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On Quiltgate and Story Utility


 By Christine Carron

When I was seven’ish, my grandparents brought me to a bingo event crowded with mostly old people. Though, to a seven-year-old, anyone not easily identifiable as kid age is old. So who knows for sure? Luckily, historical accuracy on that particular point is not required for this post’s purpose.

The part that is important is that after hours of sitting at a long table putting the little plastic discs on B-12, G-59, I-19, etc. the magic happened. I won! I scrambled out of the chair, my little hand pressed over the discs and card, ran up to the Bingo caller, yelling the whole time, “Bingo! Bingo!” I was so excited it totally escaped me that another person, an older lady, was calling “Bingo!” as well. Let’s call that lady Ms. Dasher of Childhood Joy, Ms. Dasher for short.

I mean, seriously, I was just about popping out of my Mary Janes with excitement, and if Ms. Dasher had any ounce of human kindness, wouldn’t she have just let the little kid win?

The answer is, yes, but unfortunately Ms. Dasher had not an ounce of human kindness. So we had to go to Bingo Winner Smackdown, an intense battle of chance that involved us eyeing each other viciously while drawing a playing card. Whoever got the highest card would win a handmade quilt. The loser would get two embroidered pillowcases.

I picked my card. Jack of Hearts! Oh. My. Gosh. Pretty good!

Ms. Dasher picked her card.


Queen of Clubs!

Ms. Dasher snatched up that quilt without even a glance at me and I walked back to my seat holding the pillowcases and vowing to never ever, ever, ever play bingo again.

That, my friends, is Quiltgate. And such childhood memories have major Story Utility, i.e., they make for great story options. Here are just a few different ways to utilize them:

  • Scene Utility. They might become actual scenes, especially if you are a children’s book writer like I am.
  • Backstory Utility. The moment could fill in as a pivotal incident in the main character’s past that results in a bad choice/behavior that lands the character in a mess (plot point!).
  • Writer-Mood Utility. It can simply serve as inspiration for a particular emotion you must land for your character. For example, if I need to write a passage where my character feels a sense of injustice, hopeless rage and unfairness, Quiltgate will help me get there emotionally, which will allow me to write it more authentically.
  • Taking-a-Different-Side Utility. We can use such stories to play what if? and stretch our imaginations. What if I had to write the scene from Ms. Dasher’s perspective, making her a sympathetic character? Or, from the Bingo caller’s perspective? Or from the perspective of a depressed college student who was also dragged to the bingo event and what happened just confirmed for her the basic wretchedness of humanity? (That last one would actually be the hardest one for me to write.)

Can you guess where the Goodjelly Prompt is going to go this week? Yep. Get ready to unearth your very own Quiltgates.

The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week

  1. List three to five memories from your childhood where you felt wronged or witnessed someone else being wronged, or perhaps even where you were the wrong-doer—as memories such as that would have seriously potent Story Utility.  
  2. For each one, experiment with the four different Story Utilities (Scene, Backstory, Writer-Mood, Take-a-Different-Side) to see if you can create at least one viable scene for your current work in progress.

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