Writing Right with Dmitri: Odd Inspiration Challenge
Noodling around the interwebs, I found this idea from James Thurber:
Also, I have a special wariness of people who write opening sentences with nothing in mind, and then try to create a story around them. These sentences, usually easy to detect, go like this: "Mrs. Ponsonby had never put the dog in the oven before," "'I have a wine tree, if you would care to see it,' said Mr. Dillingworth," and "Jackson decided suddenly, for no reason, really, to buy his wife a tricycle."
'Thurber's Advice to Miss E.H.'.
Thurber, presumably, was being funny. (With him, it's sometimes hard to tell, though he makes me laugh helplessly at other times.) What he seems to be saying is that it's a bad idea to try to write a story based on a chance remark, funny image, or etc. Something that, frankly, a lot of us do at h2g2.
I think he's wrong, of course. Moreover, I think he knew he was wrong. This is the guy whose most famous cartoon – and Thurber, who drew even worse than I do1, was a famous cartoonist – involves a seal on the head of a bed. The punchline is, 'All right, have it your way – you heard a seal bark.' These cartoons were dashed off and usually thrown on the floor, but then rescued by others in the office and sent over to the art department, who complained. Most of his humour appears to have been inspired by chance happenings, coupled with an often delicious sense of the absurd.
So I thought, 'Why not?' Here's my challenge. I'm going to list three random openings. Pick one, and write a short-short story about it.
- 'The weather isn't going to get any better,' said Martha. 'But then, it won't get worse, so I'm going out.'
- John was puzzled by the fresh cucumber and tin of tuna he found on the busy crosswalk.
- 'Congratulations! You Have Been Chosen!' was how the letter began – in big, bold typeface.
Okay. Now let's prove Thurber wrong. Make something funny out of that.