This is Part Two of the eBook “Where do Good Stories Come From?” In Part One, we created a draft of a story linking the headaches that IT Managers face today with the popular Charles Dicken’s work, “A Christmas Carol”. In it, we liken the fate of Bob Cratchett to our overworked, under pressure IT leader, Ed. We transformed Dicken’s world to today’s time.
If you haven’t read part one yet, allow me to bring you up to date. I know you must be thinking why “A Christmas Carol”? You will save hours coming up with the right story idea if you take the reason your product benefits users and convert that need to a story resembling the circumstances that you have heard, seen or watched. Thus, Scrooge and the gang fit the situation extremely well.
In Part One, we finished the entire first draft. Hold your horses!!! You can’t throw that out there for consumption right now. If we want it to be read, we need to pare it down more, consolidating wherever possible. Our goal is to say more with less. Below is the story as it stands now. As you read, take note of areas you would consolidate and/or remove. We’ll compare notes later.
Workshop of My Mind – Please Step Inside
Disclaimer: My mind enjoys above average intelligence and operates with a “whacked out” sense of humor. Combine the two, with a tad of mischievousness, and you don’t know what to expect. Please pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
We used the following outline to create the rough draft.
Here’s the story I constructed from scratch, right off the top of my head.
I was talking to my old friend Ed last week and I was sad to hear that Ed’s new perfect job was not turning out as he had hoped. Poor Ed was being run ragged, putting out fires and keeping up with his ever-expanding duties and responsibilities. Ed was particularly bummed out because he wasn’t going to be able to attend his 7-year-old son’s little league baseball game. Ed has missed every one of Tiny Tim’s games so far, this season. Out of guilt, he had promised this time he’d be at tomorrow’s game.
Ed thought about all of the hours and money that the company could be saving. If only Mr. Burns had looked at the reports, he would have seen that they were not working smart. With a few upgrades, Ed could do what he had been hired to do. Right now, he was just trying to keep his head above water.
Suddenly, in a moment of half-hearted courage, Ed decided to talk to Mr. Burns one more time. Something must be done! The morning of his son’s game, Gert, Montgomery Burn’s bulldog secretary, wasn’t chained to her desk yet. Ed, mustering up all of his courage, marched into Mr. Burns office. Burns didn’t even look up to acknowledge Ed’s entrance.
“So, what is it. What do you need?” Burns said with a “hurry it up” tone in his voice. With a slight stutter, Ed tells Mr. Burns that he can no longer keep up dealing with all of the new duties and responsibilities and that things would have to change. They could either hire more staff or upgrade their technology (the product that you sell) to do more work with fewer people. Since software doesn’t get drunk and call out sick with a hangover, Ed was pushing the upgrade in tech.
Burns went into a rage, screaming at Ed, that if he was behind on his work then it reflected his poor time management skills, not conceding that Ed’s schedule is overloaded. He also tells Ed that if his work isn’t caught up by the end of the day, he can go to his son’s game…. but as an unemployed father. Immediately Bob panicked and ran back to his office to save the job his family desperately needs!
Later that morning, “Gert the bulldog” brings Mr. Burns something new for lunch. The Atomic Szechwan Pepper Chicken was almost too hot for Montgomery to handle. But, he wasn’t about to toss a $7.00 lunch in the trash. After all, he was frugal. Not cheap mind you, but frugal. Burns digestive system started sending “sleepy time” messages to Burn’s mind, and soon he was leaned back in his executive chair, he was snoring away.
The extreme spice began acting in concert with Burn’s digestive acids, and before you know it, he begins having extremely vivid lifelike dreams. The sky darkened, as black thunder clouds aggressively made their way. Burns looked for shelter from the impending storm, but all he could see is a small figure holding a torch, growing as it got closer and closer. Burns didn’t know whether to run or thank God, that help was about to arrive.
The stranger arrived and stood speechless for several, tension filled moments. Finally, Burns snapped at him “Who are you and what do you want?” “I am the Spirit of Your Past, Montgomery. It is time that we assessed what you have accomplished and revisit your key decisions. Follow me now!” Burns was instantly transported back to the office he had toiled in for most of his life. It was more home than his home was.
Burns sat stunned at his desk, as the Spirit of the Past showed him select scenes from his life. He saw the story of how he built the company and the price others paid for doing things “his way”. The last event was the memory of the day that Ed tried to show him this amazing technology that could revolutionize the “old system” saving hundreds of hours and millions of dollars over the years in cost reductions. Burns was terrified of change. Staying the same had allowed him to stay in business and turn a modest profit, but was it worth it to go in a different direction? Burns directly told Ed that “I’ll have none of this nonsense, as long as I am alive.” The spirit just mutters “As long as I am alive” and vanishes into a mist, leaving Burns sitting at his desk.
Burns cursed as his attention returned to the present. He was disoriented, feeling like his mind/spirit had just descended back to his body at a high rate of speed. Was what Montgomery Burns had just experienced a dream or did it really happen? It sure as Hell felt real! Burns pours himself a stiff Jack Daniels neat, downs it and refills his glass. Sitting back down at the desk, his vision grows blurry and his head starts to swim.
He looks up to see a new entity in front of him, the Spirit of the Present. “I take it that you know the drill, now that you’ve met my brother? He’s an okay guy, but he is so in the past. Not hip and with the times like me – Mr. Current.” Half listening Burns noticed how very little had changed from the past he had just visited, Same desk and chair, same window coverings, just a little more dust here and there.
He thought of his curt conversation with Ed. He finally notices the pain and anguish in Ed’s eyes and the furled brow. How he nearly ran from the office to return to work. For a short moment, Montgomery actually felt empathy for Ed and his family. Burns had never had a family to miss him, as he worked night and day, year after year. Then as quickly as it popped into his mind, his inner dark angel rationalized it away as being easy to spend someone else’s money on unnecessary and frivolous projects. Burns sipped his bourbon and contemplated.
“I must have dozed”, he half mumbled, as Montgomery slowly opened his eyes fully and took stock of his surroundings. Seated in a church pew all alone, Burns turned his attention to the formally outfitted people who were speaking in hushed tones. He slid closer to hear what they were saying. “They say the wicked never die, but I think today disapproves that adage.”, said the older, plump lady in the purple dress. The two gentlemen listening to her, both nodded in agreement. The bearded one, in a haughtier tone and a staccato delivery, says “I am not the only one who is glad that Burns is dead.”
Burns sunk in his seat as he noticed the casket in the front, with his picture on it. “Could I be dead? Was my drink poisoned? thought Burns, as his blood pressure started to rise. Hastening from the church, Burns headed home. As he walked, he ran into many familiar faces, each offering a smile and a Merry Christmas to him. Burns recognized these folks because he had swindled them in an assortment of one-sided deals and loans. Yet here they were being nice to him, despite the price his greed had cost them.
Noticing that he was outside of Ed’s home. Moving closer to the window, he saw Ed, little Joe, and Ed’s wife Sarah huddling in an embrace in front of their artificial Christmas tree. He took notice of how the job had aged Ed since he first hired him. He then flashed back to how he treated Ed in their last meeting. Feeling remorse, Burns returned to the office. He couldn’t change what had happened, but he could at least consider Ed’s suggestion.
A rare occurrence suddenly happened. As an actual smile slowly, crescendoed into a beaming grin. Burns was actually impressed with Ed’s proposal, wondering “why didn’t he think of this sooner? This was a giant step forward for Burns. Being in such good spirits, he rushed back to Ed’s home to tell him the good news about “the idea he just had.” Ed was already at the door, welcoming Burns in. After listening to him ramble for several minutes, Ed thought to himself that he didn’t need to say I told you so to Burns. All he needed was to see his family and that was going to be happening.
Analysis of the Rough Draft
Obviously, the draft is too long to hold a busy person’s attention. The scanners not see our message buried in all of the text. The solution is obvious. We need to trim it way down, consolidating without losing the context of the message. It is better to have more information than not enough. Let’s compare my thoughts on the trim down with your own:
- We can save space by dumping Mr. Burns and Ed and just go with the original story’s cast. It will be easier than remembering who is who and it certainly will make it clearer.
- In my first pass through, I was able to reduce it from 90 lines to 65 lines. It’s a good start, but I’d like to see it down to 40 lines or so. If I consolidate the three spirits, perhaps I can cut a chunk of unnecessary story content out.
- My second pass through I have it down from 65 to 59. Still more needs to be trimmed off of it.
- This third pass should allow me to eliminate unnecessary descriptors and/or words. Down from 59 to 53.
- What changes did you make to shorten the story?
The Finished Edited Copy
I was talking to my old friend Bob Cratchett, last week. I was sad to hear that Bob’s new job was not turning out as he had hoped. Bob was being run ragged, putting out fires, keeping up with his ever-expanding duties and responsibilities. Bob was bummed out because he wasn’t going to be able to attend his 7-year-old son’s little league baseball game. Bob has missed every one of Tiny Tim’s games so far, this season. Out of guilt, he had promised he’d be at tomorrow’s game. However, he didn’t know yet know how he was going to make that happen. Bob thought about all the hours and money that the company could be saving. If only Mr. Scrooge had looked at the reports, especially since right now Scrooge was just trying to keep his head above water.
The morning of his son’s game, Gert, Scrooge’s bulldog secretary, wasn’t chained to her desk yet. Bob, mustering up all his courage, marched into Mr. Scrooge’s office. Scrooge didn’t even look up to acknowledge Bob’s entrance. “So, what is it. What do you need?” Scrooge snapped with a “hurry it up” tone in his voice. With a slight stutter, Bob tells Mr. Scrooge that he can no longer keep up dealing with all the new duties and responsibilities. Things have to change. They could either hire more staff or upgrade their technology (the product you sell) allowing them to do more work with fewer people.
Scrooge screamed at Bob,” if you are behind on your work then it is a reflection of your poor time management skills.” No mention was made of Bob’s schedule being overloaded to the max. Scrooge tells Bob that if his work isn’t caught up by the end of the day, he can go to his son’s game, but as an unemployed father. Bob panicked and ran back to his office.
Later that morning, “Gert the bulldog” brought Scrooge his lunch. Atomic Pepper Chicken was almost too hot for Ebenezer to handle. Scrooge’s digestive system started sending “sleepy time” messages to Scrooge’s mind, and soon he was snoring in his chair. Extreme spice acting in concert with Scrooge’s digestive acids caused him to have vivid, lifelike dreams.
In front of him stood a tall figure holding a torch. “Who are you and what do you want?” “I am the Spirit of Progress, Ebenezer. It is time that we revisit your key decisions.” Scrooge sat stunned, as the Spirit showed select scenes of the price others paid for doing business with him. Next, a vision of Bob showing him technology that could make the company more efficient and profitable. Scrooge was terrified of change! “I’ll have none of this nonsense, as long as I am alive.” The spirit mutters “As long as I am alive”, mocking Scrooge.
Once again, Scrooge’s head fills with confusion,as the spirit speaks to him. Half listening, Scrooge saw his curt conversation with Bob and the pain and anguish in Bob’s eyes. How he ran back to work, to save his job. For a short moment, Ebenezer felt empathy for Bob. The spirit beckoned Scrooge to follow.
Ebenezer found himself seated alone in a church pew. Scrooge saw formally outfitted people speaking in hushed tones. He slid closer to hear what they were saying. “The wicked never die, eh? I think today disproves that theory”, said the plump lady in the purple dress. The two men listening to her, nodded in agreement. The bearded one, in a haughty tone, said “I am not the only one who is glad that Scrooge is dead.”
Scrooge sunk in his seat, noticing the casket in the front, with his picture on it. “Am I dead? Was my drink poisoned?” wondered Scrooge. Hastening from the church, Scrooge bolted home. As he walked, he ran into many familiar faces, each offering a smile and a Merry Christmas to him. Scrooge recognized these folks as he had swindled them in an assortment of one-sided deals and loans. Yet here they were being nice to him, despite it.
Noticing that he was outside of Bob’s home, Scrooge looked into the window. He saw Bob, and his family embracing in front of their Christmas tree. He noticed how the job had aged Bob since he first hired him. He then flashed back to how he treated Bob in their last meeting. Feeling remorseful, Scrooge returned to the office. He couldn’t change what had happened, but he could at least consider Bob’s suggestion.
A small smile slowly crescendoed into a beaming grin. Scrooge was impressed with Bob’s proposal, wondering “why didn’t I think of this sooner?” Scrooge rushed back to Bob’s home to tell him the about the idea “he just had.” Bob welcomed Scrooge in. As Scrooge rambled on, Bob decided that he didn’t need to say ”I told you so” to Scrooge. All Bob needed was to spend more time with his family, and that was going to happen soon!
Storytelling is a subtle, backdoor to the minds of your readers. Many, will see the obvious parallel between Ed and themselves. This can cause them to mentally churn on it and come to their own conclusion that “perhaps the solution briefly mentioned at the end of the story just might solve MY problem. I should check it out.”
Bingo! Once they make that connection, it becomes personal for them. Even those who were affected, but for whatever the reason didn’t check it out, will carry that further with them. Eventually, the time and circumstances will be right and you get this call out of the blue. Cha-ching! Great stories continue to produce results long after they were released.
Famous Last Words
“When it comes to storytelling, not taking risks is riskier than swinging for the fences. I have very simple ambitions when it comes to taking risks in storytelling and programming. I try very hard to avoid the expected.”
― David Niven
The Hank Moody School of Creative Writing
Write the story you’d most want to read. Think about the books you love, the ones you really lose yourself in. If those are mysteries, then don’t try to write a historical romance or a quiet literary novel. It might not be anything genre-specific that you love, but a certain voice, or type of story, or kinds of characters. Write what you love.
The Big Kumbaya in Cyberspace
Sharing and discussing content posts brings us together as one. Sharing ideas, answering and asking questions makes us all strong. Please take the time to share what works for you.
To hear the rantings of other voices on the same subject:
10 Tips for Writing Short Stories That Sell by Joanna Penn
Short Story Tips: 10 Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing by Jerz’s Literary Weblog