Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Eagle Dancers

This story fragment came out of a creative writing exercise in Lissa Rovetch's children's book class at Pixar.  I love her exercises because you have no time to think - you just have to create.  It removes a lot of barriers from the writing process.  For this exercise, we had to pick two cut-out magazine pictures.  I chose these two:

Native American dancers dressed as eagles:

Tent on a river, looks like the Pacific Northwest:

Sometimes we pick the images and then pass them to the writer on our left, but this time she let us keep the ones we chose.  Then, we all had to write an opening sentence.  Then you chose which of the opening sentences from your classmates you wanted to use.  Our choices were:

The island in the distance beckoned.
Fred tried to find a ship to take him there.
He had never opened that door before.
I had the strangest dream last night.
There was dirt on the floor but Molly couldn't find a mop.
I hate wagons.
Cousins cause confusion.
They put the key back in the small box.

So that's it.  Those three ingredients (2 pictures + an opening sentence) and you're off and writing.  And you only have 10-20 minutes or so.  Here's what I came up with:

The Eagle Dancers

The island in the distance beckoned.  Larry and his son Trevor pulled the oars of their canoe.  They were camping out here in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington.  Time to get away from it all.  Larry's wife Madeleine had insisted they take a father-son bonding trip - their last chance before Trevor headed off to college in a couple of weeks.  Larry wasn't thrilled about missing his weekly poker game, but Madeleine had made the "suggestion" in a tone that signaled it was anything but.  So Larry had packed up the Forerunner to the gills with everything a modern man needed to survive in the wild: a cooler full of Natty Light, some Costco steaks, and a cell phone signal booster so he could stream movies at night while his son communed with Nature or something.

Trevor was always a bit strange to Larry.  He was an Eagle Scout, loved the outdoors.  He was up out of the house every chance he got.  Other than the occasional grunt and nod in the hallway, Larry didn't see much of his free-spirited son.  Which was just as well with him, as they tended to get on each others' nerves if they were in close quarters.  It hadn't always been like that.  When Trevor was his little blond boy, he'd fly him around like an airplane, blow bubbles at his nose, and teach him how to hold a fishing rod.  Those days were long gone, thought Larry as he elbowed the fishing rods to the back of the canoe.  Now it was just him and Trevor and the lapping of the waves as the sun set.  Goddamn it was so quiet out here, away from it all.

They reached the shore and struck camp.  Larry tried to help but he mostly got in the way.  So he pretended to go off and hunt for kindling while Trevor whipped up the tent in no time.

Larry tried to tell Trevor a couple of ghost stories around the campfire but he kept butchering them.  Trevor laughed in all the right places, which only pissed Larry off.  They made excuses about being tired and retired to their separate tents.

Larry awoke to the sound of Trevor urgently whispering.  "Dad, come here."  Larry grumbled and groaned, but Trevor was insistent.

Trevor led Larry to a break in the tall pines.  There, in the clearing, three Native American men did a war dance in full eagle regalia.  "I thought you said this island was deserted," said Larry."It's supposed to be," said Trevor.  "How did they get here?  There's only one dock."

They soon had the answer to their question.  With one beat of his wings, the War Chief transformed into a real eagle and shot into the sky.  His braves followed suit.  "Did you see that?" asked Trevor.  "How much beer did I drink last night?" asked Larry.

<got cut off here>

Postscript: So I rushed the last paragraph or so because we had our two-minute warning and I really wanted to get to the transforming eagle guys.  But the exercise waits for no one.  Besides being fun, the other good thing about the exercises are that you get story fragments that may inspire you to write a longer piece someday.  Anyway, it's fun and drives home how little of a start you need to get going.

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