Friday, October 8th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Make a List

I’ve been teaching a writing/critiquing class at the local college and one of the first things we discussed is where ideas come from. We came up with a brilliant list of ideas (many of which I’ll probably save for another post) but one of the things we didn’t mention was list-making.

As I prepared for class last week, I found an essay by Ray Bradbury entitled “Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds” which makes a convincing case for list making as an idea resource.

Bradbury wrote, “It was only when I began to discover the tricks and treats that came with word association that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation. I finally discovered that if you’re going to step on a live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.”

And how did he find his own delights and despairs?

“I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trap door on the top of my skull.”

Here’s an example of one of Bradbury’s lists: the lake, the night, the crickets, the ravine, the attic, the basement, the trap door, the baby, the crowd, the night train, the fog horn, the scythe, the carnival, the carousel, the dwarf, the mirror maze, the skeleton.

(Those familiar with Bradbury will see at least three of his stories alluded to there…)

While making these lists, Bradbury saw patterns, which eventually turned into the stories he wrote. His method was to pick some item from the list and write a long, prosy poem about it…which usually turned into a story on the second page, he says.

“It began to be ovbious that I was learning from my list of nouns, and that I was further learning that my characters would do my work for me, if I let them alone, if I gave them their heads…”


Here’s Your Prompt: Make a list of nouns. It’s October. In honor of the season, my upcoming favorite holiday (Halloween!) and Ray Bradbury… make it a list of things that frighten you. Don’t fall into the trap of listing things which are generically frightening or “commonly known” to be frightening. Instead, list the things which genuinely scare you or cause you terror. It could be the monster in the closet, if you’re truly afraid of that, but it could also be the fact that you’re out of work, haven’t paid the mortgage, and are being evicted tomorrow with nowhere to go.

Once you’ve made a list, consider it for patterns. Choose an item, and begin a long prosy poem and see if that leads you to something more.

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Editing, Editing, Editing…

Picture of a Ghost Near a Car WreckI just received the first-round edits for my story “Lucky Clover” slated for inclusion in the Drollerie Press anthology Magicking in Traffic.

I’m pleased to say that I have no problem accepting nearly all the changes the editors have made or suggested. There’s only one item that I have a question about, and quite likely, I’ll take the advice of the editors there, too.

Included with the edits are two suggestions I need to act on yet – both excellent ideas – but I’ll need to spend some time on those. So I’ll be in “edit mode” for another day or three.

It always amazes me how I can submit what I think is a finely crafted story and then receive back edits for a hundred or so necessary changes in the document. I’ve spell-checked it, re-read it, sent it to my critique partners, gave it to beta readers…and still the editors find errors and make suggestions – good suggestions.

So far in the fiction game, I’ve been pleased with my editors. They make me look better. (Thanks, guys!)


*Photo from Monster Legends’ Scary Ghost Photos. Lucky Clover might be a ghost story…or it might be something else.

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Writing Prompt: Irritation

Close view of a single bloodshot eye.

Not my eye.

Last night my left eye was really bugging me.

I wear contacts.

In the past, I put them in at 5 a.m. and took them out about 11 p.m. each night to let my eyes breath. But a few months ago, my eye doctor suggested I try a particular brand which I could keep in for 30 days and then discard.

I wasn’t anxious to do so. I liked the idea of removing my contacts nightly and “resting” my eyes.

But I gave it a shot, and loved it. When I put the first contact in my eye it melted away like cotton candy. I didn’t even know it was there, other than the fact that I could see about a hundred times better.

My only (very tiny) quibble is that sometimes by the end of thirty days, the contacts get a teensy bit dry – unlike my former brand which dried up like shingles in my eyes by before bedtime.

So, when my left eye was still bugging me at the end of the day yesterday, I didn’t worry overmuch. I knew I had a new set of contacts on tap for this morning.

But when I got up and put the left one in, I felt not the bliss of cotton candy melting away, but the awful scratch of whatever.

Annoyed, but running late, I left them in and went to work, hoping that furious blinking would remove whatever offensive irritant was causing the problem.

No such luck, and here I sit with a (singular) painfully bloodshot eye, wearing my ultra cool red spectacles from at least three prescriptions ago. Could be worse, I might add.

Here’s Your Prompt: Write about an irritation. Something that bothered you (or your character!) incessantly, perhaps for hours or days at a time. Maybe its even something you (or your character) brought upon yourself. (Ahem.) This doesn’t have to be an injury of any sort. It could be a pesky little brother, a whining little sister, an office-mate who rattles her spoon around her mug while she stirs her already well-stirred java. Maybe there’s a stone in the toe of your shoe, or, the tag on the back of your shirt is slicing your neck. Write about something that persistently nags, and about how the frustration is handled. Do you tattle on the sibling? Rip out the tag? Smash your co-workers mug, still full off frothy joe?