Archive for the ‘Writing Prompts’ Category

How YOU can Write a Short Short Story

February 17, 2014

Benjamin Franklin says it all: “I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

The most common question which pops up in various contests I’ve judged, is: “My story is longer than the guideline’s length. May I submit it all?”

No! Writing short requires a much-needed skill. Revise so your story is written succinctly.

Below is advice on writing a short story of 100 words. It can be applied to all stories.

My favorite tidbit is this: “Think of the story in terms of a question and answer.”

Your answer will become the plot of your story. But brainstorm lots of options! If it’s too easy, your option may be too convenient.

http://www.rdasia.com/how-to-write-story-100-words

Writing Prompt:
1. Take a story you’ve written and tighten it. Can you cut out 100 words? More? Once you challenge yourself, the process can be fun and addicting!
2. Read your story aloud. Where have you “told” information? Can you show it with an action verb instead?
3. Choose a poem you’ve created and do the process of #1 and #2. Is the end result more vivid?

Cutting out vague words sharpens your writing and respects the reader to make conclusions. Use this new technique with all of your writing!

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Deepen Your Writing with Symbols

February 11, 2014

I turned the page of my book, soaking in the story, silence, and reveling in peaceful solitude. Not total solitude, since my Yorkie, Zoie’s rhythmic breathing relaxed me as she slept in my lap.

MOO!

Straightening up with a jerk, I woke my deaf dog.

What was a mooing cow doing INSIDE this room?

Could it have been from an electronic device? Perhaps my husband neglected to take his phone with him. I smiled at the irony of this sound in my suburban California home. Maybe Dad was saying hello from the other side? He spent the first half of his life farming with dairy cows in southeastern Wisconsin, and as a baby and toddler I lived on that family farm, too. Hi Dad, I thought, glad he’d retained his sense of humor.

As I settled back into my story, Zoie, reassured by my calm demeanor, snoozed again.

MOO!

The realistic animal sound came from our family room cupboard. I got up to investigate. Nothing in the stacks of paper, pens, and recipes gave a hint to the mystery. Old video tapes didn’t look as though they’d moo, either. But when I reached Zoie’s dog toys, I knew the puzzle’s answer. A black and white fabric ball must contain the noisemaker. Although it hadn’t worked in years, and I didn’t know it had held a noise device when I threw it in the washing machine, that process could have reactivated it.

Or.

Dad greeted me.

I prefer this answer.

Whenever we try to make this ball produce sound effects, nothing happens. But on its own . . .

MOO!

Writing Prompts:

1. What signs or symbols can you discover within the book you’re reading? Through their repetition, what is its underlying meaning?
2. What sign or symbol can you develop within the project you’re writing? Through carefully placed repetition, your motif may strengthen your theme, characters, and/or plot.
3. Create an artistic representation of your symbol. How does it relate to you? Perhaps this may become another layer of its meaning.

The Good Fall: How do your Characters React to Trauma?

January 20, 2014

While examining tide pools at the coast, I hopped from one wet, slippery rock to another. Down I fell . . . Bam!

As I lay on my back in the water and stones, pain throbbed from my knees, legs elbow and back. But relief did too. Nothing was broken. Within seconds, Bob stood above me, screaming.

“Get up! Get up! Get up!”

Starring into the blue sky, I reassured him. “I’m fine, really. Water seeped from the tide pools into my clothes. My back felt each stone and rock.

“Get up! Get up! Get up!”

“Bob, I just can’t pop up. I need a moment.”

A wrinkled face appeared on the opposite side of where Bob stood. “Take your time,” said the stranger, his voice soothing me and my anxious husband. “There is no rush.”

Then I noticed a crowd gathered around me. Many sets of eyes peered down. I could imagine their thoughts. “Would she get up? Do we call an ambulance?” As white clouds floated by I wondered if this was similar to a death watch. Then another strange thought popped through my aches. Did I hurt any marine life in the tide pools below me?”

Perhaps I groaned as I steadied myself into a sitting position before rising.

“Shall I take I take you to the hospital?” Bob said.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just banged up.”

Later, while recounting the incident, Bob said, “I yelled ‘Get up?’ Really?”

And me? Bruised and battered, I walked with a ‘hitch in my get-up’ as my Aunt Mary would have described. My knees and shins swelled to twice their normal size. My entire legs looked like I had been in a boxing ring.

But.

I was fine.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write about two characters in a traumatic scene. How do each of them react?
2. Take that scene and slow-down-the-moment, using your senses. Over-write the piece!
3. Next, choose the best tense. (Past? Present? Future?) As you rewrite, choosing which senses are the most important, and verbs which are active.

Write Out of the Box!

January 13, 2014

“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” Juan Ramon Jimenez

In kindergarten, my son’s teacher gave each student a construction paper Christmas stocking along with decorations. Their assignment? Cut them out and glue them too look like her example.

A couple other mother-volunteers and I entered the room while teacher and class were on the playground for recess.

“Look at all their stockings,” said one mom.

Each stocking was hung, identically in a row along the wall. They could have been mimeographed in their sameness.

“Wow,” said the other mom, observing one stocking decorated with magic marker Christmas figures on the tiny white edge of the stockings’ perimeter.
“Who did that one?” said the first mom.
They peered closely at the small signature.
It was Tofer.

I write this anecdote not to brag, but to show how one five-year-old figured a way to be creative even with a cut and paste assignment.

How will you show your individuality with your writing or art?

Writing Prompts:
1. Select one of your scenes you’ve already written. How can you make it yours and only yours?
2. Make one of your characters quirky. What distinguishes this character from every other one in your book? A particular secret, trait, or passion may allow her to be amusing or annoying or lovable!
3. Create a setting that shows its character. Being specific creates identifiable reactions and emotions within your readers. Can you show nostalgia? A comfort setting? A suspenseful place? Remember sounds, smells and even tastes will allow your readers to feel like they are there.

How One Girl Promotes Change Through Writing – You Can Too!

December 21, 2013

Thanks to Rich Freedman of the (Vallejo) Times-Herald, word has spread about a youngster who channeled her anger into writing.

Diagnosed with leukemia this past year, ten-year-old Monica Romo wrote an essay detailing how “Wonder Woman” (Monica!) would rid Vallejo, in Northern California, of hate and evil. In her City Hall appearance, 125 people shared her hope. Receiving a Solano Hero’s Certificate, Monika received a Solano Hero’s Certificate.

Congratulations, Monika!

Writing Prompts:

1. Use your passionate feelings about an issue to inspire art or writing. How will you choose to express yourself? Which cause incites your emotions?

2. Pretend you are a superhero. Write a graphic novel or comic strip expressing your passion for change.

Are You Writing a Novel? Or Should it be a Short Story?

December 5, 2013

I love this writing advice from Elizabeth Sims in her recent Writer’s Digest article, “Miscalculations & Missteps.”

In both children’s and adult writing contests, I’ve read many short stories that try to become novels, and writing that someone identifies as a novel but it REALLY should be a short story. How to tell if your characters/theme/plot is suitable for which genre?

“Take two unrelated heart-clutching moments, or two unrelated story points, or even two unrelated characters, and challenge yourself to come up with a way to link them.”

Do you have enough complexity to hold a reader’s interest for a novel? This exercise will help you discover the layers or depth you need for a longer work of fiction.

What secret elements make a quest/adventure book great?

November 25, 2013

If you’d like to read a great new middle grade, choose Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, a quest adventure story about a boy dealing with his mother’s death after WWII. Sent to a Maine boarding school, protagonist, Jack, is unhappy and feeling friendless until he’s intrigued with Early Arden, a unique character with a fascination about pi, who leads him through Appalachia.

Vanderpool’s poetic style lures the reader forward. Here is a scene where they fish with Gunnar, a minor character they meet on their journey. Gunnar carries an emotional, heart-wrenching past.

“You have a fine cast,” called Gunnar.

“I know. My brother taught me before he went to the war.” Early swished his line back and forth. The motion seemed to take him away somewhere.

Gunnar’s expression registered what he knew, what we all knew, of the fate of so many of those brothers who went to war. He looked at me, asking the question he didn’t want to say out loud. Did Early’s brother make it back?

I shook my head in answer. No, Fisher was dead.

Gunnar allowed the quiet to take over as Early moved farther out into the water and into his own thoughts.

Finally, Gunnar spoke, his voice so fluid and moving, it could have come from the river itself. “I once hear a poem about angling. It say when you send out your line, it is like you cast out your troubles to let the current carry them away. I keep casting.”

I liked the sound of that. The river pressed and nudged, each of us responding to it in different ways, allowing it to move us apart and into our own place within it.

Notice the unique dialogue of Gunnar, creating a fully formed person in just a few lines and a second layer of meaning within the words, so you’re not just reading a scene about fishing.

Another aspect which is fascinating about this book is how this Newbery Medal-winning author broke the rules. (In order to break the rules, you must first establish that you know them.) Although in writing adult novels (and nearly always in the movies), authors (and screenwriters) are allowed to fictionalize history for the sake of character and plot. In children’s books, this has been a distinct no-no. Why? We don’t want to confuse nonfiction facts with untruths for kids. But at the end of this book, Vanderpool has a page: PI: FACT OR FICTION? Here she lists the truths about this captivating number, since she has bent the truth within her story.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write a quest/adventure short story with the above elements in mind. Before you begin, think and wonder about your story, developing the plot and characters within you. Daydream, jot notes, and free write about the back story of each character first.

2. Can you write a quest poem? Any style you choose!

3. Create a piece of art with a quest/adventure theme.

4. As you begin reading a book, use post-it notes to mark the scenes that are evocative. Why do they work so well?

Dogs In Mourning: Writing About Animals We Love

November 19, 2013

My friend S and her husband X were owned by two adorable Westies, Dolly and Duncan, buddies and comrades in squeaky toys, chew bones, running races in the park and protecting their home. Romping after squirrels, cuddling on the couch and greeting guests with snuggles and kisses, the two were inseparable.

A month ago, twelve-year-old Duncan fell ill with pancreatitis and never recovered. Losing him was a terrible blow to S and X, but even worse on poor Dolly. Instead of her usual zip and zing, Dolly mopes around the house, ignoring outside critters, her sad eyes staring out the window, far into the distance. Is she remembering happier times with her friend, Dunc? How long is mourning for pups? Should they take her to a doggy shrink?

The other day they did take her next door for some r & r to play with her two vivacious pooch friends. The morning after, S answered the phone. The dog’s owner called to describe one of her dogs’ behaviors once Dolly left.

His eyes and tail drooped; he hunched over, refusing his treats. Instead he crawled straight into his dog bed. Placing his head on his paws, an aura of sadness encircled him. No amount of love or comfort helped.

We shouldn’t assume our superiority over all species.

Writing Prompts:
1. Have you ever seen an animal express emotion? How? Communicate with another animal? How have you connected with another species? Write a personal narrative about your experiences.
2. Write a poem or short story with an animal as a major focus.
3. Create a piece of art or shoot photos with animal communication as a theme.

How’s Your Sniffer?

October 17, 2013

Everyone I know has their nose in their peanut butter jar. A recent study has shown people who have Alzheimer’s or later develop the disease couldn’t smell peanut butter while plugging their right nostril and sniffing with their left. (There are exceptions: if you have nose polyps, Parkinson’s Disease, or have had head trauma you won’t be able to smell the peanut butter either.)

I knew Parkinson’s would be an exception. When I was a child, my father never could smell anything. Bad milk in the frig? Dad would start pouring and Mom would grab the glass before he brought it to his mouth.

Scared skunk in the back yard? Mom ran to close the windows as Dad unknowingly opened them. I wonder now – – was this an early sign that in Dad’s later life he’d suffer from Parkinson’s? Did Michael J. Fox have a poor sniffer when he was young, too?

I inherited my mom’s sniffer, occasionally to unfortunate consequences. As a person who suffers from migraines which can be set off by scented chemicals, the overpowering smells of perfume, hairspray and cologne and have been known to make me change seats in church, movie theaters and actually leave places if the mixing of aromas are too strong. When Dad moved out to California after my mother passed away, it was the last of his Old Spice days for the poor man.

Supposedly, we choose our mate on the basis of scent. Diane Ackerman, in Natural History of the Senses, says, “Each person has an odor as distinctive as a finger print.” And: “We smell always and with every breath.”

In our writing, the sense of smell is easy to overlook. Although we may not naturally include this sensory image within our first draft, we need to remember to include moments of them within our rewrites.

Here’s an example of using the sense of smell to bring a setting alive. This paragraph is from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Look through a writing project of yours. Is there a natural place one or more scents could be woven within the manuscript?

2. Go back to your past. It could be a long-ago classroom, childhood room, or a favorite place. Meditate so that YOU ARE THERE. Include as many specific scents as you can.

3. Create a poem based on the scents of a setting of your choice.

4. Go ahead. You know you want to do it. Go smell that peanut butter with your left nostril. But don’t get freaked out if you can’t smell it. You may have a cold, allergies or some other issue at work. If you can smell it, eat some and then use all of your senses to describe the experience.

Grab a book, any book. Open, read, and write!

September 21, 2013

It’s International Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52. What is the 5th sentence?

“That was the one sure truth.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Allow this sentence you discovered as the first sentence in your scene, story, poem, or essay you write today. Care to share in the comment section?

2. Use this sentence as the last sentence in your scene, story, poem, or essay you write.

3. Let this sentence become inspiration for any piece of art work.

4. Play a game with a group of friends. Use your sentence to tell the first sentence of a story. Turn to the next person who begins the next sentence with the first letter of your last word. (If you use mine as an example, the person would begin with a word starting with “t.”) Go around the group until you reach a satisfying conclusion. Each person tells the story one sentence at a time.

The title of the book I reached for without looking? Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

This writing idea I took from Facebook, although it wasn’t a writing idea on this site. . . just a fun game to play!