Friday, July 26, 2013

Need A Plot? Find It In Your Kitchen!

What’s the laziest way to find a plot? Let it find you! It happened to me recently in my kitchen in central England. Believe it or not, this little story will help you find a plot at once.

Courtesy of Wise Geek
I found my wife inspecting a brochure about pet insurance. “We don’t have a pet, dear,” I reminded her gently.

“Yes, we do. It’s you.” She pointed at my rheumy eyes, stubbly jowls and odorous bathrobe. “Look, just £49 a year will insure you against mange, dropsy and gout. If you fall ill, they’ll take you to a pet clinic and feed you with premier dog chow rich in vitamins. That’s a lot healthier than the slop you’d get at a hospital.”

“Or here,” I murmured, inspecting my breakfast of carbonised fried eggs.

“Isn’t that more humane than the default method favoured by the National Health Service of sticking an empty saline drip in your arm and pushing your trolley into a corridor?”

“Well," I conceded "it’s certainly cheaper than paying £2900 a year for private medical insurance that will disallow any claim we’re likely to make”

“Such as falling downstairs while intoxicated with marital bliss? Now all we have to do is decide what type of dog you are.”

“How about a St Bernard? It carries its own alcohol at all times.” An idea struck me. I bounced a fried egg across the table. “But we must make this a joint policy.”

“Of course. There’s a 10% saving! What kind of animal shall I be?”

“That’s easy enough.” I looked at her. I picked up a steak knife. I applied it to my egg. “What do they call a female dog?”

The 2Cs in a K method.

Seriously, there’s a plot nugget there. It could be expanded into a short story, given further insults from the wife and forlorn responses from the dog (sorry, husband). Following the jargon of advertising folk, I have named this the ‘2 Cs in a K’ method of plot discovery. Just put two characters in a kitchen and slop around it in your bathrobe.

Alternatively, keep your ears open at the local pub, gym or bistro and eavesdrop on other people’s anecdotes. Every good joke or yarn is a story waiting to be expanded.

See how award-winning author J. A. Konrath makes this work. In his story The Big Guys, two friends go out in a boat. One is teaching the other how to fish for shark. He cuts up bits of fish and throws them in the sea as bait. ‘Chum slick,’ he mutters, cryptically.

Then he picks up his friend and tosses him overboard as well.

As the sharks gather, the friend gasps: ‘Pray, good buddy. Grant me this one boon before I die. What does “chum slick” mean?’

The man smirks. ‘It’s the name we give hereabouts to someone who fools around with his best friend’s wife.’

The melodrama of the climax is gloriously deflated by its punch line. The story is an extended joke.

Take a joke off the shelf.

If you’re shy about eavesdropping, take a joke or anecdote off the shelf and rework it. So you’re not writing humour? Every joke contains a victim. (One theory of humour is that a laugh is a form of aggression. Why else do we expose our canine teeth?)Present the story from the viewpoint of the victim and the joke becomes a tragedy, endowed with pathos. (Gogol’s sad masterpiece The Overcoat is like that.) Shift the pov to an onlooker, describe the same incident and you’ll have us smiling. In the late 17th century, James Howard presented "Romeo and Juliet" as both a tragedy and a comedy on alternate nights.

Every joke is a little drama and every story is a structured drama.

Perhaps that’s why I love my wife. (Truly.) Her dramas are legendary.

Dr John Yeoman passed away in 2016. He held a PhD in Creative Writing, judged the Writers’ Village story competition and was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. Prior to getting his doctorate degree, he spent 40 years as a commercial author and chairman of a major PR company. His Writers’ Village short story contest drew 1500 on-line entries each year from all over the world. Some of his blog posts are archived here, (however the writing class enrollment and downloads are no longer available).


  1. For a mystery writer, a kitchen is full of potential weapons and the other places are full of people they'd like to "off." :)

  2. Good point, Diana. :-)

    This was great, John. I really appreciate the fun and easy to use tips that you share here at the Blood Red Pencil.

  3. Probably a good idea to get that pet insurance ... you might need it to have the fork extracted from your eyeball, eh?

    1. Truly, Christopher, I love my wife. I have to say that. She's holding a fork to my eyeball...

  4. Your plot reminds me of works by G Orwell, Robert Fripp, and Alfred Hitchcock, all purveyors of odd themes. Your characters would make for an excellent Masterpiece series.
    --an Anglophile in search of the lost chord

  5. Characters are everywhere, and for me, that leads to the 'what if' questions that create the story. Good post.

    Terry's Place

  6. Very cute. Truly. I'm referring to your post, of course. I'm sure your wife, Truly, is also very cute. I don't know her though. Truly, I don't.

    1. Truly, Helen, my wife is very cute. I have her permission to say that...

  7. What a fabulous post, John! However, were I your wife, I might have taken it upon myself to find a different use for that steak knife when you asked what a female dog is called, especially after my sweet comment about marital bliss. LOL

    Seriously, you're quite right about extraordinary stories lurking in ordinary places and situations -- just waiting to be discovered and given their voice. News stories -- often more astounding than anything we might conjure up in our imaginations -- are gold mines of tales waiting to be "panned" and told.

    1. Ah, Linda, I was merely repeating what Dr Samuel Johnson said as a boy. When being told by his mother he was a 'dog', he replied 'And what do they call the mother of a dog?'

      True, Johnson was a precocious brat. You wouldn't want to host him at the BRP.


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