
–> acquisitiveness and wanting leads to falsity and the fear of potential failure which then leads to destruction (of self? of the object of desires? indiscriminate?) in that pursuit
- naïveté — desire — placidity
–> ignorance/innocence being swept up in honest pursuit of its desire, and then achieving its happily ever after having successfully learned no lesson.
(I’d already written an earlier draft of “Merry in Time“ at this point, but it was a structure I wanted to lean into on those edits. Arguably lessons ARE learnt in that story, but not — I hope — the obvious ones for that shape of story.)
These clearly suggested story-shapes. I also liked the way that, taken together, the moods definitely implied an end state — a final note towards which to aim.
Here’s a little sketch of an idea:
Parts of this one (although not quite identifiable) have 100% got into parts of a subsequent large project (yet to be announced). The idea also contains concerns taken up in”Not To Be Taken” (in Bitter Distillations).
On the next page, I tried combining two moods (at random) for added nuance.
- suspicious bewilderment –> seething greed –> surprised revulsion
be careful what you wish for / dreams of avarice
- affectionate instigation –> knowledgeable horror –> doubtful anticipation
succeeding too well
- melodramatic delight –> greedy fear –> antagonistically supportive
lives(?) for the drama
I also tried rearranging positions of the moods to see what would happen.
The main additional lesson from this page was the power of adjectives, and how much they modulate the expression of a mood.
- Make a list of Big Moods (emotions/vibes/driving concerns). Try for at least 10, although 20 is usually more profitable. Think of moods you like from stories, emotions you’ve felt recently, etc. Or use the list earlier in this post.
- Pick three at random.
- Imagine they form the beginning, middle and end of a story. Make some notes as to what sort of story they suggest.
- For example, if I chose “delight –> bewilderment –> repentance”, that might suggest an “all that glitters is not gold” story.
- Think of a possible situation and character for that story — if nothing comes quickly to mind, pick a character and setting from a fairy tale or other template story, or just someone/thing you’ve seen today.
- E.g. if I used the stick cubby picture above with “delight –> bewilderment –> repentance”, that could become a story about someone finding a cubby in the trees, and being charmed by it, and getting inside it, and then… well, all is not as it seems (and you’re in season 1 of Stranger Things).
- Sketch out (in words or pictures) a tiny scene or moment for that possible story, capturing part of that vibe. If you’re having trouble choosing, consider what the final scene might be.
- E.g. a kid scrambling delightedly into an ominous hiding place — or scrabbling desperately to get out.
- Bonus: Repeat this a few times. Notice anything that particularly works for you — or doesn’t. Are there story-shapes or ideas that particularly spark? Moods that resonate for you, or which you have to struggle to like or capture? Story types or genres you tend towards? Make a note — that’s all useful information for things to try (or evade) in future.
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