On the rare occasion that I get writer’s block, one of the things I use to get the words rolling again is “Once upon a time.”
“Once upon a time,” I’ll think. I’ll look around the room and spot, perhaps, my DVD player. “Once upon a time a guy sat down to watch a DVD.”
“Okay, it was Cannibal Holocaust. Jim wasn’t really into gore movies, but he’d lost a bet with a friend about whether or not he could devour an entire watermelon in one sitting, so there he was.”
“Well, he decided he needed some liquid courage to watch the hideously violent film (he really didn’t like gory films). When he went to the refrigerator, the beer was gone.”
Why? Who drank it? Him?
“No, the beer was one of six twelve packs polished off at the poker party the evening before. The poker party, by the way, was something Jim and his friends had put together a year before. Instead of playing for money, they put a ‘Fear Factor’ spin on it. Hence the watermelon, hence Cannibal Holocaust. Hence no beer. Jim decided he’d have to go buy some, so he went to the store.”
In what? A car, a truck a van?
“Beat up ten-speed bicycle. He lost the car a few months earlier in a similar poker game. (Yes, Jim has a gambling problem.) So he takes off on his ten speed, to buy some beer. It’s the middle of the night, but the 7-11 isn’t far. However, just as he’s about to turn off his street, he hears a blood curdling scream and a naked woman bursts out of the house on the corner and races across the lawn. A man runs after her, wielding a hatchet…”
And so on. It’s a silly exercise, but it almost never fails. The key is to try and go left when you’d normally go right. Lots of sudden ninety-degree angles and improbability. I swear, it’s like WD 40 for the mind.
Of course, we never get to find out what happened to Jim. Did he save the girl? Did he shrug and cycle on? If we want to get complex about it, maybe this is what happens:
“Jim leaps off his bike and gives chase to the man with the hatchet, but gets there too late to save the girl. The hatchet gets buried in her skull twice before Jim manages to tackle the bad guy. A brutal fight ensues, a violent, desperate, knock-down drag-out . Jim is at the losing end, being strangled to death, when his grasping hand finds the handle of the hatchet. He grips it hard, yanks it out of the poor girl’s head, and chops at the bad guy, again and again, lost in his own hysteria, fury, and desperation. When the police arrive, they find him there, hatchet in hand, wild-eyed, standing above two dead bodies.
The cops, of course, end up assuming he was the original assailant, and he is arrested. No evidence to the contrary is found, and Jim goes to death row - all because he went out to buy some beer. He never does get to watch Cannibal Holocaust. He never gambles again.”
Try it sometime. Give yourself a license to imagine the ridiculous or the strange or whatever, without censor, and see if helps.
A final one, in honor of it being Halloween:
Once upon a time, two kids came to my door for Halloween Candy. They came alone, and they were never seen again. The very next day, the dirt in the crawl space of my basement was freshly turned, so freshly turned.
Are these two things related?
I don’t know. I truly don’t. I can’t remember.
But my fingernails are dirty, so dirty, and I am… I am…
Happy Halloween and happy reading.