9th Mar 2022
Before you read this post, we highly recommend reading Ismael’s short story ‘Corky the Christmas Tree‘.
Michael has asked if I would put together an example for Rogue Animal of how I come up with short stories and hopefully help aspiring authors. Funny thing—Samantha Palmer and I were talking about doing the same thing for Writer’s Island a few months ago. Here’s how I took the Writing Prompt Challenge and came up with a story.
This was me just spitballing ideas and tossing up possibilities. 🙂
Hmm… the life of a Christmas tree… in first person POV. 2K words? Cute.
Okay, so what about a Christmas tree can we talk about? Where it’s grown? Or is this cut from the wild? If a tree tells a story in the forest, will anyone hear it? Ha! No. The commercial version is better here. We can have all the taller, straighter, more fluffy trees getting bought up first, bragging about how much better they are than the ones never bought, while our scrawny little tree is left to the end. Ooh, burn pile material. Yikes!
That’s good for a tug at the heartstrings. So how do we turn this around? Someone buys it at the end, of course, but who? A tender child, that’s who. Someone in dire straits, with little money, and a family member who is ill or something and can’t come out with the kid to buy the tree. Yeah. Maybe a handicapped kid, or with Down Syndrome, like Andy.
How does this happen? The tree stand owner feels sorry for the kid and gives it to him for free. Andy is so thrilled that he takes home his little Charlie Brown tree and sets it up in his… his… one room apartment? Nope. Travel trailer in an RV lot? Ooh, that sounds miserable! Yes! Mama’s sick with a fever and little Andy was set on getting a tree this year like Mama promised him back during Halloween. Mama lost her job and doesn’t have any money to buy a tree. Nor money to see a doctor or get medicines. Wow, tragic.
Okay, let’s connect the dots here.
One: Andy is our secondary main character. He doesn’t get any lines or play into the story except at first as being noticed by the little tree as someone in the background. Then later we can bring him forward when the stand owner has a chat with him and Andy gets the tree.
Two: Corkbark Fir tree (Corky) is our main character. It’s slower growing and more compact than the subalpine firs and has blue needles. It’s unusual in that it’s not a green leafed tree. Everyone is buying the green ones and leaving this one alone. The other trees, (the Balsam Fir, the Noble Fir, the Douglas Fir, etc.) make fun of it saying it’s not even the right color for a tree, especially for a Christmas tree.
The Corkbark fir is very similar to the subalpine firs. Their distinguishing feature is pale, nearly white, bark which makes this tree stand out among other trees, almost like an aspen. The bark is usually yielding but tough, not brittle or flaky. The color is pale ash gray, creamy white, or yellow-white. The needles can be boiled and the liquid drunk to purify the body or help hair grow.
Research: The nay-sayers.
The Noble Fir, known for its beauty, has a long keep ability, and its stiff branches make it a good tree for heavy ornaments, as well as providing excellent greenery for wreaths and garland.
Scots pines are dense trees with dark-green needles. Stiff branches hold up well to ornaments and needle retention is excellent.
Douglas fir is a dense tree with soft, light green needles. You’ll need to stick with lighter-weight ornaments since the branches are not as stiff as some other species. The Douglas fir needles radiate in all directions from the branch. When crushed, these needles have a sweet fragrance.
Balsam Fir have short, flat, long lasting needles that are rounded at the tip; nice, dark green color with silvery cast and fragrant. These needles are 3/4 – 1 and 1/2 in. in length and last a very long time. This is the traditional Christmas tree that most Americans grew up with. This tree has a dark-green appearance and retains its pleasing fragrance throughout the Christmas season.
Three: We see and hear the story only from Corky’s point of view. From his sudden move to the sales floor, super excited to become some family’s Christmas tree, then the mocking and teasing by the other trees as he is never chosen and moved further and further to the back of the lot, to the realization that if he isn’t sold, it’s onto the burn pile for him. (Which had already been started by the owner to burn all the dead trees that didn’t make it.) We see it blazing away and then the tree hears Andy ask about him. Is he saved?
Four: We see Andy’s home and his sick mother in bed. She asks how he got the tree and he tells her about the tree lot in town. She is grateful for the tree but reminds him that she didn’t get any decorations this year, nor does she have any presents for him. He doesn’t mind and says that he will find ways to decorate it. He loves the tree and its blue colored needles.
Five: Andy finds all sorts of things to decorate his new tree. Shoestrings and single socks with interesting stripes. Used aluminum foil cut in odd shapes by Andy. Old tissue papers that Mom used to blow her nose, but Andy doesn’t mind. To him, it looks good on the tree. He puts a candy wrapper on the tree as the topper because it has a picture of a star on it. He and his mother adore the tree and sing carols as they look at it.
Six: Corky is worried because he is placed too close to the only heat source in the trailer: the stovetop. As Andy makes tea for his mother, the heat causes some of Corky’s needles to drop into the boiling water, his thin branches shrivel and overheat. This is very painful to Corky but he so wants to make this family happy with him that he suffers through the pain. Some of his branches die in the process and he looks lopsided. Somehow, the pine needle tea helps Mom break her fever and she feels better in a few days. Andy considers that his Christmas present.
Seven: After Christmas, Andy decides to plant Corky in the yard behind the trailer where it takes root and grows into a beautiful sixty foot tree giving shade and sustenance to the wild creatures in the area. Corky watches Andy grow up and marry, still living in the trailer park but a nicer home. Andy waters and talks to his tree friend. His children play with Grandma beneath it and they live happily ever after. This synopsis took just over a thousand words, including research material, so there’s plenty of room left for the story
Okay, so that was my odd way of coming up with this story. There are a million ways to do this so feel free to make your own synopsis formula. Let’s go out and Break some Bad Writing.
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