The other day in my introductory fiction-writing workshop we talked about the intrigant, a term coined by Jerome Stern in his book Making Shapely Fiction. An intrigant is anything in a story that makes the reader want to keep reading.
As an exercise I had each student write one sentence that they thought would work as an intrigant. Then each student passed their paper to the person on their right, and each got to read someone else’s intrigrant and then add another “intriguing” sentence to follow from the first. Then the papers were passed again, and another sentence written, and so on. After seven passes, the eighth person’s challenge was to come up with a satisfying concluding sentence. The end result being a collection of micro-stories of eight sentences each, each one written collectively by eight different people.
Here are three of the stories:
“Why is there a box sitting right there James?”
James glanced around wildly but could not find the source of the voice. Outside of the small pool of light in which he and the box stood, he could see nothing. The question echoed in his mind, pushing him to open that box and find an answer, lest he suffer some horrible punishment for not knowing.
Yet the voice waited just outside of recognition, and the hair on his arms stood as he contemplated his choice.
“The box, James,” the voice pushed, “why is it there?”
“Am I dead?” asked James, his voice almost failing him.
“The box, James,” repeated the voice, “is your life. If you are not inside, then you are--”
“Dead,” James finished, the word turning sour in his mouth.
“You aren’t crazy if the shadows start calling your name,” my father told me, “but the next time you go for a walk, take a flashlight.”
I only wish he had told me not to call back.
Nothing good ever came of calling back.
Next time I went I was glad to have the flashlight because it was good for more than finding my footing. It was probably what saved my life, that little piece of manmade light. Or rather, was it the manic elf who lived on my shoulder (though it seemed no one else could see him)? He usually had my back, I found, but my father wouldn’t let me talk about him, saying only crazy folk had shoulder-elves, and his daughter was certainly not crazy.
The elf agreed.
After buttoning her burberry trench coat and tying on her Hermes scarf, Brenda swung the Chanel bag containing the severed hand onto her shoulder and called to her husband, “I’m ready.”
He was already at the door, frowning back in consternation as he tucked his worries into the back of his mind; they were already an hour late and their clients weren’t known for being forgiving. On the contrary, they were known for being singularly unforgiving. They didn’t want to repeat what had happened the last time. So this time, Brenda had taken several precautions – hence the severed hand she had so carelessly tossed over her shoulder.
Just as they were about to close the door behind them, he stopped. “Brenda!” he called in anxiety, “I don’t know where I put the eyeballs!”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I have them too.”
Planning Halloween parties was a very stressful job.