In Urgent Need of a PlotCarleen gazed moodily out the window of her favorite cafe at a street devoid of all interest. Nursing her latte with her right hand, she clutched fiercely at her pen with the left.
"Must. . . write. . . short. . . story," she muttered between teeth clenched in an unbreakable spasm. She worked her jaw as though you could force a story out like a recalcitrant turd. In a way, you can, but the results are similar: unsatisfactory and stinking.
A story needs pivots. Conflict. A twist. So far, all Carleen had was two people drinking coffee in a cafe. It could have been anyone. The couple at the next table, for example. Carleen considered them. A fair-haired man in his 30s, and a younger woman with wavy brow hair and an uncertain smile. What was the conflict in their lives? Carleen strained to hear their conversation, but was disappointed to find it mundane, with no sign of conflict beyond the vexed question of whether they should get refills on their coffee.
Moved by an impulse she didn't give herself time to examine, Carleen began to watch the man intently. Soon he began to shift uncomfortably, and to glance at her more and more frequently, and with a more puzzled look. Her pen began to move.
"He knew I was watching him, and he knew me, too. I could see that, as clearly as I could see that he didn't want me to let on. It had been what? Seven years since the cruise?" She hesitated. What would the woman do if she knew about their liaison? Surely that would introduce conflict!
Before she could stop herself, Carleen had laid down her pen, smiled at the man, and stood up. Stepping over to their table, she held out both hands.
"Hjalmar!" I would know you anywhere! I have such wonderful memories of that cruise we were on together!
The man gave her a look of utter horror. Then he pasted on a sickly smile, and said tightly, "my name is Mark. I'm afraid you must be mistaken. I have never been in any cruise, and I'm sure I've never seen you before."
The girl also looked at her in consternation. "Mark? What does she mean?"
"Nothing, my dear. Just a case of mistaken identity. Right?" He added with emphasis, looking at Carleen.
"Oh!" She said, flustered. The fluster was genuine. What was she doing??! But her words continued the story. "I'm so sorry. I really shouldn't have intruded, but I was so certain. . . " She let her voice trail off. "But I must have been wrong." Even as she said it she gave "Hjalmar" a look that said they were both lying and both knew it.
Then she went and sat back down, her heart pounding. She picked up her pen. She needed only to write down the argument that ensued. Now she had conflict, with a vengeance! It culminated with the stereotypical slap in the face, and the girl stormed out. Forgetting her own role in it, Carleen felt only the delight in a perfect scene. And their language had been so colorful!
She was gathering her things, congratulating herself on a scene so brilliantly and easily produced, when she felt someone behind her, and turned to find Hjalmar/Mark standing there.
"Very well, Marta," he said with the slight Scandinavian accent she had so clearly imagined. "As you have frightened off young Sally, perhaps we could take up where we left off?"