Beginagain Story Starts

Have you ever heard the one about Michael Finnegan?

Poor man.

Apparently,

  • He had whiskers which constantly fell out, then grew back in.
  • He went fishing with a pin (or a pinnegan),
  • He grew fat, then thin,
  • He drank all his gin,
  • He had issues with coordination for he did dreadful things with his shins.

 

Of course, this Finnegan bloke is a fictitious character who first appeared in a song in the 1921 edition of The Hackney Scout Song Book. The number of stanzas in the song depend on how many words or phrases rhyme with Finnegan. The unifying lines in each stanza are the first:

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan

and the last:

Poor old Michael Finnegan. Begin again …

While the very existence of interminably long songs like this ensures that I will never volunteer to be a scout leader or a bus chaperone, it does teach me something about writing.

  • In each piece – like in each stanza – we must get the right words in the right places.
  • Each piece of writing must come to an end. There are, after all, a finite number of words that can rhyme with Finnegan. (Thank you, Lord)
  • When we reach the end, we must begin again – somewhere, on something, with a different set of words.

Over the years I’ve talked to beginning writers, best-selling authors, and somewhere-in-between wordsmiths who are on the hunt for ideas.

And here I am, sitting on file folders full of them.

I drive down the road, see two men gesticulating in a driveway, and wonder what their story is.

I hear a snatch of conversation and think … “First line!”

I grab a writing utensil and whatever paper is handy and I scribble down the bones, and then I put it in the file for LATER.

I’ve discovered that, while LATER does come, it brings with it a fresh set of challenges and … more ideas. While I am thankful for this abundance, the weight of all those story seeds wearies my arm so that I cannot even lift a pencil. Where do I start? What if I choose the wrong story? What if I choose the right story? What if, in my fear, I hold onto the stories so long that they lose their germination power?

These questions lead me to another discovery:

Sometimes faithful stewardship of story seeds means we give them to others to plant.

At the end of my days, I want so very much to be considered a faithful steward.

So, writers, get ready.

It’s time to begin again.

How to Use Begin Again Starts:

  • Read each prompt, clicking on the links if there are any. (I will try to have clean links, but enter at your own risk!)
  • Pick up your pencil or your pen, open your laptop … and start writing.
  • Use these starts any way you wish, or not at all. You might need to pass them on to others. Remember: Good giving can be good stewardship.

BEGIN AGAIN #1

Going along with the metaphor of story seeds and propagation, here is a story start with some true growth potential!

In this February 2012 National Geographic News article, a team of Russian scientists discovered 32,000 year old seeds 124 feet below the Siberian permafrost.

They “… extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and successfully germinated the plants…”
Eventually, these plants flowered and produced seeds of their own. Continue reading in the link below:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/02/120221-oldest-seeds-regenerated-plants-science/

While this is super cool on a Botanical Jurassic Park level, there are so many story starts in this article. Here are just a few:

  • Look up the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Or, think about the implications of a doomsday vault. Or, read this really cool article entitled Sowing for Apocalypse that showed up in a 2007 edition of The New Yorker.
  • Write a poem centered on the word “Thaw”. Or, an acrostic poem using the words Tundra or Siberia.
  • How about a devotional using the facts of this story to illustrate the power of Almighty God in thawing frozen hearts and hands?
  • I really like this one though – “The new study suggests that permafrost could be a ‘depository for an ancient gene pool”, a place where any number of now extinct species could be found and resurrected, experts say.”
    • Playing with this further, a man/woman carries something secret to FILL IN THE BLANK, buries it, then returns home. This man/woman dies before telling anyone the secret. Years later, a random person (who will become your protagonist) finds the latitude and longitude coordinates in an old journal stuffed down in a box of books they buy at an auction. Using modern-day geocaching tools, your protagonist goes on the hunt. What they find could save FILL IN THE BLANK. (Their hometown? Everyone east of the Mississippi River? One child? The President of the United States?) What do they do with this secret and who else is searching for it?

BEGIN AGAIN # 2

Here goes … Read this article from Smithsonian.com about hydrological landmarks in Czech Republic. Click this link: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hunger-stones-emerge-drought-parched-czech-river-180970130/

Now … Jot down a few phrases or questions that snag your mind while reading.

A few of my mind snags include:

  1. “When you see me, weep.”
  2. What else is discovered when the waters recede?
  3. What happens when the opposite occurs, when something long buried is unearthed?
  4. What happens when a hunger stone message has your name on it?

Or, consider this …

One of my favorite Bible stories is that of Joshua. Go ahead and read chapters one through four in Joshua right now. Pay particular attention to Joshua 4:9

Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. (NKJV)

Each of the twelve tribes gathered twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan to take into Gilgal to be a memorial to the Lord.

But in verse nine, Joshua gathers twelve stones and sets them up in the midst of the Jordan, where the priests stood in obedience.

Think about that.

Now, write. You are the (tourist/archaeologist/whatever) who discovers the stones in the midst of the Jordan. It’s quite a find, but there is a group of people who don’t want the ancient journey to be proven. They will do anything to stop you from telling the story.

BEGIN AGAIN #3

Look at the picture.

Write the first thing that pops into your head but only write three sentences!!!

Now, answer these questions in your head:

  1. Where are they going?
  2. Where have they been?
  3. Who are they?
  4. The little girl asks a question, what is it?
  5. The man asks a question, what is it?
  6. Who is taking the picture?
  7. There is a tragic scene the day before this picture was taken. Does this change your thinking? Mood?
  8. There will be a happy occasion the day after this picture is taken. Does this change your thinking? Mood?
  9. Now, look at this picture and try to get inside the mind of an observer who never had this kind of experience. Write his or her reaction to this small scene.
  10. As a Christian writer, what are the implications of a ride on the Father’s shoulders?

BEGIN AGAIN #4

I wrote a poem once about Fall.  It goes like this:

The Leaves

Dry, brown against brown
beyond my room.
I hear the whispers …
Open windows and they talk:
a shifting, sliding, rustling in the wind.
Now, trembling buds burst with green.
Now, a burst of orange, yellow, red.
Now, they just whisper.
Brothers of the boughs upon which they grew.

# # #

Falling Into Story

Sadie’s leaves

Before my daughter, Emily, mowed the yard she brought in a few small branches of colorful leaves to show us. Sadie, the four year old with generosity bubbling from her heart in the most interesting of places, pulled off two leaves and said, “Here, Mommy. I picked these just for you. I knew they were your favorites.”

She was right. All gifts from children are my favorites.

Pressed into a book

I promptly plucked the largest book from our shelves, grabbed paper to protect the pages, noted the giver and the date, and then

… thought about who would find these leaves and when … 

Not just any book

Well, that did it. A Begin Again story start was born.

There are SO many places to go with these pictures.

Your Turn
  1. Write a poem about Fall, leaves, small gifts from tender hands, smells this time of year, trying to identify smells this time of year.
  2. Write about any season other than the Fall and notice your emotional reaction. Do you keep coming back to this season? Do you have longings? Regrets? Anticipation? Give your feeling to a character who lives in south Florida. He (or she) has just learned of an inheritance from a cousin he/she hasn’t seen for twenty years. The inheritance is a certain piece of family land in Ohio, but there are memories from that place. Write a scene about it.
  3. Just some background information on the dictionary itself. It is copyrighted 1964. The guide words on these two pages run from guess to gumma. Write a flash fiction story (500 words or less) about finding these leaves in this book that takes place in October 2038. Use at least three of the following words in the story: Guess, guide, guillotine, guilty, gulch, gull, gum arabic. (Yes, these words fall between the guide words in the dictionary!)
  4. And for Christian Writers, one of the most important themes in our lives is the redemption of Christ’s blood for THE Fall. Use a passage like Romans 8:1-4. Pray. Then, write.

BEGIN AGAIN #5

After Five Years – This story start comes from a true story I read about in 2018.

PROMPT: A young woman with two children suddenly hears from her ex-husband after five years of silence. Not only does he now want custody, he also wants to control the extra curricular and religious activities of the children. 

Begin …
  1. Create a scene in the woman’s kitchen where she receives the initial contact from her case worker. This could be a phone call, or a letter. Who is the first person the woman calls after she receives the news?
  2. Switch the genders of the custodial and non-custodial parents. (Father has the kids. Mother has bailed, but is coming back)
  3. We generally tend to side with the mother in such cases, but what if the mother who has custody in the story is the true antagonist? Write a scene that begins where the father discovers his ex-wife is using the children for ______, and ends with the phone call to his attorney to begin custody proceedings.
  4. Write a scene from the case worker’s point of view using either scenario number one or two from this list. The case worker knows something the custodial parent doesn’t know. What is it? (Just to add to the tension here, case workers are supposed to be neutral, following state guidelines and procedures.)
  5. Now, to further challenge you, take a day off if you are able and go to family court in your city. Just observe. Take some notes but not names! Pray and ask the Lord to tenderize your heart for the folks who go through court proceedings about family matters. I’ve been there. It’s tough. What scriptural encouragement comes to your mind as you sit and observe? Write it. Those verses might just be Words of Life to a parent dying on the inside.

BEGIN AGAIN # 6

Child’s Play

They were tossed in a heap on the couch – discarded friends with a leg here, a wing there. I did what only a normal mother would do … I posed them. I imagined the delight on our four year old’s face in the morning. My writing mind kicked in and started a story:

 

There once was a bird and a horse …

I called the horse Blue and the bird Whinny. What grand adventures they had – one had the gift of roaming the ground, one the advantage of the sky. A tale of perspective. A tale of friendship. A tale of triumph and consideration and cooperation with gifts.

The next day, our four year old found these two. Instead of delight, she was chagrined that they had an adventure without her.

So, she separated them. Banishment to separate lands is another story, another lesson. The motive behind the banishment is yet one more facet of the tale.

Before bed that same evening, our daughter created her own scene:

We three friends …

The Lion, The Wolf, and The Bluejay.

(Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)

Your Turn to Begin Again

  1. Choose one of the above pictures and write a child-like tale. Read a few of Aesop’s Fables if you need some help. Or, visit the children’s section of the library.  Your story can be no more than 800 words.
  2. Write a devotional about unlikely friends, or the value of steadfastness. Read the backstory of David and Jonathan in the following passages to give you insight into the sweet bond of godly friendship.
    1. I Samuel 18: 1-5
    2. I Samuel 19:1-7
    3. I Samuel 20
    4. I Samuel 23:15-18
    5. II Samuel 1:17-27
    6. II Samuel 9
  3. Consider an empty-nester. Usually, we think of women and their emotions after the children have gone, but I want you to put yourselves in the shoes of the father whose children have all grown up and moved away. Write whatever comes to your mind however you must include the grouping of beloved stuffed animals and the piece must be written from the father’s point of view.

 

BEGIN AGAIN # 7

That Was The Year

I drove down the road, careful to observe the 35 mph speed limit. Children live here. Dogs live here. People do life stuff here.

And there, in the neighborhood on the left, just down the first sweeping hill, a group of vultures. They lifted and lighted in a strange wave.

The writer in me thought only briefly of the poor, dead thing which was the focal point of the flighty group. My thoughts dwelt longer on the story potential of the entire scene.

Before I passed the spot, I had a first line, a series of questions worked up in my head to flesh out the first line, and another Begin Again for all my writing friends.

First Lines

That was the year the vultures starved. 

Grim, right? But not really. Do you get the depth of possibility here?

First lines demand answered questions:

  1. What would cause the vultures to starve? (A lack of food source.)
  2. What made the food scarce? Is this a positive event or a negative event? (Positive would be no more death) (Negative would be all the food source had already died.)
  3. Someone had to survive in order to be the narrator of that first line. Who is it? How and why are they telling the story now?
  4. Why should we (the readers) care that the vultures died?

And The Other Stuff

In the writing of this Begin Again, I had to conduct a little research. Since I am into words, the words are important. They must be the right ones in the right order.

According to www.thespruce.com, vultures are social creatures. Not really something I like to consider a lot. I want to not like them with their creepy heads, their patience, their ominous shadows. They are family-oriented. Never mind that they tear rotten flesh from lifeless bones …

But what to call a group of them?

A committee, a venue, or a volt.

A committee of vultures in flight is called a kettle.

A volt of vultures feasting on a carcass is called a wake.

Of course, each of those words conjures different connotations.

So, have a little fun with this one. Take whatever you need.

The first line? It’s yours.

The idea of a Vulture Committee? (Suddenly, I thought of a church, or a city council meeting. With a little dove right in the midst.)

What if two people have a conversation about a volt. Using subtext, make one person think the conversation is about the Chevy Volt (a car) and the other person is speaking of a Vulture Volt. Put them (the people, not the birds) in a car. Who is driving? Where are they going? (Depends on which one is driving, right?) What is the surprise at the end?

And what of the spiritual implications of a group of vultures? Peruse the Proverbs of Solomon.

Take another look at that first line: That was the year the vultures starved. 

Replace the word vultures.

Replace the word starved.

Have fun.

Ready, Set, Write!