Story Cubes Challenge – Week 6

For week six of Jennie Coughlin’s Story Cubes Challenge, I thought I’d intro the story I wrote with a little information about the two characters I’ve been using in these challenge stories.

Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin are covert operatives for a fictional intelligence organization within the United Nations. I’ve written back story and, oh, four or five novels about them for the past fifteen to twenty years. (If you click on the “Works in Progress” tab above you can see descriptions of those novels in progress.)

I thought the Story Cubes Challenge would be a good vehicle for exploring things about the characters that don’t show up in the novels and back story. It’s been a lot of fun because I’ve written some things I never thought much about. I mean, back story simply said Alexei had defected from the Soviet Union, but I’d never written about how or when that happened, so I did in “Desert Nights and Weeping Flowers.”

The stories are vignettes, glimpses of the characters, and I’m learning a lot more about the two people and the world I created. Much fun.

So, here’s today’s story cubes:

Here’s what I saw in the cubes: (l to r) alien; padlock/locked; fight/fighting; earth/world; clothes on the line/hung out to dry; sadness; counting money; reading; and arrow.

This week’s story is called “Boredom and Terror.” (If you don’t see the link, hover your cursor over the Story Cubes Challenge tab above and select it from the drop-down menu.) And I live for your constructive comments. 😉

If you’d like to give it a try, use the photo of the cubes to the left and write a story of any length using what you see in the cubes, then go to Jennie Coughlin’s Welcome to Exeter blog and post a link to your story.

Story Cube Challenge – Week 5

This one really was a toughie, given the fact I had to ponder the cubes (hmm, sounds predictive, doesn’t it?) for a couple of days before something gelled. A couple of the cubes (pyramid and moon) had shown up for another challenge story, “Desert Nights and Weeping Flowers,” and I didn’t want to repeat that or be too similar. Then, I decided to riff off that original story with a follow-up twenty years after the fact. So, you might want to read “Desert Nights and Weeping Flowers” before this one.

Here is what the cubes revealed:

And here is what I saw in the cubes: (l to r) drop/miss; falling; hanging on; beetle/scarab; shouting; miss/error/elude; pyramid; moon; flower.

To read the new story, “A Study in Blue,” click on the title or hover your cursor over the Story Cube Challenge tab and select it from the drop-down list. (And, yes, I’ve become a fan of the new BBC show “Sherlock,” so I couldn’t resist a little homage to a Doyle title.)

If you feel you’re up to the Story Cube Challenge, give it a try. Use the picture to the left, but go post a link for your story in a comment on Jennie Coughlin’s blog, Welcome to Exeter.

See you next week.

Story Cube Challenge – Week 4

Yesterday’s Rory’s Story Cubes prompt from Jennie Coughlin’s Welcome to Exeter blog put the challenge in the Story Cubes Challenge. At first glance, I thought perhaps Week 4 of the challenge was going to do me in. I wasn’t sure how to work each of these actions or objects into something coherent. And, frankly, perhaps I still haven’t.

Here is the story cubes prompt:

I interpreted the cubes as: (l to r) hit, clothes on a line, agreement, thief/burglar/theft, a present, at a crossroads, shouting, a magic wand, and a padlock.

To read the story I wrote from this, “Resolve,” click here. (Or hover your cursor over Story Book Challenge then click on “Resolve.”)

I’m almost afraid to see what Week 5 will bring.

Enjoy, and, please, leave a comment about what you liked or didn’t like. How else will I learn? ;-D


One of the things you learn in any fiction writing class is the importance of setting–a reader needs to be able to “see” where you’ve located your story. Sometimes writers can focus on the plot and the characters to the exclusion of setting. Sometimes setting can be just as important as memorable characters or a finely detailed plot.

When your work is a novel, unless it stays in one place for the length of it–like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians or Murder on the Orient Express–you have to do some research if you’ve never been there. That’s a key component of the writing, because a reader might have been there and can spot the errors.

When John Updike got the idea for The Witches of Eastwick he had the perfect small town in mind–Wickford, RI. However, when he went to the town to research and people got wind of the plot–three witches in the 1970’s who take petty, and not so petty, revenge on neighbors–they threatened law suits if he used the name of the town. Updike let them think they won. The book’s title is The Witches of Eastwick, but if you read the description of Eastwick in the first few pages you recognize Wickford right away. And it was the perfect setting for this quirky novel about the devil coming to earth. (What would have been the difference had the Wickfordians not been such typical New England prigs? Maybe it would have been a tourist destination–it’s a quintessential New England town–instead of a town you drive through to get to the Newport beaches.)

I grew up in a rural area near a small town, so those are settings I’m comfortable with. I can tell from a story if someone has only seen a picture of a farm or gone to one. I spent a lot of my life in a large urban area and worked in the Nation’s Capital for the most part. I’ve spent a great deal of time in New York City, so I get the urban setting and am also comfortable setting a story in busy cities. I also like the juxtaposition of city and country–it’s something that’s never quite been overcome by urbanization.

I’ve done some world travel–a modest amount–to England, Scotland, and other places in Europe. I can insert any place I’ve visited in a story with ease. Some of my work is based in Eastern Europe, and that’s an issue. I’ve never been there, and, frankly, unless you’re a high-paid, commercial novelist, extensive travel to research your settings can be beyond the budget.

Atlases can give you maps and facts and figures–all good, of course–but Google Earth can put you there. Its “Street Views” options can put you in the city or town or countryside you want to write about. It’s still not as good as being there, but it can give you a starting point. The next point is finding someone familiar with the area to give you the personal touch or cultural memes for a setting. I had a friend who had traveled extensively with USAID, and he was always able to give me a good read-over for settings.

Some writers overcome the setting issues by creating completely fictional ones. Whether in fantasy, other genre, or literary fiction, that can eliminate any setting errors or hard feelings from the locals. For his collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country, Clifford Garstang created Rugglesville, VA. For her first book of linked short stories, Thrown Out,  and an upcoming series of novels, Jennie Coughlin created Exeter, MA. Both constructs are real; you can “see” yourself in either place. They feel real. Even in fantasy or science fiction, if you create your own world, people still have to be able to “walk” through it. It’s not enough to say “we’re on a spaceship” or “we’re in a fairy land.” The writer has to give the setting depth.

Which do you prefer–setting your work in known locales, or do you create your own world?