Friday, September 20th, 2013

Writing Prompt: Change of Habit

change_10338195_300pxOld habits die hard.

It’s a bit of cop out here to rely on tired aphorisms, but it gets my point across succinctly.

A change of habit–getting out of one’s rut–can take a monumental effort of strength and will. Creating new habits can take the same. (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?)

But from a fiction writing standpoint, they offer so much fresh material–so much potential for a character to grow and experience–that it might be worthwhile to add it to your Writer’s Toolbox. (You may prefer, to do as I do, and add it to your arsenal instead. 🙂 )

Consider a character with an ingrained habit. Perhaps every day on his way to work, he walks three blocks on Franklin Street, catches the Number 9 bus which takes him downtown, gets off at the industrial center and takes the company taxi into the plant.

What if whether by chance, fate or choice, he’s late getting out of the house. He misses the Number 9, and has no choice but to take the Number 11 instead? Eleven will drop him off at the industrial center, but not before first driving to the docks to let off folks who work around the Harbor. It will make him 30 minutes late, but it’s better than waiting another 45 minutes for the Number 9 to come back around.

Your character’s routine is entirely off. What will he experience along this route? Maybe it makes him change his point of view about something. He decides to make a life change. Or maybe the Number 11 bus gets hijacked. Either way, he’s out of his comfort zone, and something new–for better or worse–is about to happen.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a story in which your main character is forced to abandon his or her habit. What happens?
  • Write about a character who deliberately changes his or her routine, hoping for the better. Make things worse for him or her.
  • Write a poem about change or habit. What are the emotional repercussions?
  • If you journal, write about something you’ve changed for the better, or something you changed for the worse. If worse, tell how you alleviated the new problem. If better, relate the steps you took to maintain it.

Good Luck!


Cover of Lies by Kelly A. Harmon depicts a Navy Aircraft Carrier on a moonlit night. Have you read Lies?

The Queen lies dying, and the mage-physician holds the key to her health, but he doesn’t quite know how to use it. The Book of Lies has the capacity to heal, if only Beresh can write the proper words. But only a few pages remain in the book, and if they’re used before the queen is healed, she won’t be the only one to lose her life!

Short-Listed for the Aeon Award.

$2.99 at | $2.99 at Barnes and Noble

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 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, 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, August 10th, 2012

Writers Prompt – Worms and Coffee

Worms and Coffee - North Carolina - Photo by Kelly A. Harmon - 10 August 2012Today I was driving through eastern North Carolina and I came across this little gas-and-go store at a bridge intersection.

(The bridge takes you over to the coast, where apparently, a lot of fisherman go. At this little crossroads, they can get worms [for bait] and coffee [for some energy] on their way.)

I LOVE the name of this store. It’s a clever bit of naming that (unless you’re a local fisherman) makes you think twice. I adore the incongruity.


Here’s Your Prompt

  1. Write a story about “worms and coffee.” Caveat: it can’t be about fishing.
  2. If you don’t like the idea of worms and coffee, open up the dictionary to a random page, close your eyes and drop your finger down on a word. Do this twice or more, until you come up with two different nouns. You can connect them with “and” or “or.”
  3. Choose any of these random word pairs that I generated using a random noun generator found on the internet:
    1. okra and alligators
    2. pen and Zinc
    3. mountain and soda
    4. caterpillar or desert
    5. storms or fairies

  4. Find your own word pairs using the Paper Tiger Random Noun Generator.
Friday, April 6th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Food for Thought

One of the big criticisms of fantasy fiction is ‘dining’ scenes. They often become the joke of the story, and it’s those scenes that are discussed as clichĂ©d in reviews, no matter if they’re a key scene that the entire plot hinges on.

Three dwarves walk into a tavern…

See what I mean? Hard not to make a joke out of it.

But I’ll argue until I’m blue-faced that dining scenes are necessary to make the fiction realistic. And if you want to argue some more, I’ll state that these scenes are just as clichĂ©d, if not more so, in other genres:

  • the engagement announcement made at dinner (in any genre)
  • the discussion of other worldly food (especially those slimy, living foods consumed by bug-like creatures) in science fiction novels
  • the ‘let’s have a polite chat over dinner’ (but you know someone’s going to get killed) in a western or gangster story
  • the cozy, steamy, dinner for two which escalates into a torrid love-fest of unusual positions and food in usual places

Your job with today’s prompts is to create a scene, a poem, a short story or vignette that is about food or dining, but isn’t clichĂ©d.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about one of these things:
    • hunger
    • simple dishes
    • eating alone
    • forbidden fruit
    • temperamental chefs
    • eating alone
    • a family meal
    • a holiday dinner
    • family recipes
  • Someone yells from off in the distance, “Come and get it!” You hear the klaxon sound of the triangle, bell, or digital tone if you happen to be aboard ship.
  • These are the ingredients…
  • Use the five senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight) in your writing, but focus on one of them; for instance: the smell of fresh-brewed coffee; the site of lush, colorful fruit, the taste of something hot and spicy, salty or sweet; the sound of crunchy cereal, or fries sizzling in grease; the feel of salted nuts or buttery popcorn when you lift it out of the bowl…
  • “Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples, Because I am lovesick. ~ Song of Solomon
  • The refrigerator’s full, but there’s nothing to eat…
  • The cupboard is bare…
  • A pie eating, ice-cream eating, hot-dog eating, you-name-the-food-eating contest at the local fair
  • Write about the guy standing on the corner who “Will Work for Food.”

Good luck!

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Navy SEAL Spoke at the MD Writers’ Meeting Last Night

Own the Night by Paul Evancoe - CoverAuthor Paul Evancoe spoke at at the Maryland Writer’s Association meeting last night. Paul’s a retired Navy SEAL with extensive combat experience as well as an former Director for Special Operations in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism at the U.S. Department of State.

(Aren’t those awesome credentials? He’s also a very nice guy.)

Much of Paul’s SEAL experience is in Vietnam.

Sound familiar?

My character Cade Owen, Navy SEAL and Selkie aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Livingstone, in Selk-Skin Deep, served his time in Vietnam, too.

Nothing was going to keep me from the meeting last night.

Paul talked about the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the rebuilding of our military after World War II, Communism, the Cold War, Terrorists… He drew maps on the white board, penciled in bombing missions, showed us how to guard territories, etc. I was fascinated by his descriptions of how the shores of Korea are guarded.

I recommend his books based solely on hearing him speak. I haven’t read anything by Paul, but if his books are anything like his presentation, I can guarantee they’re fabulous. If you like military or historical fiction…if you want to learn about Navy SEALS…check out his stuff.

(Of course, I had another moratorium #fail. I’m now the proud owner of “Own the Night.” It’s sitting right here beside me, tempting me to pick it up…)

We had little time to talk about Paul’s writing process. But he did mention two interesting things:

1) he writes his books like a Hollywood movie “treatment.” That is, he writes the entire story, beginning to end, in about 40 pages, roughing in chapter breaks, but hitting all the major scenes. Once this is done, he goes back to flesh it out. If I can make it through my current “pantsing” style novel, I might give it a try.

2) He talked about the “subliminal” plot in writing: while building your major plot and storyline, be cognizant of the underlying layer of relationships among the players which denotes a subliminal message or story. Every story should have one, he said. This bears looking into, I’m certain.

I couldn’t find any info on “subliminal plots in writing” via web search, no matter how I twisted the phrase. If you’ve got info on subliminal plots, please pass it along.

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Running Out of Ideas…?

No IdeasI never run out of ideas to write…they’re all around me: that conversation I heard at the coffee shop yesterday sparked an idea, so did the newspaper story on pre-teen marriages. Then there was that flash of genius I had while reading last night… the list goes on an on.

But I’m smack in the middle of the final edit on my WIP and, well, I’m a litle dry.

I want to write. I prefer to write every day…but the editing and re-writing I’m doing doesn’t leave me much time. Not only that, I feel drained by the time I complete my editing quota. (And because editing is my priority right now, I do that before I get to the fun stuff; i.e., new words.)

In that situation, it’s hard to be creative. So where do I turn?

I don’t keep a journal or carry a notebook to jot down ideas. (I know, some of you are rolling over in your figurative graves right now. Get over it. And for the record, I don’t rely on free-writing either.)

I’m currently experimenting with an idea Marcia Golub describes in her book, I’d Rather Be Writing. Her son’s second grade class used “story envelopes” to keep ideas together. They jotted down ideas and put them into an envelope for safekeeping. When they had time, out came the envelope to pick through.

Marcia talks about idea-gathering in a way that isn’t how most people think when they’re scrambling for something to say: delving into the personal.

  • that weird old woman who lived down the block when you were growing up
  • that dream in which you were making love to a mountain
  • Momma’s gefilte fish ordeal
  • the time the cops came because they thought Mom was chopping someone up
  • the smell of the basement when it rains

She also talks about paranoia, reminiscences, and old photographs and feelings to be good places to look for ideas.

She says, “I found it wonderful to learn I had this storehouse of story ideas inside me, that the misery of childhood had a purpose: to give me something to write about.”

Marcia also talks about the joys of childhood being a good place to search for ideas, too – but I digress. Let’s get back to those envelopes…

Marcia’s son had one envelope for all his ideas, but I like the idea of having several envelopes into which you can place multiple ideas which might go together. Use a different envelope for each story you might write.

For example, in one envelope you could put the smell of the basement when it rains with the old woman who lived down the block. Add the idea of some toe-pinching black shoes you were forced to wear to school as a pre-teen and what can you come up with?

(If you write genre, as I do, remember that each of these ideas could be transferred to another milieu. The smell of the basement becomes the smell of something in the forest after a deep rain. The old lady becomes the witch or the crone or the seer (or the mother-figure, nurse, angel, etc.). Those pinchy shoes become sandals, or leather boots, or a uniform, etc.)

If you don’t fancy the idea of multiple envelopes, I suppose you could write the initial idea at the top of a notebook page and add subsequent ideas below. The same could be done in a computer file. But I find that reading the words sometimes isn’t enough. The tactile sensation of opening and shuffling the ideas around forces me to consider the thought literally sitting in my hand.

What do you do when you’re looking for inspiration? How do you organize your ideas?