When I was younger and had more time to dive into my fiction and world building, I would often practice the craft by selecting three objects or topics to write a piece around. I feel that I became quite good at it. At the time, I called it “writing to the three” and I even started a small writing group that would meet weekly and share stories we’d built around the three things.
Each meeting would start with the exchange of stories, and then we would proceed to selected the random topics for the next week’s challenge. We would use Wikipedia’s random article link, and then extract a topic from the page that came up. We fudged a bit. For example, if the page that came up was about a famous cricketer, we would just use “cricket” as the topic.
I thoroughly enjoyed that time in my life. The two girls that were writing with me became love interests—one had been that way for a decade, the other I never got to follow through on. I still think about the first from time to time. She was my flower girl, and we used to wander cemeteries together.
But enough reminiscences…
I’ve been streaming on Twitch for a few months now. I started with some Far Cry 2 runs, and have eventually started streaming my Around the World flights in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. I’m a very small streamer at the moment, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring my unique flavor to the pot. I’ve done a few music streams, and I’ve been planning to incorporate some easy “how to” streams revolving around integrating easy coding projects into every day life. So, music, coding, and gaming are covered. My only other creative outlet was writing, and I struggled for a bit to come up with a way to incorporate that craft into my streams. I finally settled on this idea inspired by my old writing group. I decided I would select a genre randomly to write to, and then three tropes that I would have to include. I would give myself 10-15 minutes of prep time to form a quick outline and characters, and then I would start a timer for an hour. The main goal is to write 1000 words in one hour in that genre, and using the three tropes.
It was a rocky start, but last night I completed my first live random flash fictioning. I got to 1000 words before the timer expired, but I hadn’t finished the story like I wanted. So, I decided to set some rules to the game.
Here are the rules:
- The story must include the three tropes in some fashion, mentioned in passing, or developed as major parts of the story. Merely using the phrase “Deus ex machina” is not enough, you have to actual use the trope, not just the name of it.
- Beyond the 10-15 min prep period, no further research can be done. No wikipedia searching to make sure ideas, characterizations, and locales are feasible. You just have to go with what you think is right.
- Backtracking and editing is allowed ONLY to fix minor errors. No wholesale erasure of paragraphs or sentences. Periods lock the sentence written, and you have to keep that sentence once the period drops.
- If the timer reaches zero, and at least 1000 words have not been written, the attempt is considered a FAIL, and no further development is allowed on the story.
- If at least 1000 words are written by the timer reaches zero, the attempt is considered a SUCCESS and the writer is allowed to finish out the story right there, or later as they choose.
The story that follows is the result of my first attempt at this. You can watch the video of this attempt for another week on my Twitch channel, twitch.tv/richrando. At some point in the future, I’ll upload all of these streamed attempts to my YouTube channel currently in development.
Here are the parameters I wrote to, randomly pulled from a huge list of 200+ genres, and tvtropes.org:
Genre: Gothic Fiction
Trope 1: Commonality Connection
Trope 2: True Craftsman
Trope 3: Vain Sorceress
I pretty much constructed the story as I pulled the tropes. Sometimes it comes easy.
So, here is my first attempt, unedited from the version I wrote live on stream. I will absolutely come back and flesh this one out later. Enjoy.
The flower girl, Lily, absently brushed grave dirt from her dress as she watch the groundskeeper’s sons struggle to right the massive marble headstone that sat in the middle of the Graves family plot. From her position across the graveyard, leaning casually on the late Judge Tobias’ obelisk, she chuckled as the two portly sons heaved the bottom edge of the monument back on its base.
“Too far, too far,” she muttered to herself. She knew what would come next. She had seen the boys make this same mistake a dozen times.
Her attention was suddenly drawn to a door slamming from the direction of the old chapel. The broad shape of Bill Wilson filled the doorway of the workshop he kept in the old stable the priests had built to house their pack animals so long ago.
Lily had watched Bill from a distance for the entire year she had been allowed to put flowers on the graves that surrounded the old chapel. They never spoke. Bill hardly spoke to anyone other than the old head priest and the groundskeeper himself. Lily found him intriguing. She sensed that they had a similar affinity for the old chapel and its landscape of shells and memories, but she would never initiate that conversation with him.
Lily was content to just imagine their interactions.
This was the first time she had seen him since she spied the woman enter his workshop early that morning before the sun had risen.
Lily was not technically allowed to be on the church grounds before sunrise, but so few people were awake and going about their business in that area of the town at that hour. Lily liked to walk among the graves and imagine the lives of the people whose names she saw carved into stone.
She had been laying some lovely orange blooms on the grave of an infant when she had seen the woman approach Bill’s workshop and rap heavily on the old oak door.
Bill had answered the door in his pajamas, and Lily had modestly turned away at the sight. When she turned back reluctantly, the door was closing and she caught a glimpse of the woman’s dark dress disappearing into the workshop.
It’s not that Lily was jealous of the woman. That is not why Lily absently shredded a bloom she didn’t realize she had been holding at the time.
Even now, she had to stop her fist clenching at the thought of that woman entering Bill’s sanctuary. It was not that she was jealous.
Concerned. Yes, she was concerned for Bill’s comfort. No one ever entered his workshop except the old priest. It was an egregious attack on his privacy. She knew that she’d feel uncomfortable if it had been her space invaded.
The loud thump and crack of the marble monument falling back to the ground as the groundskeeper’s sons scrambled to save their limbs only slightly drew her attention away from Bill as he stalked across the graveyard and toward the central road.
Lily wouldn’t assume he was going to meet the lady she had seen.
Lily couldn’t assume that.
Most of the statuary on the grounds were Bill’s work. Many of the angels were simply clones of a design he had learned through an apprenticeship back in Maine. It was only in the last year that Bill began to make variations on the angel statuary.
No one noticed that the angel’s faces had begun to resemble a shy, young flower girl who was allowed to place flowers on all the graves of people who no longer had families to visit them.
Bill thought of Lily incessantly. He stole glances when he could, but their eyes had never locked. He even considered that maybe she always looked away just as he looked at her, but his low self-esteem erased any thought that she might share the feelings he had for her.
He had seen her staring at the groundskeeper’s sons as he exited his workshop earlier. They were fit men, well off from the support of their father, and handsome. They’d make fine husbands, either of them.
Bill had a sudden image of her giving each of them a flower and ragefully kicked a large rock in the road.
He quickly shut his mind off from any more thoughts of her, and committed to focusing on task at hand. He need marble, and he needed it quick. He had accepted a commission that was due in less than 48 hours.
Bill had never attempted something this massive, but he was sure he could do it. And he would do it perfectly, just as perfectly as he had carved the likeness of Lily into the last three angel statues he had sculpted.
Bill increased his pace, and trudged onward toward the old quarry where he hoped to find what he needed.
Lily was jerked out of her slumber by the sound of the door opening to the room behind the main worship hall. She was not supposed to be there, but had fallen asleep. Lily often visited the room when the undertaker brought bodies for viewing. Often the undertaker would leave the bodies in the room overnight, and Lily would sneak into the room late at night and stare at the bodies.
She never touched them, she just like to take in every detail of their faces, sagging and decaying as they may have been. Embalming practices at the time in that area were adequate, but not as advanced as some parts of the country.
Her entire body cringed in terror at having been caught.
She expected to see the face of the old head priest, but instead she saw the face of Bill Wilson, streaked with dirt.
“What are you doing here?” Bill demanded of her.
She stammered, unable to create words.
Bill looked at the body and then at the floor. “I sometimes come here to look at the bodies.”
“Me too,” Lily said quickly. She thought she might have even smiled.
Bill did smile.
“You want to see something?” he asked her.
Lily nodded hesitantly and followed Bill as he exited the room.
She followed him around the old chapel and towards the oldest part of the graveyard where people said there was once a pagan temple long before the colonies.
“I’ve been working on this for two days” he explained. “I got a job from an old heiress. She wanted this crypt built here.”
The craftsmanship of the small above ground crypt was exquisite.
“You did this in two days?” she asked him.
He nodded, his smile widening. “She paid me a thousand dollars.”
Lily was aghast. She couldn’t even imagine what a thousand dollars looked like.
“Well worth the price,” a voice behind her said. It was the woman she had seen two days ago entering his workshop.
Lily started and turned to the voice. Jealousy welled up in her briefly, but looking into the eyes of the woman, her emotions were muted. The woman’s gaze held her in a trance, and her words echoed into oblivion, seeming to ricochet off every surface of every stone surface in the graveyard.
“Bill has done a wonderful job for me, and I find it absolutely fitting that you should be here for this occasion,” the woman cooed at her in a lilting deep voice.
Bill was smiling. His smile was not natural.
“A long time ago, my people would use this area to find balance with nature and with our gods. It was a place of worship, destroyed and covered up by your ancestors generations ago,” the woman explained. “Bill has been gracious enough to help me recreate a portion of the old temple.”
Lily, caught in a trance looked at the marble construction. Massive slabs forming a rectangular crypt sunk into the ground. Her rational mind could not reconcile how Bill had managed to move such massive slabs alone and erect such a crypt in only 48 hours.
The smell of death, not something you often find on the surface of a graveyard, curled the hairs of her nose. Lily noticed in her stupor that most of the slabs appeared smeared with what looked like blood.
Glancing to Bill, she noticed tears of blood dripping from eyes that weren’t blinking.
“All is just as it should be,” the woman said in Lily’s ear. “We just lack a final offering to consecrate the temple and welcome our beautiful god back to this land he was forced to abandon so long ago.”
The blade entered Lily’s chest without her even seeing it rise to her breast. There was no pain, no feeling, no terror. Breath ceased to flow, and she felt herself falling into the crypt that Bill had built.
As she fell, she could see the blood running down his face.
The crypt had no floor, only a void shimmering at the edges with impossibly silver light.
She couldn’t feel herself being devoured, but in her last moments in this existence, she focused on the face of the statue of an angel on a nearby grave. She imagined herself smiling, recognizing her own face permanently a part of the graveyard.
Black void enveloped her and she heard the sound of something wet and wicked push past her soul as she fell into oblivion.
Bill’s eyes began to smolder as he watched the tentacles pour out of the crypt he had built. Wet with blood and hungry for more.
The woman let one of the tentacles wrap around her waist as she cackled evilly. This was the end, and she was its maker.