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Story Structure Goes to Clown College

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Photo by Gabriel Pompeo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/father-and-child-playing-with-a-pig-4676941/

We are industrious sentence-builders here at WU, but sometimes motivation fizzles, ardor fades, and a brave sentence’s beginning loses faith at its end. Never fear! In the spirited spirit of Mad Libs, we will build a story of stout sentences, broad-shouldered and charismatic.

Here’s the deal: I’ll list a number of story-building structures, and provide one sentence to light the fuse. You, not unattractively drooling in anticipation, will mentally write the next. And then I’ll reveal the “correct” sentence, since I am driving this careering sleigh. Not exactly democracy, but hey, we’re used to that by now. Unto the breach, dear friends: 


Kristy Silden watched, with a mixture of revulsion and fascination, the heavily lipsticked piglet dance in its stall.


She was fascinated that the pig had so precisely applied the lipstick, but revolted that the shade was so inappropriate for its pink spring skin.

Setting (Years Later)

The little farm, now hers, lay in a narrow valley, with the Saskatchewan mountain ranges looming on all sides.


She knew there were no mountains in Saskatchewan, but why fetter a wheeling imagination?


Ever since she’d seen Claudia, her beloved pig dancing those years ago, she’d wondered if that memory was a dream—and Claudia had aged with that memory.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1But Claudia had always been there, and always would be—wouldn’t she?

Inciting Incident

Kristy watched Claudia in the pen, tottering on her once sturdy legs—could she really be that old?

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Growing up together, Kristy thought of Claudia as a best friend, but most pigs only live to be 12 or so; Claudia was 11.

Call to Adventure

Kristy finished the Farm Finaglings article about the Berkeley scientists using CRISPR to edit a pig’s genes.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Kristy answered a ringing in her head: “This is Adventure calling; wanna go for a ride?”


Kristy and Claudia argued about which vehicle was the best to get to Berkeley: The trusty ’52 Chevy truck her dad had left her (and which could carry a lot of slop), or the 2017 Prius hybrid.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1They opted for the Prius, since Claudia couldn’t drive a stick; they could pick up slop at their stops.

Saving the Cat

The highway humming, Kristy idly wondered if a cat would have been a better companion than Claudia.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1She made a mental note to start saving up for a cat.

Kristy wrinkled her nose, and turned to Claudia, finding that Claudia had wrinkled her snout and turned to her.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1They both burst into giggles, though Claudia’s were more of a snurfle.

Dilemma and Flashback

Saskatoon, Edmonton, down into the States to Montana—west to Seattle and south?

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Quick diversion to Vegas instead—she’d won $35 on a nickel slot her dad let her play when she was fifteen, and the memory sung.

Man in a Hole

They had to creep slowly by a worker in a manhole in Reno.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Kristy thought he looked a lot like Ryan Reynolds, but Claudia just snorted.


Finally made it to the Berkeley lab, but Claudia was clearly slipping.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Kristy and Claudia’s eyes locked as the pig lie on the table; Kristy could see the faint trace of lipstick in Claudia’s last smile.

The Reward

The cloning was successful; through the sadness, a squealing little piglet was worth the month’s wait.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1No Claudia to help drive home, no Claudia at all—but man, this Clara had more to say than talk radio.

The Return

No Vegas repeat this round—those friggin’ video slots were hell.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Crossing into BC, they hit a Kamloops White Spot, and Clara ate three burgers—the pig! 


Pulling up beside the barn, Kristy noticed something weird on Clara’s face.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Not weird, exactly: lipstick.

Extraneous Concluding Sentence

The clocks struck thirteen.

line4.jpeg?resize=860%2C105&ssl=1Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Yes, yes, I know your story was better than mine—but that’s why I gave you the floor, to shine. (Now, keep mopping.) Shiny people, do you find writing prompts useful to catalyze writing a scene or a story, or even a novel’s theme, or perhaps as warm-up writing exercises? Do you get them from writing prompt sites or from writing newsletters? Would you like to steal my album-release prompt of Taylor Swift being an RAF Spitfire pilot during WWII who discovers she’s gone blind in the cockpit? And do you wish Mad Libs came out with cookbooks?

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