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, June 15th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Memorable Characters

Lucille BallI was getting ready for work this morning and the TV was playing an old I Love Lucy re-run. It reminded me that a book I’ve recently finished reading (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos – I didn’t like it, BTW) mentioned that Lucille Ball spoke Spanish.

Apparently, when Lucy visited with Desi Arnaz’s friends, she spoke fluently with them.

That one fact created a depth in Lucille Ball’s character that changed irrevocably how I feel about her.

I’m currently reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (This book is a tortuous read which will not end!) in which I’ve met the unlikable (yet memorable) character of Uriah Heep.

According to David Copperfield:

He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly; and which diverted my attention from the compliment he had paid my relation, to the snaky twistings of his throat and body.

Ew! But how memorable.

Today’s prompt deals with character quirks: gestures, mannerisms, or even distinct physical attributes which make your character stand out. The quirk could be good or bad, depending on how you want to portray your character.

Whatever you do: don’t over do it. Choose one memorable quirk per character — and don’t riddle all the characters in your book with memorable traits, else how will the important ones stand out?

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Create a character quirk for a someone in your work in progress. Write a character sketch to flesh it out before using it in your work. Decide how this quirk affects your character.
  • Create a physical quirk for one of your characters which influences the character’s choice of religion.
  • Create a quirk based on someone’s eating habits. (Does this character eat only blue foods? Mash his food together? Must keep all foods (and all their juices) separate? Etc.)
  • Create a quick based on someone’s hygiene habits. (Does this character wear too much perfume? Wear too much make-up? Dye his hair a different color every week? Wear two-different colored contact lenses, doesn’t bathe, picks her scabs until they bleed? Picks her nose all the time?)
  • Create a long list of attributes, quirks or mannerisms and write them on little slips of paper. Fold them up and stir, then randomly choose two options for a new character. Here’s a short list to begin with:

    freckles, lisp, nail biting, body odor, wears the same clothes every day, wears too much perfume, whispers instead of talks, only eats sweet foods, doesn’t comb hair, hiccups when nervous, noisily stirs tea or coffee, a full beard, a limp, an irritating laugh, chews food with mouth open, allergies, gets seasick, paranoia, knows it all, argumentative, class clown, morbid, dresses only in one color

  • If you journal, consider writing about a family member or close friend with a memorable quirk. Think of a time that quirk caused an argument, created laughter, or instilled love. Write a ‘character sketch’ about this person or the incident.

Good luck!