Last week I reached out on Social Media for you all to post a story starter for me. A one-sentence opening line to a story. I really loved all of them. Some were serious, some made me laugh out loud, and today I’m going to use those story starters to illustrate something that I think is one of the most important ideas when it comes to creating anything. From writing a story to writing your own story.
So, today, to illustrate this idea, you’re going to hear (read) 3 first chapters of three different stories all inspired by your story starters. And, you’ll get to vote which one you’d like to see turned into a full short story for the next episode. Stay tuned at the end of the episode to learn how you can vote.
Each one of the stories will start with the same line that I’ve chosen because it enabled me the most freedom to incorporate all the other ideas you guys gave me. So, even if your story starter wasn’t the one I chose, most of you will hear an element or two of your idea incorporated into one of these stories. That’s right, we’ve got a three-legged horse, bleeding ears, rumbling earth, and Villa Roma. We’ve got bloody feet, teardrops, and cigars. Are you ready?
Then, let’s get to it!
THE THREE LEGGED KNIGHT
There was a rustling in the woods, which in and of itself could be nothing more than a mere gust of wind, which was his first thought. Yet, after a moments deliberation, it was clear that there was no breeze around at all. Sir Morgandundunston stood up fast. His metal armor clanked and squeaked as he rose from the ground where he had been laying in the shade. His horse stopped grazing and peered back towards him. Another rustling noise came from the woods and Sir Morgandundunston glanced into the tree line to his right while his horse neighed and stepped away nervously. The brave knight, as he described himself, saw nothing but the trunks of trees. He stepped away from the tree line and took hold of his horse’s reigns.
“Just the wind, Turtle,” Sir Morgandundunston said to his horse looking over his shoulder as he spoke. Turtle was an old horse, that the courageous knight, as he described himself, had since he was a child. Despite his many attempts, Sir Morgandundunston could not get Turtle to answer to any other name since he called him Turtle as a child.
“We must not be late,” the knight spoke with a voice of importance, “I’d say our time to rest is over.” With that he placed his foot in the stirrup and heaved himself up, but then almost immediately fell back down. Turtle the horse stepped forward again, and dragged his owner forward with him. Sir Morgandundunston hopped on his left foot holding onto Turtle’s backside while his right foot stayed put in the stirrup.
“Hold still!” He shouted and then regained his balance. He gave another heave and he was back atop Turtle. Looking back nervously to the tree line he kicked into Turtle’s sides and took off, at a slightly quicker speed than a walk, away from the woods and towards the vast open countryside before him.
By mid day, Sir Morgandundunston arrived at his destination, to the small castle of Lord Bertrew of Wessux. It was a small castle, yes, but it was larger than his own, surrounded by farms and small clusters of houses with thatched roofs. The drawbridge to the castle was down and villagers and farmers from around the castle were clustered by the road awaiting his arrival. When he entered through the stone archway, he saw that there was a ring of people waiting around the dirt covered courtyard. He smiled as he looked around at the faces smiling back. There were other faces that looked disinterested and even some faces that were annoyed with his arrival, yet Sir Morgandundunston did not seem to see their faces at all. A portly man in the middle of the courtyard stepped forward with a broad smile across his face. He was dressed in a bright orange tunic that made his rotund shape all the more apparent.
“Ahh! You are right on schedule,” said the portly man in a weasel like voice.
“A Knight is always reliable,” said Sir Morgandundunston looking around with his head held high, again only seeing the smiling faces and not those rolling their eyes. The portly man grabbed hold of Turtle’s reigns and turned to the people in the courtyard.
“May I present, Sir Morgunsdun of NoSex,” said the portly man excitedly and the circle of people clapped and cheered. At least, that’s what Sir Morgandundunston heard. The sound was in fact jeering, and knee slapping. He cleared his throat and leaned forward to the portly man.
“It’s Sir Morgundundunston,” he said slowly, “and it’s pronounced Nu-ssex.”
“Ah, yes sire, please forgive me,” the portly man said and turned back to the crowd. “Apologies my Lord,” he said to the bear of a man standing directly in front of Sir Morgandundunston. “May I present Sir Morsdenstondun of NoSex,” he said incorrectly and again the people clapped and cheered for the brave and courageous knight. Sir Morgandundunston kicked Turtle forward a few steps.
“Lord Beartrew, may I present myself…” he said stretching himself tall upon Turtle, “Sir Morgandundunston of Nussex. It is an honor to be here today to accept your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
The small crowd of people cheered again, although much more weakly. Nothing could dampen this knight’s spirits though. Today was the day he would gain a wife, and a dowry that would raise his stature in the World. Today, Sir Morgandundunston would be one step closer to being named Lord of Nussex.
Lord Beartrew was larger than any man he’d ever seen, but not in height. The girth of the man rivaled that of any beast Sir Morgandundunston had ever seen and the large main of hair and beard left little of his face to discern. Behind him stood a girl with dark hair staring straight into the knight’s eyes, a single teardrop present upon her cheek. His betrothed. From his less than extravagant entrance into the castle, things seemed to be improving as the day progressed into night. No time was wasted and before the sun set over the castle walls, Sir Morgandundunston was wed to Lady Clara Beartrew, now Lady Clara Morgandundunston. Her hair flowed long and wistfully to the floor black as coal. Her eyes were piercing and bright green and they looked back at Sir Morgandundunston with love and adoration. In fact, it was disdain and disgust.
The only thing that dampened his spirits at all was the final presentation of the dowry. Amidst the raucous celebration with food and wine being shared, music being played, and sharing tales of battles and legends, Lord Beartrew stood before the room to make an announce ment.
“Bring in “Excelsior!” Lord Beartrew bellowed with a bear-like growl, a broad smile across his beet red face. The knight’s heart raced with excitement as the large oak doors burst open, but his heart sank almost as instantly as it rose. His eyes must be deceiving him, he figured. There was a small wagon full of gold and jewelry, vegetables, grains, and more. That was indeed exciting, but what was pulling the wagon gave the knight pause.
“Is that horse missing a leg?” said Sir Morgandundunston.
“My dear boy, that is Excelsior! The true prize in this dowry!” Lord Beartrew rang in his drunken slur. “A trusted steed fit for a man of your growing stature!”
Sir Morgandundunston didn’t know what to say, or what he could do. To refuse any portion of a dowry would be rude and cause for a question of honor, yet the beast before him was simply unsightly. The front left leg was so large from extra use, it appeared like the leg was in the center of the horses body. It pulled the cart in with ease, but the motion of the horse was erratic and jerky. Perhaps he could put it to use in the fields, Sir Morgandundunston reasoned to himself and the party returned to happy and celebratory.
That night, when Sir Morgandundunston laid in bed beside Lady Clara, who had fallen asleep before his arrival into the chambers, he dreamed of Excelsior. He had no idea though, that of all the dowry he would be taking back to Nussex tomorrow morning, Excelsior, the three legged horse, would be his greatest prize.
A VILLA ROMA MYSTERY
There was a rustling in the woods, but when Gwen turned to see what made the noise, she discovered just a couple of squirrels dashing through the patches of ivy, one chasing after the other. Her eyes watched as the squirrels sped up the tree, dashing in circles around the trunk as they climbed.
“Why do we have to go hiking?” Harper complained to the group. He was Gwen’s younger brother.
“Because that’s what our parents want to do, so we have to do it too,” said Gwen. “Whenever they want to do something, we have to follow along, but if we want to do something we have to convince them to do it with us.”
“Yea, until we’re old enough that they’ll let us go about on our own,” said Tina.
“Yea,” agreed Rose, Tina’s twin, with a dreaminess to her voice. Tina and Rose were Gwen’s and Harper’s cousins.
“Well, I’m nearly 12,” said Landon sounding important. Landon was their other cousin. “I think I’m old enough to be able to wander around on my own already.”
“You’re only two months older than me,” said Gwen, “so, if you’re old enough, so am I.”
No one said anything further as they heard someone approaching. It was Gwen and Harper’s mother, Penny.
“What are you all doing? We’ve only been hiking for about 10 minutes and you’re tired already?” She said looking down at the five kids sitting on rocks or fallen tree trunks. “Come on guys, it’s beautiful up ahead, everyone’s waiting.” Reluctantly, the five of them stood up from whatever they were sitting on and followed Penny up the path to where the rest of the parents were waiting.
“I wish we could get what we want for a change,” Gwen muttered under her breath as she followed along slowly. Just then, she felt something. A tingling in her arm, like static electricity building up around her. The hairs on her arm stood up and she could even feel the hair on her head pulling slightly to the right. Gwen peered ahead, but no one else seemed to notice anything. She turned towards where she felt her hair being pulled and felt the sensation move to the front of her body and her hair pulling forward in front of her just a bit.
Gwen’s heart raced with excitement and she took a step in the direction this “energy” was coming from. Then another, and another. The pull on her hair and tingling sensation on her body grew, and grew, until soon it was all over. Her hair wasn’t being pulled forward or to the sides, but straight down and Gwen, following her hair, looked down at her feet. They were glowing, or rather, something beneath her feet was glowing. And the ground, the ground was rumbling and shaking. She knelt down and after pausing only for a moment, she began to dig through the loose leaves and into the earth with her bare hands. The ground glowed beneath her hands and her body seemed to be vibrating the more she dug. Then, suddenly, after one last scrape with her hand, the ground gave way and her entire hand dipped into a small hole.
The hole was only a few inches deep, but clearly the source of the glowing which was so bright, yet it didn’t blind her. She peered back over her shoulder expecting to see everyone running towards her, but to her surprise no one else seemed to notice that the whole forest seemed to be glowing and shaking. Everywhere she looked, everything was bathed in a light of golden magnificence. Gwen’s heart beat in her chest hard and fast, but the vibrating feeling pulsing through her body made it impossible to notice. She leaned forward, plunged her hand into the hole and felt something small, hard, and cold at the bottom. She picked it up in her hand and as soon as she did the vibrations stopped, and the golden glow dissipated in an instant. In her hand was a small golden coin with nothing written on either side. Just a plain golden coin.
“Gwen! Come on!” Came her mother’s voice and she quickly got to her feet and ran towards her family grasping tightly to the golden coin. She decided she would examine it further when she was on her own.
They finished the hike and instead of going to the pool like Gwen and her cousins all wanted to, the parents agreed that they needed to get showered and dressed for dinner instead. Another case of “parents rule,” Gwen thought. Just as she thought this, the golden coin vibrated in the pocket of her shorts. Gwen just placed her hand over her pocket protectively and continued walking beside her mother and her brother, Harper.
Back in the room, a battle ensued between Gwen and her parents about what she had to wear for dinner as they were eating in the main restaurant tonight. Gwen just wanted to wear jeans and sneakers, but her parents informed her that she had to wear her dress. Parents rule, Gwen though again causing the coin to vibrate. She eventually gave in and put her dress on.
They all met outside the main building at the Villa Roma Resort and while all the parents laughed and joked together about something under the entryway, Gwen sat with her cousins at the big fountain out front.
“Guys, check out what I found on the hike today,” Gwen said and pulled the golden coin from inside her shoe and held it out before her in the palm of her hand. Harper, Tina, Rose, and Landon all looked at the coin and didn’t exclaim with the excitement Gwen thought they would.
“What is it?” Harper asked.
“It just looks like an old coin,” Landon said.
“It’s kind of pretty,” Tina added and Rose agreed with a nod.
“It’s more than that,” Gwen said and told them about the vibrations she felt and the golden glow that it emitted.
“That’s crazy, Gwen,” Landon said. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m telling you!” Gwen said with more force in voice. “I was just wishing that we could all get to do what we want for a change when—” but before she could finish the sentence, the coin glowed and vibrated in her hand and Harper, Tina, Rose, and Landon all moved back from Gwen’s hand a bit. The glow was so strong again that the whole area around them was shining. The fountain’s waters sparkled and the main building where their parents were all talking under looked magnificent in the light. Yet, only the five of them seemed to notice.
“I can feel it!” Shouted Landon. “The vibrations!” Just then the water from the fountain began to pulse and Gwen turned and approached it.
“Guys!” Gwen shouted. “Say it with me!” And she looked at them all. “We wish we could get what we want,” she said and her brother and cousins all repeated what she said. Then, Gwen tossed the coin into the fountain which splashed water into the sky and it rained down all over them soaking them to the skin. When they opened their eyes though, they were all dry, and the area around wasn’t glowing anymore, and the ground wasn’t shaking. They all looked at each other as their parents yelled for them to come over and head to the restaurant. Together they all peered into the fountain, but they saw no golden coin at the bottom. They all looked at each other with wide eyes and open mouths. When a second call from their parents came, they all made their way over, all of them completely silent. Gwen was thinking about what they just did and whether it was a good thing, or something very, very wrong.
CIGAR, NECKLACE, & SON
There was a rustling in the woods which made all the birds take flight from nearby bushes and trees. The cause of this rustling was a man running for his life, and the birds fleeing around him were like a homing beacon for his abductors to follow. Michael didn’t care though. What else could he do but run? Eventually, he hoped, he would run far enough, survive long enough, that he would be free. What he would do after that, he couldn’t contemplate at the moment. His thoughts of Saahira and their son, of the necklace and the man with the cigar would all have to wait. Right now, only one thought could occupy his brain otherwise none of the others would matter. Survive.
Michael paused for a moment to catch his breath, and leaned against a tree looking back from where he had run. His eyes were peering down a steep hill which ended in darkness as the hill flattened out. He couldn’t see the cabin beyond, nor any pursuers.
Michael felt pain all over his body, and only part of it was from the torture he had experienced at the hands of Fadel. His bare feet were cut and sliced all over from the rocky terrain he was running through, which left streaks of blood behind him. He only had on a pair of jeans that were ripped and torn all over from his time int he cabin. His chest rose and fell with exhaustion, but through the pain of it all, Michael pushed himself up off the tree and continued to climb the steep hill.
Less than ten minutes ago, Michael was locked in an old cabin with no hope of escape. Now he was running free. Yes, he was running for his life, but he was free. The idea of it was hard to believe. This nightmare all started two weeks ago, when he was coming home from work at Fort Bragg military base in Fayetteville, NC. He was driving his black pick up on the same road he’d driven almost every day for the last two years. Ahead he saw a girl waving his car down frantically. Her car, a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle, was parked on the side of the road with the hood open. Michael pulled over just in front of her car.
“Thank you, thank you!” She said as Michael walked towards her. She was young, tan skin, with brown eyes and brown hair. Her accent was from somewhere like New York, but he wasn’t too sure. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it,” she continued. “Maybe you can take a look at the engine?”
“Yea, sure,” he said. “I’ll take a look, but I’m no expert,” Michael said and moved towards the hood of her car. He leaned over the engine to take a look. He’d done a good amount of work on cars in his life, and started looking around to see if there was something obvious he could spot. Then, billows of smoke starting flowing from the engine and he began to cough violently from inhaling it. He stepped back and when he turned around the girl that waved him down was wearing a gas mask. Michael blinked, but the World around him was fading fast to a blur. The girl stepped towards him as a van pulled up beside the smoking car. Two men, also with gas masks on, pulled Michael into the van and he couldn’t resist at all. He was barely standing, barely understanding, and then all was black.
The next time Michael opened his eyes, he was strapped to a large table with his arms and legs spread wide. He had a splitting headache that coursed through his entire body. He was in a one room cabin, with a fireplace in front of him, but the smell of smoke was coming from behind him. From a cigar. He couldn’t see who was smoking the cigar, but the smell burned his nostrils and stung his throat as the smoke filled the tiny cabin. Michael heard footsteps and a man came into his view. He was Middle Eastern, and if Michael had to guess, understanding hitting him, he’d say he was from Nasiriyah, Iraq. Upon closer inspection, he knew exactly who it was. It was Saahirah’s brother, Fadel.
“Where is she?” Fadel said with a heavy accent. They’d always known that her family might come for them, so they chose to live apart, to not live together as they truly wanted. There were more important things to protect than their love, more important things that her family even knew about.
“Where is the necklace?” Fadel spoke again and this time, Michael was confused. He didn’t know anything about a necklace.
Pain unlike anything Michael had ever felt spread over his body. Fadel had swung his arms around so fast that Michael didn’t have a second to brace himself. Fadel’s arm raised high again and this time Michael squeezed his body as the thin wooden reed came crashing down over his thighs.
“Where is Saahira?” Fadel shouted again and so it continued for the next two weeks. The reed crashing over Michael’s body, Fadel’s questions hanging in the air unanswered, and the thick smell of a cigar wafting throughout the old dusty cabin. Michael thought he would surely die here, and he resigned himself to that fact. With his death, he could rest assured that they would never find Saahira, and they’d never find their son. They wouldn’t take Saahira back where she would be shamed, tortured, and murdered. They wouldn’t turn their son into a brain washed killer either. And, even though Michael had no idea what Fadel was talking about regarding a necklace, Michael swore, quite irrationally, that Fadel would never find it.
Two weeks Michael lay strapped to that table being released only twice a day to eat and use the bathroom. There was no hiding from Fadel in this one room cabin, and whenever Michael was unstrapped from the table, there was another man with Fadel as well. Must be the man with the cigar, Michael thought. He didn’t know how much longer they would keep this up before simply ending his life, but Michael imagined he’d have to endure this for a long time. Finding Saahira would be a matter of family honor, and this necklace must be extremely valuable as well.
Why hadn’t she told me about a necklace? Michael thought constantly, which brought up brief moments of doubt regarding Saahira and what he was putting himself through to keep her safe. Is being tortured for her worth it, if she was keeping secrets from me? He would then conclude, yes.
Then, as if by a miracle, Michael awoke today in the early morning with his bindings undone. Fadel hadn’t arrived to the cabin yet, and the smell of cigar smoke was only a memory. He sat up with great difficulty, a felt a trickle of blood come from his left ear. He ignored it, and made his way to his feet and out the only door the cabin had. Michael knew he could be anywhere, but he made his way in the opposite direction of the dirt road in front of the cabin. Away from where Fadel would most likely be arriving from. Pain and exhaustion a state of being now, he wasn’t sure how far he would be able to go. Then, his army training kicked in and he wiped his mind of all thoughts of “can’t,” and he pushed forward. He was weak but determined. Within 5 or so minutes of running, and climbing, he heard a car pulling up to the cabin in the distance. He heard the slams of the doors just as the birds near him scattered into the sky.
Well, there we go. Three starts to three very different stories all beginning with the same few words. Did you hear the piece of your story starter in there? Now, before I get into how you can vote for your favorite story and the story you’d like me to finish for the next episode, I want to talk about the stories themselves briefly.
The whole point of this little exercise was to illustrate what I think is a really important idea for creating N. E. THING. (anything.) Art, music, career path, business plan, or writing a novel.
Here it is: You will never, ever, ever, run out of ideas. There are too many possibilities out there for you to have thought of them all. It’s a fact. There are too many ideas and possibilities for you to run out of fresh ones.
Pretty simple, right? But it’s essential to creating and living. One of our biggest limits in life is believing we are stuck where we are, or we are powerless to change, or that we need to wait for inspiration for us to create something. They’re all a part of the same limitation, a belief that ideas are limited.
If you are thinking you’re stuck where you are, you’re not believing you can think of a way out of it, you’re resigning to a limitation that whatever pathways you have thought of, or know of, are the only ones to choose from. If you are thinking you need to wait for inspiration to strike, you’re not believing that your head is an endless swimming pool of ideas that you can pull from at any time. Now, there are definitely moments when inspiration will strike us when we’re not planning for it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create moments of inspiration every. single. day. And I do.
I hear it said a lot by parents to their kids, or teachers to their students, and so on about how certain interests that teenager might have are not worthy career pursuits. They’ll say things like, “that’s a hobby and you’re great at it, but you need a career.” Or, “it’s an option, but the salaries in that field are pretty low.” It bugs the hell out of me, because the only thing stopping that person from a career in that “unworthy” interest, is creativity and believing that there’s not enough ideas, or there aren’t enough paths that end in great amounts of abundance. But it’s not true.
Give me any interest and I guarantee you that we can come up with at least a few ideas on how to make money at it. And almost always, there’s already someone out there making millions with that same interest. Yet, most see that not as proof it can be done, but proof that it’s extremely unlikely to repeat. Ughh! Kills me to hear it said to others, and if you’re listening to this and you’ve heard that said to you… believe it now, that it’s not true. Get creative, and believe that you’ll never run out of ideas.
All of it comes down to creativity. Choosing the direction a story will take, or the direction our lives will take, is all a matter of creativity and dreaming and exploring different and sometimes even outrageous options. But, you will never run out of options. You will never be stuck with no way out. That’s why I never felt like I’ve ever had writer’s block. There’s no such thing in my mind. There are always ideas, it’s just that sometimes we are searching for the perfect idea and we resign ourselves to sift through all the incoming ideas, to sit there not writing until the right idea, the idea we fall in love with, comes forward. But there are always ideas a flowin’!
Bringing this back to the last episode… If we are thinking of starting over… If we’re imagining that the path we are on just isn’t what we dreamed life would be, or the thing you’re creating isn’t quite living up to what’s in your head; then you need to have the belief that the possibilities before you are truly endless, creative ideas are endless, and they’re all at your fingertips. They’re at your disposal anytime you wish to take a dip in that infinite pool of ideas.
Thank you all for listening today, and I hope you enjoyed all three of the stories I started, but I’m sure you have a favorite! To vote for your favorite story, and make it so I finish and write that story for the next episode, you have to do two very simple things.
First, you have to share this podcast with at least one other person who hasn’t listened before. Yes, I’m pandering for your support. We’re going to go honor system on this one, but it means a lot when you help me fulfill my mission to fill your days with something good. Second! Follow me on Instagram, or Like my page on Facebook, or both, all under The Roaming Scholar. I’ll be posting once or twice on both my pages where you can vote, but only followers and likers will be accepted into the voting pool. Easy right?
Ok, I can’t wait to hear what you all vote for… and I have some secret hopes of which one you will pick, but I will seriously enjoy writing any one of these stories. Have a great week ahead believing that the infinite pool of ideas is at your disposal. See you all next time.