Friday, November 1st, 2013

Writing Prompt – National Sandwich Day

Reuben Sandwich. Photo by Ernesto Andrade.

Reuben Sandwich. Photo by Ernesto Andrade.

November 3 is National Sandwich Day!

Yay for sandwiches! I love a good ‘wet’ sandwich: soft, fresh bread, good cuts of meat–and for cold sandwiches–heavy on the pickles and hots. My favorite hot sandwich is a Reuben: corned beef and Swiss cheese on rye with lots of thousand island dressing and sauerkraut. Yum!

Novelist Lawrence Sanders in his book “The First Deadly Sin” describes his detective eating a ‘wet sandwich’ over the sink, accompanied by a bottle of beer. It’s the first time I’d heard the term.

Sanders goes into such loving detail describing the making and eating of this sandwich–taking nearly an entire page to do so, if I remember correctly–that my mouth watered the entire time I was reading.

That’s good writing. (Or maybe it’s my Pavlov response to sandwich descriptions!)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a scene in which one of your characters eats. He doesn’t have to eat a sandwich. If you’re writing fantasy, it could be stew, or bread and cheese. If you’re writing contemporary, maybe it’s wings or tapas. The point is: spend time crafting a few sentences which will make your reader’s mouth water. Don’t spend a page doing it: that was Sanders’ schtick. Write it your way.
     
  • Write a scene where “the big reveal” is made during a meal. Don’t let the dialogue carry the scene. Bring in the setting: the tablecloth and silver salt and pepper shakers, or, the scarred wooden table and broken crockery.
     
  • Write a “long” haiku of four of five stanzas describing the perfect sandwich and building it. When you’re done, see if you can whittle it down into one stanza, but still keep the ‘flavor’ of the long poem.
     
  • If you journal, write family history, or enjoy memoir, write about a memorable meal. Don’t forget to include descriptions of the food.
     

Good Luck!

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Writing Prompt: Random Words

Park bench with wrought -iron handles on a snowy day.Sometimes I find themed writing prompts to be less than inspiring. When that fails, I find a random word generator and offer myself the challenge of using all the words in a story or poem.

Three words seems just about right. I’ve tried more, but the resulting prose can feel contrived — unless you can find a relationship among the many. Sometimes you can. Most often, you can’t.

Today’s three random words come from the Creativity Games.net random word generator. I like this one because you can choose between 1 and 8 random words be generated.

(And I love the three words! My mind went right to the macabre! How about you?)

Here’s Your Prompt:

Use the following three randomly-generated words in some form of written creative expression:

coffin       bench        arch

Creative expression can include:

  • a short story
  • a poem
  • a vignette
  • an essay
  • a journal entry: derive your inspiration from real life experiences. You may need to focus on one word of the three.

Good Luck!

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Characters Who Die

I finished reading three stories this week in which the main character died. I didn’t plan it, it just happened.

In case you’re interested, the characters are:

  • Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. She accidentally committed suicide by overdosing on a “sleeping aid,” conveniently tying up the unraveling strands of her life.
     
  • Delilah in Jennifer Roberson’s Sword Singer. Tragic and abrupt, it probably couldn’t have been handled in any other way. (Spoiler Alert: Okay, she really doesn’t die. But Roberson leaves you hanging like she does: The sword fight ends with Tiger lamenting that Del paid a very high price…and the final chapter sees him in the graveyard riding off alone. Well, what are you supposed to think?)
     
  • Benjamin Button in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (I’m interpreting this as death, but Button’s unmaking could probably be described better in scientific terms. Maybe he was simply un-born.)

Frankly, I call bullshit on principal characters who die.

(Especially when the story is first person, and the person telling it dies. But that’s a topic for another day…)

That being said, there are a lot of reasons to kill off main characters: they deserve it, they’ve lost their usefulness as a story tool, or – the best reason, in my opinion– to yank the reader’s chain. There’s nothing better than building up an awesome character and cutting short his life. It just tugs at the heartstrings of readers.

(Hello Ms. Roberson? Brava!)

Still, a character shouldn’t be killed off without good reason. And when there’s not a good reason, I call bullshit.

Benjamin and Delilah’s ‘death’ are well-justified, but I feel Wharton took the easy way out by killing off Lily. It’s convenient for her, because the story was really dragging on, and double convenient for Lily who had been cut off socially by friends and faced a woeful future of penury.

(I couldn’t wait to finish the book. If poor Lily would have defended her social position – she had the means – and discarded a bit of her pride, she would have fared much better. I don’t mind when a character makes stupid mistakes, but I can’t stand it when they make them over and over and over again. Makes me spitting mad.)

Here’s Your Prompt

  • Write the death of your main character. You don’t have to include it in the book or story you’re writing. Consider this a character-interview of sorts. (And don’t let your character know what you’ve planned: it puts them in the position of doing all kinds of things they might not do if they didn’t know the end was coming.)

    Some of you think I’m kidding. But, I’m not. Trust me on this.
     

  • If you’re a poet: write a poem about death….but not tragic death. Write about heroic death.
     
  • Memoirists: write about a death in the family over which some cloud hangs. Do some research to clarify details if you can.
     

Good luck!

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Writing Prompt: Real Estate Blues

Business woman holding a contract in her hand. She looks upset.It’s that time of year: I’m getting bombarded by realtor mail.

It seems like that once the crocuses start to pop up in this neck of the woods, the realtors are out like vultures, looking for new prospects. I’m not in the market for a new house. I’m not interested in selling my current one.

Dear Realtors: please leave me alone.

Nonetheless, the topic is interesting for a writing prompt.

True Story: In the spring, when I was about two, my parents moved into a new house. Only a few days after the moving truck departed and they were busy with ripping up carpet and applying fresh paint to all the rooms, a knock sounded at the front door. My Mom opened it to find a young man, fresh on leave from the army. He’d come home to see his parents, but his key wouldn’t work in the door.

Imagine his surprise to learn that his parents had moved out, leaving him no forwarding address! (I’ve always wondered what happened to this young man.)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about the serviceman who comes home for a visit, but finds his family packed up and moved away.
     
  • Imagine this: a man is selling his house. He’s approached by an old woman soon after he puts it on the market. She doesn’t want to buy the house. She explains that she’s a former owner of the home tells him about something really horrific that happened there once. Write that story.
     
  • Page through the real estate section of your local newspaper (or find one on line for some place abroad). Choose a home, castle, houseboat, etc. that catches your eye. Write a story about it.
     
    • If you want to write poetry, write a poem about the feelings the image evokes.

  • If you journal or are writing your memoirs, write a story about a place where you’ve lived. Take care in providing rich detail (without resorting to purple prose!) and how you feel about the place. Was it good or bad? Do you have happy memories or sad? Involve all five senses when telling the story

Good luck!

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Image © John Hix | 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, March 9th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Using Clichés as Story Starters, Scene Builders and to Chisel Your Way Through Writer’s Block

Cliched quotes from college applications.I’ve talked about cliches before in my “How to Write Like a Professional Journalist” post some time ago.

In that post, I stated that writers should work to eradicate clichés from their written words.

Clichés are shortcuts: a hackneyed phrase we use in a collective to get a point across very quickly. It’s easier to tell someone you didn’t come to work yesterday because you were “sick as a dog,” instead of going into detail about your fever, vomiting and chills.

Used in context, your friends will also “get” that you had the worst hangover ever if you let them know you were “sick as a dog,” after last night’s bachelor party.

In writing, however, clichés tend to make a writer sound like an amateur. (There are some exceptions to this, of course. I’ll get into them in another post.)

One thing clichés are useful for is giving your brain an immediate picture of what’s going on. If I use the term “man cave” to describe a guy’s office, some kind of image is going to flash into your mind.

The thing of it is, what I meant when I said “man cave,” and what you perceived (or saw) when you heard “man cave,” are probably two different things. So, in writing, you should take the time to explain things, rather than settling for the cliché.

Another thing clichés are good for — since they deliver an immediate picture postcard of the idea – is to use them as story starters or scene ideas.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Search your current writing for a cliché and re-write that passage to say what you really meant. (If it’s in dialogue, leave it alone. Dialogue is one of the exceptions!)
     
  • If you want to write, but feel like you’re blocked, find a hackneyed phrase you like and see what it conjures up. Spend fifteen minutes free writing a journal entry, the beginning of a short story, a scene from a much larger work, or a poem.
     
  • Do the same if you’re writing your memoirs, letters or working on genealogy: use the phrase to prompt a memory, then write what you recall.

If you can’t think of a phrase, the ClichéSite has a tremendous list of clichés. Wonderful!