Tuesday, September 13, 2011
While trundling through the countryside on a mini-holiday, we came across something we had never seen before.
Or a post in a blog ...
The little town of Lytton, in the northwest of the province of British Columbia in Canada, takes its name from the English novelist, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803 – 1873). Sir Edward's enduring claim to fame is that he wrote that famous introduction to one of his novels: "It was a dark and stormy night ..."
When he married a famous Irish beauty against his mother's wishes, she struck him out of her will and stopped his allowance, forcing him to work for a living.
Nine years later they separated, and when she publicly railed against him at meetings while he was campaigning for a seat in the British Parliament, he threatened to withhold her allowance, and finally had her committed to an insane asylum. A public outcry caused her to be released, and she then wrote an autobiography detailing all the nasty things this nasty man had done to her.
In 1866 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lytton of Knebworth. Despite his wishes, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
In 1858 he became Secretary of State for the Colonies, and served alongside his friend Disraeli. He was actively involved in the development of the Crown Colony of British Columbia. The little fort of the Hudsons Bay Company at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers was renamed Lytton in 1858 in his honour.
We entered this little town of some 1,300 people and stopped to wander through the public market.
And then we saw it ...
It was a largish chicken coop, made of chicken wire, with a plywood floor that had equal sized squares painted on it, with each square having a number.
Just like a bingo card.
The signs on the side of the coop declared that it was Chicken Poop Bingo. You could place a bet for a dollar by choosing one or more of the squares.
Just then one of the three chickens in a smaller cage was firmly grasped, and carried into the coop. Goldie – the chicken's name – was then tenderly placed on the centre square – number 25. She stood for a moment, turning her head this way and that, and then she squatted down a little bit and pooped.
Groans and cheers from the winner and the many losers, and the Bingo organizer stepped into the coop again to pick Goldie up and return her to her smaller cage.
But Goldie had other ideas.
With a mad squawk, Goldie fled, straight into the chicken wire. She battled mightily, thrusting her head deeper and deeper through the thin wire, twising her head, and slowly throttling herself. Hands grabbed her from inside and outside the coop, and her head was slowly pushed and pulled back into the coop and she was lifted and deposited into the waiting pen for the next round of Chicken Poop Bingo.
Now, just what has this to do with how writers find their ideas for their stories?
Well, this way.
A writer learns to look at things until they look differently, and then to pursue the differences in her mind. So if you are a writer, and you are sitting in the little shop in Lytton, sipping on an old-fashioned chocolate milkshake, and someone enters the shop with a pet hamster on a leash, you give it your closest attention.
And you let your mind wander down whatever road comes to mind. In another post, I called these side roads "rabbitholes". You start asking yourself questions. What is the hamster's middle name? Does it possess the power of levitation? Did it's grandfather take a course at Hogwarts? Does the owner trim its whiskers with a large, whetted shaving blade?
It's amazing how this diving down rabbitholes in your mind can trigger all kinds of ideas.
Take the Chicken Poop Bingo at Lytton, for example. As we drove off, we debated whether the show had ever caused any disputes. Could you cook the results? How would you go about it? Placing Goldie on one square might bias her poops towards that or surrounding squares, and so lessen the chances of the outlying squares. But if you always placed Goldie slap bang in the middle square, and she promptly pooped in that square, was this not also perhaps bending the odds a bit? If you knew Goldie was tired from strenuous participation during the day, should this be considered? Could the organizer bend the odds by giving Goldie a little squeeze just before she withdrew her hands? Would such a squeeze trigger a poop reaction in a chicken? Where and how would you squeeze? And was Goldie really trying to commit suicide by slicing her own head off on the chicken wire? What was driving her to that – could it be the relentless pressure to poop on demand, and a fear of failure? Imagine Goldie having to endure taunts and laughter if she just could not deliver the goods ...
You can see how pushing reality to its extremes might give you some good ideas for a short story, or a scene in a novel.