Friday, January 25th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Soothsayers and Oracles

Line Drawing of the Human Hand with Palm Reading Symbols Drawn On itI’ve probably mentioned this before: the main character in my work-in-progress is a finder. You can tell her about things you’ve lost, and she can help you find them…with a little bit of help from the universe and a little ritual she performs.

And in Blood Soup, the lead character depends on her nurse — a midwife and a witch — who ‘rolls the bones’ to determine the gender of the unborn child.

Through time and across tribes, clans and peoples we’ve had scryers and seers to whom we can turn for answers. Today, people read their horoscopes, visit palm readers, and deal tarot cards.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Develop a character who has regular appointments with a seer (a palm reader, a gypsy, a tarot card reader). Why does she have regular appointments? What answers does he seek?
  • Write a believable dialogue between two people where one begins with the question, “What’s your sign?”
  • Write a scene where a skeptic is forced to confront his prejudices when something everything a seer has told him has come to pass.
  • Write a poem with the opening line, “The fortune teller said…”
  • Write about something that happened in your former life.
  • Write about rolling the bones, or scattering runes.
  • Write about a lucky charm that brought bad luck.
  • Write about the last dream you remember having. Afterward, find an a book or internet resource on dream interpretation and write about what it means.

Good luck!

The image of the hand comes from the book The Woman Beautiful, page 308, by Ella Adelia Fletcher. 1901. Work is currently in the public domain since the copyright has expired.

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Roget and His Thesaurus

Peter Mark RogetHappy Birthday, Peter Mark Roget!

Roget was born January 18, 1779.

He was a natural theologian and a physician, but he’s chiefly remembered for his literary contribution of creating the first thesaurus.

His apparent obsession with list-making started it all, and he worked on it for nearly 50 years in private before it was published in 1852, with the excessive title of:

Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.

I love my thesaurus!

I have a copy of Roget’s International Thesaurus , 6th edition (a fabulous gift from the The Husband of Awesome™ many years ago) and it sits on a small shelf below my desk. (It’s over 1,200 pages of joy!)

I can reach it with ease any time I need to refer to it.

A thesaurus is an awesome tool when you’re looking for just the right word. And like any good tool, you get what you pay for: I haven’t found a web version that does the job anywhere as good as my hard-bound book. If you’re serious about finding the right word, get a good thesaurus.

(The problem, of course, especially for young writers — or new writers — is to choose a 50-cent word over a nickle word. By this I mean, stumbling across the first 4-syllable synonym in the thesaurus and plugging that into their writing. Don’t fall into this trap! If your character is walking across the parking lot, make him walk. Having him perambulate across the parking lot is not going to make the story any better!)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Choose a piece of writing from your drafts that seems lackluster, or one you’ve had no luck selling somewhere. Examine the words for places you could make changes. Use a thesaurus to find more specific words to use to make your point and re-write your work.
  • Do you tend to use the same words over and over in your writing?

    Instead of using this prompt to jump start something, use it to hone your skills. Pick five or more words you tend to overuse – particularly ones that you tend to use modifiers around to help them along, and look them up in a good thesaurus. Make lists of alternate words (and their specific meanings) and keep them handy while you write.

  • For those of you looking for a specific prompt to get your juices flowing today, try a new twist on an old stand-by for prompts. Open up a thesaurus to a random page, close your eyes, and drop your finger down on a particular word. If you’ve hit the index, turn to the specific location in the book. If you’ve tapped a particular word, you’re good.

    Now, choose five of the synonyms surrounding your word and write a poem or essay and use all of them (correctly!) in context in your writing.

    For those of you who are too lazy, here’s a random word and some of its synonyms:

    pirate: corsair, buccaneer, privateer, sea rover, picaroon, viking

Good Luck!

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Resolutions, Goals and Conflict

A long time ago I resolved not to make New Years resolutions.

I’m not against trying to do better. I just don’t like the system: For the last month of the year or so, people start talking about what they’re going to do next year: lose weight, read more, eat more vegetables, stop kicking the cat.


And for a month or so, people binge eat, swear off books, eat less vegetables and kick the cat more…because they know in a few weeks they’ll have to go cold turkey. (Never realizing, of course, that by Valentine’s Day, 75%* of all those resolutions will be long broken anyway.)

* I made up that statistic. But you get my point.

And besides, it’s all so arbitrary. If you want to stop kicking the cat, do it NOW. Why wait?

That being said…

I do like to set goals for myself: reachable, measurable goals which are wholly under my control. (If they’re out of my control, they’re not goals, they’re dreams. Don’t get me wrong: dreams are awesome. But they often rely on outside influences to obtain them.)

If I miss a goal, I’ve only got myself to blame…

…unlike really good fiction.

Goals are the building blocks of stories. The hero has a list of goals he wants to achieve. The protagonist has a list of goals he wants to achieve (often at odds with the hero’s goals). Without this conflict, the story is boring.

Often, the hero’s most basic goals, let’s say, leaving a room, are stymied by the protagonist — who locks the door, or shoots the hero, or reveals a bit of information to the hero that is so inconceivable, that the hero is frozen in place (by shock, indecision, heartbreak, anger, etc.). No matter what, the hero cannot simply get up and walk out of the room.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  1. Make a list of 3 – 5 goals you want your hero to accomplish. (If you’re writing a short story, stick with 1 goal, 2 at the most.)
  2. Make a list of 3 – 5 goals for the antagonist to accomplish: goals which by their very nature are at odds with the hero. Remember: at the beginning of the story, the antagonist doesn’t know what the protagonist’s goals are, so it’s cheating if the goal is a direct contradiction of the hero’s.
    For example:

    Your protagonist might be a retiring Firefighter looking to purchase his neighbor’s 10-acre farm on which to live out his golden years.

    The real estate agent handling the transaction finds out the land contains lucrative mineral deposits, and puts in a bid for himself instead. Prices for the farm escalate into a bidding war as the realtor decides he wants to own the property for its potential value.

    (So, the protagonist’s goal is to buy some property to retire on. The antagonist’s goal is NOT to stop him from retiring with property, but to invest money in a property with possible lucrative minerals. It just so happens that in this case, the property is one and the same.)

  3. Choose one goal for each of them, and write the scene where the two goals conflict.

Good luck!

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Writing Prompt – When the Party’s Over

Photo of a Martini Cocktail with a slice of lemon on the rim of the glass.  Photo by Dennis MojadoThe holidays are officially over and it’s back to the daily grind for most folks, myself included.

The snow’s still on the ground here (it snowed Christmas Day) and heading back to work in this Winter Wonderland (albeit a little sun-dappled with large patches of grass poking through) is a bit of a letdown. Sort of like that feeling you get when you threw a rockin’ party at your house, and you’ve just ushered the last guest out the door.

The party was great!

But now you’ve got to empty the sink full of dirty dishes, pick up all the empty bottles lying around, and scrape the remains of the crab dip and shrimp pesto into the trash — and take it out — so your house doesn’t smell like a fishing pier in the morning.

In other words, the coats are off the bed, but you’ve got a lot of work to do before you can relax.

Here’s Your Prompt

  • “The Party’s Over” is a metaphor for divorce, break ups, graduation, etc. What does it mean to you? Journal about it or write a poem about the loss of “The party is over.”
  • Write the “clean up” scene between roommates who just hosted an awesome get-together. Use the end of the party as an underlying metaphor for something else: they’re cleaning up, and as they do so, one roommate announces he’s moving out, or that she’s taking a job in another state, or that he’s breaking up.
  • Nat King Cole and Journey both wrote hit songs about this topic. Write your own song.

    To give you some ideas, here are Cole’s Lyrics:

    The party’s over
    The candles flicker and dim
    You danced and dreamed through the night
    It seemed to be right just being with him
    Now you must wake up, all dreams must end
    Take off your makeup, the party’s over
    It’s all over, my friend

    (Read the complete lyrics here.)

    Journey called their song The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love with You).

    You never call me up
    When I’m alone at night.
    What can this poor boy do,
    When he’s hopelessly in love with you?
    So I will tell you now
    This love is fallin’ down.
    Just what more can I do,
    When I’m hopelessly in love with you?

    Oh, bye-bye, baby – The party’s over, I have gone away.
    The party’s over, I have gone away.

    (Read all the Journey lyrics here.)

  • Turn the expression on its head: write about the party being over as a good thing. Don’t take the easy way out by having the “party” be something bad to begin with. This party had to be so good, it’s craziness that it’s over: but killing the party is going to be a good thing, just a little risky.

Good Luck!

“Cocktail” Photo by Dan Mojado.