When Ideas Attack! (Next on Fox!)
Alternatively, they come to me when I can least do anything about them, like while I’m in the shower or driving. Luckily, keeping a notepad and pencil in the shower (hey, don’t judge me) and a digital voice recorder in the car have solved those particular problems.
Today, I need to finish something else up. But I keep getting side tracked by this little voice in my head.
Every year, I participate in NaNoWriMo, which if you do a little looking around on this site, you’ll find several references to. The goal during National Novel Writing Month is to write a complete novel of 50,000+ words in just the 30 days of November. You can plan and plot and world-build and character-develop all you want before that; but the entirety of the words of the novel itself must be composed between midnight of November 1st and midnight of December 1st.
Last year, I ripped NaNoWriMo a new one, to put it indelicately. I wrote 78,000 words, then went on to write another 15,000 words or so to get my time travel novel (Killing Time) done.
But this year, I have four unfinished novels, dammit. I don’t need to start another one. But I want to participate. And yeah, I could use the month to concentrate on finishing one of the unfinished novels, but…well, I don’t want to. I think part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is the thrill of writing something new.
For the last month or so on the podcasts Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod, they have run promos for a series of 34 stories co-written by four well-known authors (Tim Pratt, Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, and Greg van Eekhout) that are collectively called “The Alphabet Quartet.” Each story title starts with a different letter of the alphabet.
You may be wondering two things right now. One: Why are there 34 stories if there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet? Two: What do all these disparate, seemingly unrelated facts have to do with the price of tallow in Ecuador? I’ll take those in order.
One: There are 34 because although there were originally 26, some of them were published elsewhere, and the magazine that agreed to publish them (Daily Science Fiction) wanted original works, so the quartet wrote brand new ones to replace the ones that had already been published elsewhere. But those of us who contribute to one of the three Escape Artists podcasts (listed above) get all 34. Because we’re special.
Two: I’m about to tie it all together. Stand back. Watch me.
I’ve been trying to come up with some ideas lately for shorter works that I can play with. Stuff that doesn’t require a bunch of world-building, character development, and plotting. When I heard about the Alphabet Quartet, my brain seized on the idea of writing 26 stories, each one beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. It was a cute idea. I filed it away.
A day or two later, a rhyme from Sesame Street long past (which was also featured in the film E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) popped into my head: “A is for Apple. B is for Ball. C is for Cat that sits on the wall.”1 It played over and over in my head.
Eventually, I put the ideas together. To wit: I should write 26 short stories, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, but the titles themselves should make a little doggerel rhyme of that sort.
I jotted down a few ideas in Evernote. I tried to come up with single-word titles beginning with each of the 26 letters of the alphabet in such a way that each three-letter combination formed a ‘stanza.’ But the words had to be evocative; that is, they have to conjure up several ideas. They have to give me a spark. And I have to be able to rhyme the final word of the third line of each stanza with the second title. Think that sounds easy? I’m not a poet. :)
Oh, here. This will explain it better than I’m doing.
B is for Bard;
C is for Clowns that creep through the yard.
D is for Dragon,
E is for Earth;
F is for Forgetting what some things are worth.
G is for Graveside,
H is for Him;
I is for Innocence wrapped up in sin.
J is for Justice,
K is for Kiss;
L is for Lightning: a strike or a miss.
etc. You get the idea.
The third line of each stanza will give a clue to what that letter’s story should be about. And I’m not saying that these are by any means the final choices. Each alphabet word gives me a number of ideas. I especially like “C is for Clown” and “U is for Uranus.” Those are the two for which more or less complete story ideas popped instantly into my head.
So, the idea that came to me while I was trying to do something else—which then inspired me to write this post, which further keeps me from that something else—is that if I write 26 stories of about 2000 words each (on average), that’s more than enough words to win NaNoWriMo, and it gives me a finished “work,” even if it’s not a novel.
Now, if you remove the four days of holiday at the end of November (where we here in the US celebrate Thanksgiving)…well, golly! That equals 26, doesn’t it?
I think this sounds suspiciously like my brain done went and ambushed me with a plan! :)
- The irony of this is that I can find no reference of this anywhere on the Internet. I distinctly remember it, yet I’m probably wrong. It would be amusing in the extreme if my misfiring memory of something that never existed sparked this idea. When I get home, I’ll see if I can find ET and watch that sequence to see what it actually says. The one screen capture I saw online shows Drew Barrymore standing in front of a TV on which is displayed “B is for Banjo,” and it is on a wall.