Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing The Bear Trap Story

Part of what we do as a graduate students in creative writing is to give presentations on creative process and the craft of writing. One of my topics was "Stakes of the Story," about which I wrote here in a November post. A presentation by fellow student Ezra Fox ended with a great exercise he called the "bear trap story." Here is the exercise, very slightly revised.

An object has certain qualities that distinguish it from other objects. A bear trap, for example, is made up of several possible qualities. The bear trap:

  • Is hidden
  • Contains a surprise
  • Holds on and won't let go
  • Takes a prisoner
  • Hurts
  • Leaves a scar
  • Traps something or someone
I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Now, when writing a bear trap story you won't literally include a bear or a bear trap, you will only look at the list of qualities and create a story that contains them. Let's say someone gets trapped psychologically by guilt, for example, and feels like a prisoner in a relationship.

How about a chicken story?
But a bear trap is not the only object you can use. Try making a list of ten nouns. Then choose one and make another list just of its characteristics, what it does or can do.

I find that this exercise is a useful way to generate a story's beginning. How to get to the end?
Think about:

  • What does the character want before, during, and after the experience?
  • How does a character change, psychologically or physically?
  • What is gained or lost?
  • What is at stake?
If you write an (insert noun here) story, let me know how it works out. Catch you later…

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