Ten-Minute Story Exercise (Monday)

To warm up for NaNoWriMo 2023 next Wednesday, I’m writing as complete a short story as I can manage each day this week—in no more than ten minutes each. Hopefully, I’ll become more efficient as I repeat the exercise. Before I write, I roll three pairs of Rory’s Story Cubes—one for the main character, one for the story setting, and one for the starting situation. Then, I start the timer and begin writing.

The first step is interpreting the story dice. I adapt a technique from Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight: I quickly write down the first few ideas which come to mind to get the obvious and more boring ideas out of the way. Usually, the third or fourth idea is something that has a bit more subconscious-born creativity in it—something that surprises and excites me enough to want to write about it.

Three pairs of Rory's Story Cubes showing a book & a speech bubble, a pyramid & a magnifying glass, and a question mark & a square with a capital letter L in it. They're labeled "Character," "Setting," and "Situation."

In this case, I interpreted the character to be a customer service worker with the wrong documention, the setting to be the help desk of a massive fishing supply store (inspired, of course, by one of the world’s largest pyramids), and the situation to be that someone couldn’t find their way out of a maze (interpreting the boxed “L” to be a maze section).

I sketched rough story outline, then began trying to fill it in. I didn’t get terribly far in the ten minutes I allotted myself. It’s easy to look at that whole dice process and say, “Maybe spend less time fiddling and more time writing,” but frankly it took far longer to explain the process here than it did to actually do it. Hopefully the interpretation process is a few moments shorter tomorrow, but what’ll be more helpful is deciding on a much simpler story without so much need for setup.

“Welcome to We Know Carp,” I spat between gritted teeth. “When it comes to carp—yep, we know ‘em.”

I wasn’t a very good customer service representitive. I shouldn’t have let such a stupid situation get my goat. Yet, here I was, clenching the store phone’s receiver with a hand that was, unfortunately, far too weak to shatter the ancient plastic casing.

For the eleventh time, the wheezy voice on the other end of the line said, “Yeah, that didn’t work. I just ended up by the Play-Doh and Kool-Aid display again. Gettin’ real tired of this, boy.”

He wouldn’t stop calling me. This was my first day on the job at We Know Carp’s customer service desk. Was every day going to be like this? Every day, would scrungy old men call me nearly a dozen times from within the store itself, demanding I give them directions to the front door?

Sure, our four-floor mega-store devoted to all things carp fishing was a bit of a labyrinth. In fact, I’d gotten lost a few times during my orientation morning… and while my manager surely had just popped off to do some work somewhere else, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen him fall into our primal koi display when I was turning to examine a massive wall of designer hot sauces. But when I’d approached said koi display and squinted suspiciously at the rippling water, my manager hadn’t been there at all—only a dozen very large, very innocent-looking koi poking their heads out of the water and grinning at me with their precious little rows of teeth.

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