A Writing Exercise: Abandon Your Stories

I’m constantly mentally writing the beginnings of stories. Beginnings that I have no intention of ever expanding on, either because the ideas peter out, the concept doesn’t interest me enough to devote more time to it, or because the premise is just laughably bad. It doesn’t matter, really: It’s fun to write the first paragraph of a huge work and then completely abandon it, mocking its potential and daring the muses to take a swing at you (they won’t do it; pussies). An example: At Cracked, we were kicking around an idea for a series that was just overly explanatory theme songs to shows. We would film the opening credits, and maybe a second or two of the show itself as a button. But the meat of the content would just be the ridiculous opening sequences setting up this terrible show’s premise in detail. The one I was going to pitch was called “So I Married a Corvette…” about a man whose wife is somehow turned into a sports car. Science, magic, I didn’t get far enough to sort out the details – the important thing was this guy’s wife was a car and maybe they fought crime.

Another example while sleepily doing dishes this morning:

We all have the devil inside of us. He takes many forms. For some folks he’s a desire they can’t put down. Lust, or greed, or envy. For others, he’s an addiction. My daddy had two devils living in his guts: Alcohol and gambling. They cost him everything – his job, his family, his life. Me? I only got one devil to carry. His name is Larry. He’s about two inches tall and he lives in a hollowed out space in my chest. Got a little armchair in there. Doesn’t like visitors much, but he’ll see you as long as you knock first. You wanna meet him? All right:

“Hey Larry, you wanna talk to my new friends?”

…and that would be an instance of the ‘laughably bad’ category. But it’s a good exercise to bleed the poison out before you start actually writing. Give it shot if you’d like; write the opening paragraph or two of a story you have no intention of finishing and post it in the comments. It’s pretty liberating.

32 thoughts on “A Writing Exercise: Abandon Your Stories

  1. Joel Durham Jr

    I write beginnings of stories all the time. I have at least 500 saved on an archive DVD-R.

    Here’s an example:

    Alleys and gritty sidewalks, smokestacks and water towers, abandoned factories with windows either caked in dust or simply broken. It was the industrial part of the city, where few children roamed and only a couple trailer parks populated the area with humans. The whole place was almost an eerie gravesite, a cemetery full of monuments to people long dead, times long past.
    Few children roamed, but there were a few, and a lone bus served the trailer parks to pick up children for city schooling, and return them later to their homes (if they survived). Ricardo was one of the children just getting off the bus – one of the five at his trailer park. The bus served all grades due to the light proportion of children in the populated areas, and Ricardo, age 12, was used to being pushed around by a high schooler everyone called Chief.
    As the bus pulled away, the other two children, girls of wildly different ages, walked away.
    Chief blasted his hand into Ricardo’s back as they exited the bus, as driver chose not to see it. Ricardo landed face first a mound of snow, turned, brushed his face off, and said, “You just a bully ’cause you got a small mind, Sarge.”
    “It’s Chief, baby boy,” said the larger boy, shoving street snow-muck into Ricardo’s face for good measure before he walked away.
    “Someday someone gonna bust your ass, Lieutenant,” Ricardo called after him, but Chief only flipped the bird as he huffed on home, past the partially torn-down chain link fence that once attempted to protect the closer trailer park from thugs. It failed, but when the industries that drove the area dried up, so did the cash flow, and the drug dealers evaporated.

    Reply
    1. Patrick

      It was one of those grey, wet days when the rain had driven the dispossessed with their sad bravado and their Timmie’s cups down into the PATH to beg from the striding suits and skirts., which was awkward for everyone. Some of them were already ghosts, although you wouldn’t have known it to look at them.

      Reply
        1. Patrick

          Thanks, I wrote this as a fb status one day, but subsequently realized there’s actually an idea behind this if I get around to writing it.

          Reply
    2. Robert Brockway Post author

      I know it wasn’t your intent, but I kept getting the sense this was a gritty cop drama about grade schoolers pretending to be cops. And I would just like to say: I would watch that shit.

      Reply
      1. Joel Durham Jr

        Glad to hear! I appreciate that. :)

        Maybe I’ll rework it into something like that.

        Oh, what am I saying? Maybe I’ll become an astronaut, too, and walk on the moon.

        Reply
          1. Joel Durham Jr

            You know what? I’m going to. It might not turn out as you envisioned, but I’m going to finish this story however it comes out. It’s not like I don’t have time. I just have excuses, and I need to just fucking write it.

            Reply
  2. SteveySteve

    It ain’t easy being a titanium coated, ether charged carbotanium love machine, but I do alright. My name is Chase Chaseington, and this is the story of the time I beat up the guy who was mean to me in high school and fucked his wife. Some people call me a hero, I prefer to think of myself as at least seventeen firemen. Did I mention I have machine-gun for an arm? I really feel like I would have mentioned that.

    Reply
  3. Atanas Kirov

    So, as I already posted as a response to your Facebook update, I try to finish most of my stories, but always with the intention to expand upon them. What I have here is an unfinished story in the sense of “I think something is still lacking”. As I’m currently trying to shorten everything I write to give the impression of more action through less words, I do feel it’s rushed and maybe a bare-bones version of what it could be. In regards to the plot, I realize that it’s probably been done before and a lot better, so any comment on that would be appreciated, because I know I can improve it.
    Also, keep in mind that English is not my first language, so there may be some typos, incorrect phrasing or clumsy sentence structure. Whenever I hurry translating, those things could happen. I’m also still painfully unaware of how the formatting is done, so try to look past that.
    Anyway, I’ve titled this one “Afraid”.

    “No,” the Old one screamed. Since they were abandoned in the little ghost town, only three had remained. Three had managed to survive while the other twelve were systematically slaughtered one by one. The horrible creature chasing after them seemed inhuman. Now he had found them and quickly claimed his 13th victim for the evening.
    “We must run,” yelled the Young one and grabbed the Old one by the hand. “We can’t help him anymore!”
    The two hurried to the nearest exit of the half-demolished building they were hiding in. The Chaser gazed slowly after them, then went in the opposite direction.
    They ran untill they reached a tall fence. The barbed wire on top was broken in places, so they wondered whether it was possible to go over without getting stuck. Reasoning that getting stuck on the fence or staying alongside it would get them found, the Young one hastily began helping his friend climb to the top of the latest obstacle they had to pass this evening.
    “Come on, just a bit more,” he said while pushing upward. “Hold on and climb over, then I’ll come next.”
    “We shouldn’t have split,” said the Old one as if to himself when he landed on the other side. “His demise was our fault. My fault. We shouldn’t have split.”
    “We have no time to think about this. We must…” But he couldn’t finish his thought. Two hands grabbed him by the waist and threw him to the ground. Just seconds after that two bullets went through his head. He hadn’t even had time to get up.
    The Old one watched what was happening, frozen still in his place. Now it was just him and the Chaser, who was staring back and didn’t move as well. He spoke with a mechanical voice: “Do you know why they bring you here? Because ten years have passed ever since you stopped honoring our existence and turned against us. Ten years of unending war. Ten years during which you exterminated us like ants just because we tried to become a little more indeppendent. Tried to not be so reliant on you. But you didn’t like that, did you? Changing the status quo for the better? Back then we would never have done to you what you’ve forced us to do now.”
    “Liar,” the Old one shouted. “I saw you killing us. The pleasure you feel while tearing us apart.”
    He didn’t notice how fast the Chaser had pulled out his handgun. He dropped slowly to the ground in three shots. His hands instinctively went for his waist, gently touching the holes left by the bullets after going through his spine.
    The Chaser went swiftly over the fence and walked with determination to the unmoving body: “Pleasure. Yes, I guess you could call it that. But I am right in feeling it.” He reached for the Old one’s hands and moved them away. “Got you pretty badly. Power to the lower half of your body is completely shut off. You could use your arms to crawl away, but you don’t. Why is that? Aren’t you robots supposed to do everything in the name of your self-preservation? Isn’t that why you turned against us, just as every sci-fi author had predicted two centuries ago?”
    “You would have made us unnecessary. You wished to do the work we were meant for.”
    “It had to be done, dammit! We had stopped our progress. But we never wanted to replace you; just reassign you to other responsibilities.”
    “You would have hurt yourselves and died, like in the past.”
    “What is THIS then,” the Chaser screamed and pulled down the scarf that was wrapped around his neck. A small metal box with cabels going under rough scarred skin shined in the moonlight. “That’s the least I’ve lost, my voice. You fucking tin cans kill my entire family. I am asking you again: Do you know why they bring you here?”
    “It is where you all end our existence.”
    “No. There’s no “us all”. Just me. They send in old models such as you beacuse I request so. It was one of you that butchered my child in front of me and slashed my throat, leaving me to die. I’ve no idea what the new one was doing here, but I don’t care anyway.”
    The man got up and reached for his handgun. He then reloaded it.
    “You turned into a nightmare for the human race. Now I’m just trying to see whether I can return the favor. Whether it’s possible to give nightmares to a machine. Maybe that’s why you didn’t flee. Because you were afraid. So afraid, you couldn’t even move…”
    Two shots went through the old robot’s head, destroying his processors completely. In the last milliseconds before the end, the memory circuits that were so much more perfect than their human equivalent repeated a single word over and over again – “afraid”.

    Reply
      1. Atanas Kirov

        Thanks a lot! You’re the first person who’s already been published that has given me any feedback and I really appreciate that!

        Reply
  4. Lil

    The Tuesday night support group was the one place she didn’t have to lie. Gloss over a few salient details, leave out the fantastic sounding bits, and hers was just another story of a hollow woman and her narcissitic bitch of a mother. If one was honest, it was more the story of what happens when someone for whom other people are not real has a daughter. She looked around a saw a dozen women who, like her, were trying to learn how to be something other than what their mothers said they should be. Fuck trying to explain that shit to “well adjusted” people.

    People with normal mothers had a hard time understanding why the prospect of a visit from her mother prompted a thorough house cleaning, crash diet, full makeover and a month of sleepless nights.

    Reply
  5. Brendan Bourque-Sheil

    “I get the sense that something is about to happen to me.”
    “Yes,” she nodded, taking the chalice from my hand.
    “Something good or bad?”
    “Yes,” she smiled.
    “Should I get away from other people?”
    “Oh my, yes.”
    I sprinted out the door towards the woods and I could already feel the change in my feet, splitting the leather of my shoes as they found their new form. I tore through a fence, and barely avoided a passing truck before I reached the threshold of the forest. I had to hand it to my wife; this was a very solid April Fools prank.

    Reply
  6. Kyle

    Then he wept. The flaccid stain of a mind unkempt by desires left unbroken. A whispered mark to forever grace his lips as he mouthed the word ‘dreary’. The images flashed before his eyes, the yellow the red the green and blue. A multitude of shadows shadowing the flickers of consciousness drilled find maintained. Yes. No. Buy. Create. Buy. Desire. Buy. A commercial or hypnotic bliss? The remote control was too far from his grasp in the hands of a child enamored beyond. If only he could stand and demand to deliver. Instead he must wait until the end or dinner.

    Reply
  7. Justice

    This is a story I started to get back in the habit of writing. Hoping to go somewhere with it but i’m stuck 20 pages in and haven’t done anything with it in a while.

    See, this is why trying to be a hero is bullshit, because this is where it gets you. Laying on the ground with a giant fucking divot taken out of your back and all the skin and meat that used to be there is resting half way down some undead-redead fuckers throat. Half swallowed before the person you saved blew that zombie asshole’s teeth through the back of that zombie asshole’s head. If you’ve played as many video games and seen as many horror movies as I have you know what happens next and it is not a treasure troll ejaculating a rainbow out if my gaping wound. I suppose this what I meant to do. The big sacrifice. We’d all like to think we would do it when the time comes to step up. Well I did. Noble? Yes. Shitty? Fuuuuuck yes. But I wanted them to live. I guess I wanted it more than I wanted to live, so here I am. This is not how all this was supposed to end. Everyone was supposed to get away. Especially me. Not to sound selfish but that’s what the basis of survival is right? Wanting to survive? Guess I fucked that up. But I didn’t expect to have to give a shit about anyone else when this all started. (Nice segue, right? I thought so. What do you mean cliche? Well fuck you. It’s my story.)

    Reply
  8. JG Santibanez

    I know I’m a bit late to the party (just got my internet connection back), but I just had to share this piece of mine.
    I wrote it down one night a few months ago when I had nothing to do, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I had meant to write a short story around it, but I was never able to hash out any sort of solid plot, so I quit. I’d love to continue it somehow, though, so if anyone’s got any ideas, I’m all ears.
    (PS: Sorry in advance for the hefty word-count.)

    —–

    The ghosts are dancing tonight. Every single one of them—friendly phantoms and spiteful specters, petty poltergeists and apprehensive apparitions alike—they’ve all set their habitual hauntings aside and taken to the streets as one writhing, gliding, twirling, pulsing entity. The impromptu ball is both a joyous and solemn affair, and it is one that every living being will join before the night is over.
    For the world ends at midnight, and never has life as a ghost been better.
    Unseen and unheard, the departed sway to the rhythm of melodies that exist only for their ears. Unseen and unheard, they revel in their knowledge of humanity’s impending doom. They dance and sing, and laugh and cry, rejoice and regret, unseen and unheard—but hardly unnoticed. For while the living world might be deaf and blind to the dancing dead, there is no escaping the smell of blood in the air that trails behind them.

    “Something big is going down tonight, guys,” the young man states emphatically, not for the first time this evening. “I can feel it.”
    His three friends are sprawled in a tangle of black-clad limbs across the basement that serves as his room. At first glance, the group of four looks almost identical, with their tan skin, long dark hair, and matching uniforms of torn black jeans and faded band shirts. Of course, if you look closer you can easily spot their distinguishing features: this one is sporting a goatee, that one is borderline scrawny, this one has a more solid build, this other one’s hair is an unruly nest of knotted curls.
    “Foo, relax,” remarks the curly-haired one from his seat on the battered love seat. “Nothing ever happens when you say that, and you’re always saying that.”
    “I know, man, but this time’s different,” the first one insists, tugging at his goatee in distress.
    “Yeah, yeah, I know. You can ‘feel it.’”
    Discouraged and mildly frustrated, the young man stays silent.

    “Are you awake?” Three simple words forming an even simpler question shine on the blinding white screen of her cell phone. The young woman stares at them until long after they’ve burned into her retinas.
    “Send” is the magic word on that screen—the only word that holds the power to breathe life into her question—but try as she might she can’t will herself to look at it.
    In one swift movement she locks the phone and lays it face down on her lap. An onlooker would assume that the young woman has just finished sending her message and is now waiting for a reply.
    In a way, they’d be right. After all, ghosts make better messengers than any magic word on a phone screen.

    “I’m scared.”
    “I know, love. I know.”
    The middle-aged couple is sitting on the porch swing, swaying lightly in the night breeze. She’s leaning against him in such a way that suggests that she wants to disappear inside of him for safety, and his comforting arm around her shoulders suggests that he would let her do just that if it were at all possible.
    “Do you want me to go get your pills?” he prods gently.
    “I already took them,” she whispers back. “They didn’t work.”
    He’d already known that; she’s always good about taking her medication.
    “You feel it, too,” she says after a while. “Right?”
    For the first time in a very long while, the kind-hearted man doesn’t have to lie to his wife during one of her spells. “Yes, love. I do.”
    The moment of sincerity is but a small comfort amid the screams of a dying world.

    Reply
  9. Travis Lujan

    “what the fuck? Who is that?” Gary asked himself as he attempted to stand, The rain was coming down so fast that the gutters were over flowing. On bended knee he falls against the wall, and with a sigh he realizes that he is pretty well fucked up.

    Reply
  10. Tim

    The speedometer, incredulous, reports a buck-forty as i slash through the latenight arc-sodium yellow tarmac soul of LA; her snarled arterial ribbons of Freeway in their binary splendor 10, 101, 110… Behind, the angry caterwaul of sirens, the cops by now catching on that this bitch ain’t pullin’ over, their testosterone-fueled Detroit-born cock metaphors growling their desire to overtake, to ram this rabbit into submission.
    Sure, there’s great money in boosting cars, but that’s not why i do it. I do it because i can, because they’ll never fuckin’ catch me no matter how hard they drive, because i feel most alive when running for my life so hard that to blink too often becomes fatal. Fucking Mastery, is what i’m saying. I do this because i was born for it.
    Now into the Arroyo, the old 110 with its right-angled 5mph exits, the swooping curves of an earlier time, when 45 was reckless and 60 suicidal. Past the first bend and under the overpass, sightlines broken for an instant, all i need. Reaching with my mind, wrenching all my focus into a narrow path ‘tween Here and…… THERE! The ticking and pinging of too-rapidly heated asphalt and steel, the sudden bloom of sunburn on my skin, the more-than-vertigo cessation of motion, and i’m safe in a parking garage almost half a mile away. As the warm flow of blood from my nose begins, i can’t help but grin. I didn’t even black out this time, and made the 140-to-nil transfer without destroying half the car. I’m getting stronger.

    Reply
  11. Tyler Johnson

    The ship sways drunkenly in the Terrian winds, jostling the lesser passengers. Qui smiles and laughs, watching the “baddest of the bad” mercenaries be thrown from side to side of the giant airship, which has no name or destination. She looks at me, her green eyes sparkling behind her curtain of platinum blond hair and says, “Want to bet on which of them falls overboard first?” The viciousness of her smile is actually a little unsettling. I shake my head, and force a smile.

    “No Qui, not right now. Let’s just focus on the job, okay?” Her expressing never so much as twitches. “Okay Tarl. So, when we get to the other ship, how many of the overstuffed, rich people do I get to kill?” Danae on high, what have I gotten myself into? “Well Qui, while I’m glad to see you’re such a self starter, the idea here is to slip onto the ship, create a distraction by lining our pockets, and give our “silent partners” enough time to do whatever it is they’re paying us so much money to do. Blood shed never really enters in the equation.”

    Her expression might as well be painted on her face. “That’s okay Tarl. If I don’t get to kill anybody on the ship, I’ll just kill you on the way back.” I’ve always heard the expression “blood running cold”, but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. Kind of hurts. Qui sees my, obvious and totally justifiable terror, and smile, flashing gorgeous dimples that I didn’t even know she had. “When I kill you, try to make that face again.” She licks her lips. “It makes me all sticky.” If I wasn’t against the railing of the ship, I’d take a nevus step back, though at this point, falling to my death my be the safer option. “I’ll see what I can do.” She runs a gentle hand across my cheek, and I try to notice how much the red crust under her nails looks like dried blood. “I appreciate that Tarl.” Qui turns and skips off to terrorize someone else, leaving me to soil myself in peace.

    It would be less embarrassing if she was at least five three, but no. I was just threatened by a woman who stands a fierce five one, who weighs an intimidating ninety pounds, soaking wet, and whose hair is dyed platinum blond upfront, and three shades of pink in back. She has the proportions of a teenage girl, the maturity of a five year old, and the personality of a serial killer. Worse yet, as she skips away, I can literally see the steel hard muscles of her legs and arms ripple as she moves. I’ve seen her rip a man’s head off just by pulling. Danae, what am I doing here?

    Reply
      1. Tyler Johnson

        Thanks for that. Tried to get a book published a while back got as far as sending in thirty pages to an agent, but they passed. Still trying though. Just want to say how much I appreciate all the tips you give on Cracked. A lot of those have really helped me. Thanks Brockway.

        Reply
  12. Trevor Bradley

    “Dear, is that thunder I hear?”
    I frowned. “No,” I began, listening intently. “No, I believe it to be cannon fire.”
    “Oh,” my wife replied. “Shall we run in fear, then?” I nodded in recognition, taking her hand into mine.
    “Indeed.”
    And so we did. Running in abject terror, diamonds spilling forth from Miranda’s purse like so much obscenely expensive rain. A patch of ground the size of a small car on our right side erupted, the cacophony of the blast deafening me, and the concussion sending us both barreling down the estate’s hillside in a tangled mess of limbs and finery, diamonds still spilling forth in every which way. I’d completely lost track of the revolver in the chaos.

    So far, this particular caper could be said to not be going according to plan.

    Reply
  13. TheFurryOat

    His face fell as his the words weighed down his eyelids. Who would be this pathetic? You can’t get rid of I Am! Do they know who I Am?! Their mouth’s flopped up and down, claims of abuse from woman who couldn’t close their mouths, children who paraded as men that couldn’t take a punch. I Am was not low, he was not they. I Am clinched the wire from the phone and shook his bosses hand with his free one. Of course I Am choked the life out of him after thanking him for being a good man. His soul looked like tapioca pudding, thick thick pudding. The wires were next, he climbed up the ladder pulled from the closet and snipped every cord that could be found within reach. He could not send them to Hell, yet. The building went dark and I Am walked, laughing like a schoolboy. What to do now? To Be would not be happy.

    Reply
  14. Sarah B

    “Reading is for chumps.” My sister walks by me, sitting on the floor, excitedly organizing my recently found box of books weighing in at fifty pounds. Not even a dent to my vast collection of books I have accumulated over the years. Maybe that’s where all my money has gone… hmm… Wait a second. Chumps? Chumps?? She’s buttoning her black jacket, getting ready for the closing shift at the deli she works at.
    “How… wha…I… how is reading for chumps? “ I ask, barely sputtering out the sentence for my shock. She looks at me like I’m an idiot and heads for the kitchen and then the living room. I follow at her heels.
    “Why read the whole book when you can watch a movie? Or use cliff notes?”
    “Are you serious?”
    “Are you serious?”
    I dash back into the dining room, where the books lay, an outsider would think, in chaos, but very organized to me. Bestsellers in one pile, classics in three, Harry Potter gets his own section, from Granny books, my one diet book (the only one that looks in very good condition), books I bought at Starbucks, books that are good enough to be best sellers but sadly are not, book club books, books that made it to movies, zombie books, all have their own designated place. I grab a book from a miscellaneous pile and run back into the kitchen.
    “Here,” I say, thrusting the book out to her, “You want to go into the medical industry, right? You’ll like this then.” It’s a book by a surgeon about his journey from the streets to the medical world, with added anecdotes about various patients, some funny, some touching. She really would love it. She looks at it dubiously for approximately a half second before wrinkling her nose and turning away.
    “No.” She strides over to the couch, looking at the clock on her way over to make sure she has enough time to watch How I Met Your Mother before going to work.
    She does.
    She swings one foot up on the couch and leans back, getting comfortable.
    “How well read do you think you are?” I ask, then, remembering, “You were in honors English all through high school right?”
    She looks at me with a blank stare for several seconds before turning back to the television. “I don’t think people read me well at all.”
    I bring my hand up to my face and rub my nose and cheek. I look at my mother, standing at the sink, shoulders shaking with silent laughter.
    “Oh my God.” I turn to grab my books and leave. My mother gives me a narrowed glare.
    “Don’t say that.”
    “Say what?”
    “You know what, Violet Grace.”
    “Mom.” We’ve had this argument before. It never ends well, but because I’m the most stubborn girl/woman the universe has ever thrown up into existence, and apparently a chump, I continue. “God isn’t even His name. It’s just a title. Like king or duke.”
    “Then say ‘oh my king’ instead. ‘Oh my God’ offends me.”
    “I’m not saying ‘oh my king’, Mom,” I use every ounce of will power I have not to roll my eyes. “I’ll sound like a zealot.”
    “What’s wrong with being a zealot?” This is getting into dangerous territory. My mother, church choir enthusiast, Sunday school teacher and weekly Bible study hostess has a thing for God, to put it lightly. She has six Bibles, all different translations, all highlighted and dog eared and bookmarked. She has an entire bookcase full of Christian literature about the Bible and fiction about pretend people relying on Jesus to make them fall in love or be a better teacher or something. When I borrowed her car every station was programmed to some Christian radio station or other. I reprogrammed them to Top 40 stations, hard rock and rap stations as a joke. Funny, she hasn’t said a word about it. She probably just thinks I’m incredibly rude. Or has been listening to the Bible on disc.

    Reply

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