Friday, November 15th, 2013

Writing Prompts – Bits of Conversation

Couple in a bar having a bad date.I’m an eavesdropper. I admit it.

Wherever I go, I’m tuning in to the things that are being said around me.

I’m a snob, though. I generally don’t listen in on conversations between, for instance, the barista and the guy in front of me buying coffee. The guy buying coffee is passing time, waiting for his extra foamy tallboy. The barista is paid to be charming.

That conversation? Worthless. Usually.

I might listen in if there’s no one else around, but I’d rather listen to the old folks behind me, talking in hushed whispers. Or the goth couple hanging out in the corner arguing.

I love it when I’ve already sat down and gotten my coffee. (Black thanks, I’ll add a bit of cream for myself.) Because if I’m sitting, I can take notes. Awesome.

Conversation is great fodder for scenes. It can prompt entire stories.

Here’s Your Prompt:

(And your homework!)

Make time to sit in a place where you can overhear what other people are saying. With luck, you’ll start hearing things in the middle of the conversation.

After you’ve written a few lines, stop listening and re-read what you’ve written down. What story does it spark? Write it.

If you don’t like the first conversation, go listen to another. This time, stop transcribing when something catches your fancy.

If you can’t get out, do an internet search for “overheard conversations.” There are tons of them out there. Ignore the context and the celebrity of who said what. Find a conversation you like, and write from there.

Good luck!

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Writing Prompt: What’s Your Super Power?

Kelly A. Harmon as the Super Hero 'Awesome Sauce'!
Me, as my alter-ego teleporting self.

I’ve done a few interviews in the last year where the interviewer asked me: “If you could have one super power, what would it be?”

That’s not something I ever gave much thought to. I’m always dreaming about my characters…not about me. So when I was asked, I had to give it a lot of thought:

Did I want a super power which was a lot of fun (like being able to fly) or one that could help people (like being able to heal instantly)?

If I were given a super power, did I have to use it for good? (Which doesn’t mean necessarily that I would use it for evil…) Did I even want to “use” it all? Maybe I could have a power so strong that it manifested randomly, sort of like luck.

What if I lived in a world where anyone “diagnosed” with having a super power, had to use it for the good of mankind, even if it meant that they couldn’t do what they wanted to do in life? What if in that same world I could be genetically enhanced to obtain a super power instead of being born with one….would I do it?

And would I do it still if it meant that having a power resulted in the loss of something else (like my sight or ability to hear)?

It’s a tough decision.

If given the opportunity, I want the power of teleportation: the ability to think myself anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye. No driving cross country if I need to get anywhere, no worrying about flights – or even accommodations: can you imagine vacationing in Italy, but spending every night in your own bed?

What would you choose, if you could have any power you wanted?

Here’s Your Prompt:

1. Choose a super power for yourself. (If you’re feeling feisty, head on over to Marvel Comics and use their Super Hero Generator and create an identity for yourself. Beware! You can waste a lot of time there!)

2. Write the rules for your super power: if you can teleport, can you take others with you when you go? If you’re invisible, can you still see? What’s the logic behind these rules?

3. What are the political and social ramifications in your world? Are you required to use your power for good? Do you have to give only a few years of your life, or all of it, in service to mankind? Are people with super powers shunned? Are they praised and emulated?

4. Finally, write the story of how you obtained your super power. Were you born with it, or were you mutated by something in the drinking water? Were you genetically enhanced? By choice? If so, why? What did it cost financially? What did it cost you socially? If not by choice, how did it happen? Were you kidnapped? Were you in the armed forces and it was required of you?

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Writing Prompt – In Honor of the Moon

Eclipse - Photo by Kelly A. Harmon
I think I’ve already mentioned that I have a thing for the moon.

There’s something mysterious about it that never fails to captivate me. I take time to gaze at the moon nearly every day.

The recent Solstice Eclipse, therefore, was something I was not going to miss. The Husband of Awesome™ set the 2:30 a.m. alarm and out into the cold we went.

This photo, as I’ve mentioned on Facebook, is my inexpert attempt at capturing the event.

So, in honor of the moon, here are some moon-related writing prompts….snippets of poetry and sentence starters…not the detailed suggestions I usually offer.

I’d love to read what you come up with….feel free to post in the comments or send me something via email.

Here are the Prompts:

  • “It’s a marvelous night for a moondance…” (Van Morrison lyrics)
  • A walk on a monlit path…
  • Write about being moonstruck.
  • What counsel has the hooded moon… (James Joyce)
  • “Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars…” (1954, written by Bart Howard)
  • Write about an eclipse.
  • The purity of the unclouded moon has flung its atrowy shaft upon the floor… (William Butler Yeats)
  • Write about a honeymoon.
  • Each night, as the moon rises…
  • It’s only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea…” (Arlen, Harburg and Rose)
  • Write about the cycles of the moon.
  • “Everyone’s gone to the moon…” (Johnathan King, 1969)
  • Write about the Harvest moon.
  • Tubas in the moonlight, playing for me all night, Tell me what I want to hear. (Bonzo Dog Band, 1968)
  • And finally, here’s a short list of “moon” words to spark your writing:

moonbeam, moonbow, mooncalf, mooned, moonflower, moonless, moonlight, moonlike, moon maiden, moonrise, moonscape, moonseeds, moonset, moonshines, moonstone, moonwalk, moonward, moonworts, moony

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Writing Prompt – Fight!

Hockey FightThis is a great photo, captured during the 11/27/2010 NHL game between the Blackhawks and the Kings. I love hockey….always a good fight.

Have you heard this really old joke?

“Last night I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.”

It never gets old.

Let’s talk about fight scenes.

A fight scene should be exciting, fast-paced, and pack an emotional punch. You need to put the reader into the middle of the scene and enable him to feel each landed blow. You’ve got to be descriptive enough to paint the picture for the reader, but not so descriptive that you slow down the scene.

And you’ve got to accomplish this without falling into the trap of describing punch for punch, kick for kick and finger-poke for hair pull.

So how do you do it?

Keep the scene in the point of view of the main character. Describe things through his eyes. Show that your character is engaged in the fight, but is also aware of his surroundings.

What follows is an example from one of my works-in-progress.

In this scene, Karis and his priestess companions are ambushed by a group of sentient, demon-hounds called ahventhí . Out of context, the description of Karis’s two last arrows sounds clunky, but it’s important for the rest of the story to note that he has none left. Still, I think you get the idea here:

The ahventhí charged the women.

Karis jerked in their direction and launched the first of his last two arrows. It misfired, gut string scraping across his wrist. A discordant twang of the bowstring echoed in the clearing and the arrow careened sharply right into the darkness.

Karis took better aim with his last arrow. It struck the cur in the spine, and the great beast rolled to a halt, gasping and choking, paralyzed.

The remaining ahventhí, a large grey creature with white battle scars crossing its snout, leaped at Karis. Using the bow as a shield, he clouted the attacking beast and sidestepped, forcing it aside as he drew his sword.

Note the use of a brief sentence to get the scene started: “The ahventhí charged the woman.” This clipped rhythm is used elsewhere to keep the momentum: “It misfired, …”, “It struck the cur in the spine…” This continues as Karis dispatches the final beast with his sword.

Together, these brief snippets seem like the choreographed movements of a dance: They did this, the arrow did that, Karis did this…” which is exactly what we don’t want to write. But here, these clipped, mechanical statements are temporized with brief description.

Also, strong action verbs are substituted for weak ones: charged, attacked, launched, clouted, paralyzed.

What’s missing is how Karis is feeling. We can get to that as the scene is wrapped up:

He fell to his knee at the foot of the dead beast, wiped a hand across his brow and reset his headband. Lungs heaving, heart pumping, he bent and wiped his blade on the creature’s coarse fur, sheathed it, and recovered his bow.

Karis stood on shaking legs, paused a moment to catch his breath, then bolted in the direction he saw the women flee.

Even later we get to Karis’ thoughts: when he has time to recall the fight, examine what happened, figure out how he got ambushed. This could happen as he’s searching for the fleeing women, or even later in the chapter as a reflection.

Here’s Your Prompt: Your turn! Write a fight scene. It can be men fighting men, or women fighting women (or a combination there of) or, as above, man or woman against beast. Keep it simple this time and limit the players to two or three at most.

Use tight sentences, action verbs and keep the description to a minimum.

Post your scenes in the comments below. I’d love to see what you’ve written.


Photo Notes: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott, left, and Los Angeles Kings right wing Kevin Westgarth fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill