Friday, March 8th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Give Your Characters More Than One Goal

ListI’m sitting here looking at at a giant list of “2013 Fun Goals” that the Husband of Awesome™ and I put together a few weeks ago.

This isn’t something we normally do, but I thought it might be fun. We wrote them down on easel-sized paper in different colored markers and posted it on the wall. The list includes things that require us to get out of the house (hike, fish, attend a minor-league baseball game) and things that we can stay home and do (make homemade ice cream, tie-dye t-shirts).

And as we come up with ideas for things we want to do this year, we’ll add them to the list.

The characters in your stories should have these kind of goals, too. It makes them more like real people, and it provides a way to include more drama in your novels by creating subplots out of these desires. This ‘minor’ activity might even provide the hook or inciting incident you need to begin your story.

For instance, suppose you write mysteries. Your detective is spending a Saturday morning at the gym, taking a yoga class for the first time, deciding whether or not it’s the kind of thing she might like. Halfway through the class, a scream erupts from the women’s locker room. Someone found a dead body–and now your story is off and running.

These goals can also provide some comic (or not so comic, if you wish) “relief” from the intensity of a dramatic novel. Perhaps your character just wants to get away for the weekend…and each time he makes plans to do so–or even starts out on the trip–the main plot interrupts (ramping up the drama again!) until he tries again.

(This kind of sub plot will need to be resolved before the end of the book.)

Here’s Your Prompt:
Create a list of five or eight activities or goals your character might want to accomplish (which are unrelated to the main plot). Jot down why your character is interested in these items–you can’t just wing it. There’s got to be a compelling reason–a back story–behind the idea, even if it’s simply “because I’ve never done it before.” Just make certain that kind of reasoning rings true for your character.

(Someone who is afraid of heights will probably not have bungee jumping on his list unless there’s a very good reason for it.)

Choose one goal, two at the most, which could compliment the plot. Brainstorm some ways your character could accomplish the goal.

Finally, write the scene. What might happen that could affect the main plot — positively or negatively — during this scene? Could it lead to another clue in a murder mystery? Could your character break a leg and not be able to be a bridesmaid for her best friend in a romance? Does it simply provide relief from a very intense plot?

Good luck!

Photo: © Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Writing Prompt: A Photo

Sand Sculpture on a Beach of a Sailor in a Boat Taking on Water

How to use a picture prompt:

Study it.

What do you see? Pay close attention to the background as well as the foreground. What jumps out at you? Write about that, and not the obvious.

On the other hand, if the obvious tells you a story, write that. (These are guidelines, not rules.)

Photo © Micha Fleuren | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Writing Prompt – I Spy With My Little Eye…

Woman with a camera held up to her face, taking a picture.Question: Where do ideas come from?

Answer: They’re all around us.

But sometimes, they’re difficult to “see.” There’s a lot of visual stimulation around us, whether we’re visiting someplace new or sitting in our own writing spaces surrounded by the familiar.

Today’s writing prompt is a challenge. I want you to spend some time focusing on the objects around you and come up with a story (or a poem, or a memoir/journal entry, etc.) about one of the objects you see. Don’t let your eyes flick past the things you’ve viewed a million times a day. Instead, choose one to focus on, and think about some possibilities:

  • How did you acquire it? Was it given to you by a friend? What if someone else had given it? (An enemy? A teacher? An alien? What kind of story would that make?
  • How was it manufactured? What if it were made of something else? What if it had additional properties such as motion, magnetism, solubility, invisibility?
  • Who owned it before you did? Your brother? Your cousin? Henry the VIII?
  • Imagine this item in another location. What significance does the new location bring to the object? (Does it give you an idea for a story?)

Now…kick it up a notch by letting your imagination run wild. Start with the focus object, and continue to ask questions of it until the object of your study is no longer what you focused on. Instead of asking the “usual” questions, take a tangent… What does the color of it remind you of? How about the shape, or the texture? Maybe the gold-rimmed dinner plate which used to belong to your grandmother makes you think of the moon. Write a poem about the moon, or a story about a colony on the moon, or a fantasy about the moon’s pull on a witch’s spells.

Maybe the blue lamp is the same color of the ocean on a rainy morning. It makes you think of a secret at a beach house, a romance on an island, or a pirate shipwreck in Boston Harbor.

You get the idea.

Write that story (poem, vignette, journal entry, etc.) without the focus piece ever being mentioned in it.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Easy: Write something (a poem, a short story, a scene, etc.) using your object of choice, coupled with some of the questions outlined above (or more of your own!) Make certain that item is the focus of the piece.
  • Challenging: Start with a focus object, but transform it into a solid idea. Write something which was inspired by your focus piece.

Good luck!

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 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.

Monday, December 24th, 2012

(Free) Writing Prompt Gift for You – Or Last Minute Gift for Your Writer Friends

Prompt IllustrationMerry Christmas!

Here’s my gift for you (or for you to give to a writer friend).

I’ve created 30 prompts – all different than the ones I’ve used on my Web site for the last few years.

Included are quotes, story sparks, one-word prompts, etc. There are prompts for journalers, short-storyists, poets and novelists. Some are thought-provoking questions, some are simple directives.

(If it sounds like it’s all over the board, it is: I wanted there to be a little something for everyone.) Nonetheless, any prompt can be used multiple ways: if you’re a poet and it tells you to write a story, well, just write a poem! If the prompt is something fictitious and you enjoy journaling, relate it to your life in some way.

The prompts are spread out, 10-to-a-page on 3 pages, with dotted lines between each.

The idea is to print the three pages, cut along the dotted lines. them fold the strips over so the cute image is showing, but not the prompt. Decorate a shoebox or a glass jar, toss them in, then keep them on your desk when you need a bit of inspiration.

Here’s the PDF Link to the free prompts. (Right-click and choose save as to download it to your computer.)

I hope you enjoy them!

You Say You Want More?

If you’re looking for a more robust gift for a writer friend, I’ve written 370 more prompts – one for each day of the year and a few extra which are available in the same format. They’re $2.99 via PayPal. Just click the link below. Once you pay, you’ll be directed to the download link. Thanks!

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Writing Prompt – When the Wall Came Down

Photo of the Berlin Wall Being Built in 1961On November 9, 1989 the Berlin wall came down – figuratively. Officials opened it and allowed citizens to travel from East Berlin to West Berlin.

It wasn’t until a day later when citizens rushed to the wall and started breaking it down and chipping off pieces for souvenirs. In the weeks that followed — though the walls were still guarded in many places — it finally toppled.

During its existence, officials did permit some travel from East to West — with the necessary permits — and usually to anyone but those trapped behind the wall. Some families were cut off from contact for decades. East Germans who worked in West Germany immediately lost the jobs they could no longer travel to. The erected wall cut railway stations in half, closing stations and orphaning lines. Economic outcome grew dim.

Here’s Your Prompt

  1. Imagine your local government erects a wall in the middle of your home town, separating you from friends, family and employment. What happens? Write a journal entry, poem or essay about the event.
  2. As above, only interview friends and family for their reaction. Write a fictitious news story detailing the event.
  3. The same scenario as the first item, only the event happens to a character in one of your short stories or novels. Write the scene for your main character when all these liberties have been taken away. Or, write the scene for the villain who made the decision to build the wall.
  4. Walls are often used as metaphors for something else. What walls are you surrounded by? What wall is your character surrounded by? Write about these walls.
  5. Along the same line, why do people build walls around themselves? What can this lead to? Imagine how a the main character in your book has built a wall around himself. How can this back story cause conflict in the story you’re writing? Write a scene where the character acknowledges those walls. Does she tear them down, or keep them up? How does this move your story? Write it.
  6. Write a poem about a metaphoric wall.

Good Luck!

Photo Credit: The National Archives

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Great Beginnings

I’m currently finishing up a novel and getting ready to start a new one. I’m thinking a lot about beginnings.

The opener, or hook, of a novel — and especially a short story — is the most important part of the tale. It’s what attracts the reader to your story, and — one hopes — is enticing enough to keep them reading.

But this post isn’t about writing good hooks. It’s about using what’s already out there to help us in our own writing. (I’ll get to that.)

Some authors have been so successful in writing good hooks that the first lines of their books have made it into popular vernacular and used even by folks who have not read the book. (And maybe, don’t know what they’re quoting!)

Do you know these famous first lines?

  • It was a pleasure to burn. – [Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953]
  • Call me Ishmael. – [Moby Dick, Herman Melville, 1851] 
  • Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – [Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, 1877] 

Here’s Your Prompt:

Choose one of the famous first lines below and start writing where it leaves off. For more creative freedom, you might want to choose a line from a book you’ve never read (or have no assumptions about). Type or write the famous line first, and keep going. When you’re done, delete the famous first line and see what you’ve got!

  1. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. – [Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813] 
  2. I am an invisible man. – [The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952] 
  3. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – [1984, George Orwell, 1949] 
  4. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. – [Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984] 
  5. “I’ve watched through his eyes. I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get. – [Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, 1994.] 
  6. There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. – [The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974] 
  7. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind… – [Paul Clifford, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, 1830] 
  8. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. – [A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859] 

Good luck!

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Writing Prompt – Dichotomy

Photo of a Muslim Man in Tan Robes and Bright orange hat driving a pink barbie scooter. Photo By Kelly A. Harmon

Dichotomy – a division between two contradictory parts.

I took this picture out the car window one night last week after leaving a restaurant. (The Husband of Awesome™ was driving.)

When I first saw him, his robes were flapping in the wind. I’m sorry the camera didn’t catch that.

I love the idea of a man — any man — driving a Pink Barbie Scooter. He’s either entirely sure of himself as a man — or he just doesn’t give a crap what other people think. Maybe both. Or maybe he’s in some desperate situation. The fact that his florescent-orange turban clashes here, is icing on the cake.


Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a story, poem or essay about the man pictured above. Where is he going in such a hurry? Is he on his sister’s scooter?
  • Think of another dichotomy you’ve seen — or make one up — and write about that.

Good luck!