Archive for December 3rd, 2011

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Office Formulated Language: A Writing Exercise

Howdy Folks!  Happy Saturday!

I’m still thinking through how to wrap up my posts on character so I thought today we’d just do a little writing instead.

Today’s prompt is taken from The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs in honor of this mighty trailer.  Selected at random from various points within the novel, I present to you the following three words:

Office Formulated Language.

Now, what can we do with that basic sentence as a jumping off point for inspiration?  I’m going to run for a bit with this and see what I can come up with.  You’re invited to do the same.

It’s an office.  A comfortable office with a leather recliner and floor-to-ceiling bookcases.  It smells like cherry pipe smoke though its never been smoked in.  The den of an academic with a small oak desk near a broad window.  The office, the library, the files and papers are all managed by an AI named Carmichael, who has a decent sense of humor among other things and serves as an assistant to our academic.  The office is the property of a university, provided to our professor as a part of his tenure.  Is our academic a historian?  No, that’s too easy.  A poet.  Richard Ellsworth, an award-winning poet who teaches poetry for St Mary’s College.

So who is my protagonist?  Ellsworth?  Maybe.  Carmichael?  Less likely only because the story could be limited by an AI narrator.  Maybe someone else?  Maybe a grad student who is in Ellsworth’s class?

Now my brain’s really cooking and I can see several potential stories here.  I could go for a Bradburyesque SF fantasy like There Will Come Soft Rains.  Or I could go for a mystery.  Maybe a combination of the two.

Grad student Amara Garcia Smith, also an aspiring poet, finds a poem delivered to her [whatever kind of emaily-type thing they use] — a poem confessing love for her — and her understanding of Ellsworth’s use of language and poetic structure brings her to the realization that her professor appears to be the author.  She goes to him to let him know that as flattered as she is, she’s not interested in anything more than their academic relationship.  He insists that the poem wasn’t from him but the next week, another shows up.

After talking with friends, she decides to discuss the issue with the Dean of the Humanities Department.  It launches into an investigation of Ellsworth (with more of his vehement denials) and ultimately, they discover that Ellsworth’s AI, Carmichael, wrote the poems.  And what’s more — most of Ellsworth’s recent body of work was also written by the AI.  And maybe, until meeting Amara, Carmichael was content with this arrangment.  But now, having fallen in love, the AI wants out of the office and out of the business of propping up Ellsworth’s literary reputation….

Now, is that enough?  Probably not.  And it will need some fancy dance moves to avoid the cliches inherent in the artificial person who wants to be human trope.  But it could be done.  I have a person, a place, a problem and several directions I could go in how they solve their problem — trying and failing as needed until we reach the climactic “make or break” try that takes us into the end of the story.

Normally, if I were going to use this prompt to get a story on the page, I’d keep working all of this like a Rubik’s Cube until I had a more fully imagined premise (which may or may not look anything like what I’ve started above) and then…I’d start writing it.

The important take away here is that before I pulled those words and started playing with them above, I had nothing.  Now, I have the beginnings of a story.

So what about you?  Your dare, should you choose to accept it, is to do your own playing with those three words and post the results in the comments below….