Last night, as part of my ongoing gig as writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library, I led a large group of writers through the Seven-Sentence Short Story exercise, created by science fiction and fantasy author (and former English teacher) James Van Pelt. I’ve used this as an exercise several times now in writing classes and workshops, and always have a blast.
Here’s how it works:
1. Introduce what the main character wants and the first action he/she takes to accomplish that goal.
2. The results of the action the character takes in sentence #1 has to make the situation worse. The character should be further from the goal now.
3. Based on the new situation, the character takes a second action to accomplish the goal.
4. The result of the second action the character takes, from sentence #3, is to make the situation worse. The character should be even further from the goal now.
5. Based on the new situation, the character takes a third and final action to accomplish the goal.
6. The third action either accomplishes the character’s goal, fails to accomplish the goal, or there is an unusual but oddly satisfying different result of the last action.
7. The denouement. This sentence wraps up the story. It could tell the reader how the character felt about the results, or provide a moral, or tell how the character’s life continued on.
And here’s the story I wrote:
Let’s Grab Lunch
By Edward Willett
Tyler exploded from the hatch of the spaceship, arms outstretched, maneuvering pack blazing, knowing that the K’vellik drone was only seconds behind him, knowing if he did not accelerate clear of the slowly swelling entanglement field the K’vellik had snared the SS Marleybone in, he would end up as lunch—and not a quick lunch, either, but one of the long, drawn-out, extremely painful (to the main course) lunches for which the K’vellik queen was well-known.
He had forgotten one important fact: the K’vellik entanglement field literally ate rocket exhaust, and the blast from his maneuvering pack provided it with just enough additional energy to expand suddenly some twenty metres in every direction—bringing him to a sudden halt, relative to the Marleybone, like a dinosaur caught in the La Brae Tar Pits.
Tyler swore, slapped the quick-release buckle on the front of his spacesuit to free himself from the maneuvering unit, and instead of trying to escape the entanglement field, swam through it, as though he were swimming through treacle, back toward the Marleybone: if he couldn’t escape the ship, he would have to somehow disable the drone—and he had a half-crazy…more than half-crazy…notion how to do it.
His plan was to catch the drone in the airlock, hoping the heavy metal door would crush it, but though he had freed himself from the maneuvering unit, he had not deactivated it, and he belatedly realized its exhaust would fry him if he tried to reach the airlock controls…and now, here came the drone, the sleek, black bullet-head of the semi-living robot emerging into space even as he, once again, came to a stop.
Only one option remained to him: the emergency waste expulsion system, which would vent all of the suit’s collected waste and its remaining water supply through a valve on his chest: intended to be connected to a pipe inside the Marleybone, not simply released into space, but as the drone turned toward him, he twisted it open, and a blast of liquid, turning instantly to ice, hit the thing in the face, blinding it—and, thank the blessed Newton’s Third Law, sending Tyler backward, slowed by the entanglement field, but not stopped completely, just out of range of the drone’s mindlessly reaching tentacles, one of which whipped by mere centimetres from his faceplate.
He had no idea the second drone was there until its tentacles, reaching around the curve of the hull, snagged him and pulled him, screaming, into its collection pouch, where he joined the rest of the crew in helpless, paralyzed terror.
And though his turn as the K’vellik queen’s lunch was every bit as horrifying and painful as he had imagined, he discovered, as it came to its gruesome conclusion, that it was not the end: that a small portion of the thing that had been Tyler was now a part of the queen’s hive mind, and that small portion discovered that, in fact, chowing down on screaming human spacefarers was immensely satisfying and delicious, and as the years went by, and the lunches piled up, that tiny bit of Tyler reflected, from time to time, that when you came right down to it, there were two sides to everything, and your opinion of any particular issue was really just a matter of perspective.