Nutrition Facts for Hermit Crab Stories

Nutrition Facts
for Hermit Crab Stories 

Serving Size: One writer, one at a time
Number of Servings per container: Infinite
One subject the author feels moved to write about;
One desire to experiment or play;
One familiar form of writing that the author can
borrow for their story;
One imagination.
Calories (spent while writing) — 350 to 500*
Calories (consumed while writing) — 350 to 500**
Percentage (%) daily values
Subject                                                          15%
(These are flash stories, so keep your focus narrow.)
Borrowed Form                                            75%
(You want your reader to recognize the form immediately, but you should also feel free to play around, take literary license.) 
Narrative Arc                                               100%
(This is still a story with a central character and a clear beginning, middle, and end.)
Voice                                                              50%
(You’ll want your hermit crab to sound like the form you’re borrowing, but don’t abandon your own voice, either. This is still your story.)
Creative Exploration                                    50%
(Your borrowed shell is firm and imposes some limits; but wearing it enables you to wander further afield, play more, and find a fresh take on something familiar.)
Subject to Shell Matching Ratio                 ??%
(You might generate a nice frisson of resonance when subject and form share some symmetry. But it’s not necessary. Authors have written about romantic break-ups as auction item catalogue listings and WebMD entries, and I’m borrowing an FDA-regulated label for packaged food for a work on creative writing, so who knows, really?)
Key Sources of Inspiration
Flash fiction as obituary                                   100% ***
Flash essay as resume                                      100%
Flash fiction as Facebook group rules      100 %
Further reading                                                   100%              

† “A hermit crab essay borrows another form of writing as its structure the way a hermit crab borrows another’s shell. Its subject might be something soft or vulnerable, (like the crab) that seeks the form of something harder or more rigid to encase it. The form must be written but … something less literary and more utilitarian such as a list, recipe, field guide, instruction manual, address book, multiple-choice test, horoscope, Web MD entry…” — Randon Billings Noble

* Will vary based on how angsty a writer you are, and how many times during the writing process you stand up, pace, walk the dog, go for a bike ride, and clean your kitchen.
** See above.

*** If you recognize Deesha Philyaw’s story “Mayretta Kelly Brunson Williams Bryant Jones (1932-2012)” from last June’s Writing Advice, you get a gold star! If you don’t, because you didn’t read it then, consider this your second chance and take the hint.

Kelly Caldwell,

Dean of Faculty

Easy Ideas

So, what should you write about? Let me suggest three techniques to get a story idea so quickly you won’t even realize it happened.
Borrowed Idea
In the two seasons of the TV series The White Lotus, a handful of ultra-rich folks spend time at a luxurious island resort (first in Hawaii, then in Sicily). Intriguing things happen, menace always rolling in with the waves.
Apparently the show’s creator, Mike White, was influenced by the 1970/80s TV series Fantasy Island, of which he was a big fan as a kid. It was a schlocky show, but it has a very similar premise to The White Lotus. And…I suspect the person that created Fantasy Island was a bit influenced by Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, which has an island setting and a magical fellow, Prospero, running the place in a manner similar to Fantasy Island’s white-suited Mr. Roarke (pictured above).
So, do your own riff on a story you like: comic book, fairy tale, opera, schlocky TV show, etc.
Short Idea
Instead of searching for that BIG idea, consider an idea that will lead you into a really short piece—fiction, essay… whatever. This is all the rage now in the literary world (flash fiction and nonfiction), pieces that run just a page or two.
Indeed, Gotham has a literary magazine devoted to these pieces—The Razor. Each month, we publish one fiction and one nonfiction story, with text, audio narration, and original artwork. For example….
M.M. Kelley’s “Cicada” – a short story showing the narrator’s fascination with cicadas.

Lucy McClellan’ s “Baggage” – a personal essay about the writer’s dislike of rolling suitcases.
Lindz McLeod’s “Cake by the Ocean”– a short story composed of the narrator’s memories of desserts eaten in various locales.
So, just come up with a very self-contained short idea, which will probably end up taking on layers you never expected.
Terrible Idea
Don’t worry about getting a great idea. Come up with a  terrible idea for a story. Takes all the pressure off.
Let’s say your partner chides you for never washing the dishes. Or you see a child throwing a tantrum. Or you spend a long day just playing a video game.
None of those sound like especially great story ideas. However, it all depends on what you do with it.
Jamil Jan Kochai’s short story “Playing Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain” is about a teenager playing a video game all day long. But in a magical realism sort of way—he sees things from his family’s past in the game.
You know what’s a truly terrible idea? A hip hop musical about the US’s first Secretary of the Treasury who brilliantly set up a national banking system. His name, I believe, was Alexander Hamilton.

Alex Steele

Gotham President