Category Archives: Writing Prompt

Writing Using Given Elements

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Saturday night I discovered I had a writing assignment to do in preparation for my Critique Group the next day. It’s been posted for a while but because I was still doing NaNo and working on Real Life stuff I had completely missed seeing the exerise. So, while I was out I began thinking of different scenarios I could use to write about but what I kept returning to was Christmas lights and Gremlins. I love Christmas lights. All those mutli-colored fireflies lighting up and pushing away the dark makes me happy. It’s like seeing bits of hope in the middle of the night. It’s nice when you have a community where most of the houses are decorated but my favorites are the single homes out in the middle of nowhere where there’s nothing but you and the dark. I have very fond memories of driving to my grandparent’s house at night and seeing those pop out of nowhere like lit breadcrumbs showing us the way. And as for the Gremlins, well, I kept going back to the Phoebe Cates’ scene where she’s talking about why Christmas sucks for her.

Here was the exercise details:

  • Instructions: Take the information provided below and write the first 500 – 1000 words of a new chapter or novel/short story opening. Genre is up to you. Point of view is up to you. But each of the elements listed below must be included.
  • Objective: To hook the reader and to set the atmosphere without losing reader interest.
  • Basic set-up: Your main character drives up to a small house that is off the beaten track. From the outside, the house looks like most others in the area. A single light burns in the front window. Your main character gets out of the car and crosses to the front door. It opens under the MC’s hand. The MC calls out. No one answers. MC steps inside and finds . . . .

As I was brainstorming Saturday night out loud with my husband, I knew I wasn’t really wanting to writea traditional Christmas story. Like Gremlins, I wanted my main character to have a reason to like or not like Christmas. I went to bed Saturday night and woke up the next morning with my idea in place. After getting some caffeine in my system I started writing, and the next thing I know I’ve spent an hour and a half writing without thinking about it and I had to rush to finish it because I still needed a shower and I didn’t want to be late for Group. And Group ended up being so much fun because of the exercise. Three of us apparently had the same idea in a way; we wrote a murder/mystery opening, though mine was the only one with a Christmas theme. So, below find my unedited contribution to yesterday’s writing assignment.

I have another one to write for the next meeting and I’m thrilled, I tell you. Thrilled!

xo Jesi

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

In the sleepy little town of Oak Hollow in the deepest part of the backwoods of Mississippi, you can count on three things happening throughout the year. The first is the annual Holy Roller Baptist Tent Revival and Come to Jesus Meeting, and yes, it is actually called that. All the little old ladies fry up chicken and potatoes and bake casseroles and desserts. There’s even the occasional squirrel prank pulled thanks to that old Ray Stevens song. It actually works half the time, though I’m sure the teenage boys pulling the prank aren’t trying to bring anybody to Jesus.

The second thing you can count on is Mayor Goodwin’s daughter being crowned Miss Oak Hollow for the New Year Parade, Fourth of July parade, Christmas Parade, and, hell, pretty much every town ceremony requiring a queen of events. She’s been Queen of Everything for the last five years, including head cheerleader, only because she’s the Mayor’s daughter. And she’s not even all that pretty.

The third thing, and in my opinion the most exciting, is the Christmas Eve murders. Every year for forever, one person in the town dies on Christmas Eve. Where most people supposedly go to bed dreaming of sugar plums and all that magical crapola, here in Oak Hollow we all go to bed wondering who’s going to be wrapped up in tinsel with a big, bloody bow stuffed down their mouth. It’s been going on for so long now you’d think the police would have caught someone by now, but nope, this here is Oak Hollow. We’ve got one of the laziest sheriffs in the country, and he’s fanatically superstitious.

By the way, I’m Mags, and in the Oak Hollow people context I’m the girl with the big mouth always asking for trouble, according to Sheriff Boggs at least. Most of the kids in this town try to get as far away as they can once they turn eighteen, but not me. I want to catch the murderer who killed my Uncle Johnny on Christmas Eve three years ago.

Now, imagine the scene. I’m eighteen and have a license and a beat-up old junker of a car. I bought it for $500 from Old Miss Johnson, the crazy chicken lady, after her license was taken away from her because she drove her car into the middle of the entrance of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Not that that matters right now but I’m damn proud of that car. Took me all summer working at the Piggly Wiggly as a cashier to earn the money to buy the thing and I get to crow about it all I want, thank you very much.

So here it is Christmas morning and we’re all ignoring the fact that we know someone’s been killed. We’ll know by lunchtime who the unlucky victim was, because that’s how small towns work, even on Christmas. Mom’s in the middle of making her usual big Christmas lunch and she tells me to go pick up Uncle Johnny, her bachelor brother, who lives on the outskirts of town. Why me? Because I’m eighteen with a license and a car, remember?

Ever notice how Southerners have a way of making it sound like you’d be doing them a favor when in reality they just got you to do something they don’t want to do? “Maggie, be a dear and run to the store for some milk please.” “Mags, honey, I can’t leave the house right now and I need you to go drop this casserole off at the church for me, thank you.” And my mom is the queen of guilt trips. So when she “asked” me to go get Uncle Johnny, I went. I tug on my galoshes because it’s been raining for the last three days and there’s mud everywhere, and I grab my jacket, keys jangling in the pocket where I left them knowing I’d be sent on some mission today. I’m like Mom’s messenger/errand runner since I got the car. Next, out the door, into the car and pray to the car gods that the engine will start in the cold air. Yes! The engine turns over though not without its usual groaning that it has to wake up so early in the winter. Now for the trek out to Uncle Johnny’s.

It’s still a little dark, thanks to the cloud cover, and most people have left their Christmas lights on. I love seeing the multi-colored lights shining on the houses. It reminds me that hope is hard to kill, despite the fact that we all know someone’s dead. My little car trudges along the street with Christmas music playing fitfully from the radio. I only get one station and since the tape cassette player is broken, Christmas music it is. Besides, I don’t own any tape cassettes. Actually, the Christmas music doesn’t bother me and I’m merrily singing away with Jose Feliciano when I reach Uncle Johnny’s driveway. My tires leave that satisfying crunch sound as I turn onto the gravel and pull up to the house.

The first thing I notice is that Uncle Johnny’s Christmas lights are off. All of them. He owns about four acres and every Christmas he puts on a big Christmas light display for the town. Everyone brings their kids out to see it because he’s always doing something different every year, and he leaves them on all day every day. Today would be the only exception I’ve ever known. Maybe he just forgot or overslept, my mind rationalizes. I don’t even think it could be anything else. Still, I hesitate just a moment before walking up to the door.

I see the traditional Christmas candelabra in the front window, its electric candlelight sending a warm yellow glow out into the gloom. Seeing that on must mean Uncle Johnny is still in bed sleeping. So, I run up the porch steps and knock on the front door calling out as I do, “Uncle Johnny! It’s Mags. Mom sent me to come pick you up for lunch!” But my words trail off as the door creaks open under the force of my hand. Shit! This would be where the unsuspecting heroine of the horror movie finds herself in trouble. I don’t want to go in. I don’t want to go in.

I have to go in.

I push the door open and warily stick my head through the entrance. It’s much too quiet. Not even Uncle Johnny’s infamous snoring. Damn, damn, damn. I don’t have a cell phone because I bought a car instead, so I’ll have to go inside the house to use the landline phone. I take a deep breath. Okay, Mags. You can do this, I tell myself. I walk through the door trying not to let my eyes fall on anything specific. The phone is in the kitchen which is only accessible through the living room. Crap. I turn to my left and begin walking that way. So far, so good. Nothing out of the ordinary. The Christmas tree is up and the lights are on. Everything seems normal. Except it isn’t. Christmas music blaring and the smell of pancakes cooking should be assaulting my senses but they’re not. This does not bode well. I have a feeling I know what Uncle Johnny received for Christmas.

“Get to the phone, Mags. Just get to the phone. You can call mom and then dad can drive over and check things out himself.” I repeat this over and over as I walk through the living room to the kitchen. I get through the kitchen doorway and there’s Uncle Johnny sitting in his normal spot at the kitchen table, a surprised look frozen on his face. He’s been draped in tinsel and there’s a big red bow-the kind you put on cars-tied around his chest. There’s no blood anywhere, though. He’s simply frozen solid holding a piece of paper with a message on it. I don’t want to look but curiosity compels me forward to read the missive. It’s only three words long.

“Ho Ho Ho.”

 

Drawing Your Reader Into Your Story

I apologize for my extreme tardiness. I had an overly busy weekend that seems to have extended itself into today. So, this is going to be short.

Yesterday, in my Critique Group, we reviewed a short work that was an assignment the author (AJ) was given. She was given a choice of a picture, song, or poem, and told to write what she saw. It was a “show, don’t tell” assignment. AJ chose a picture which happened to be Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio, and the story she wrote from that had me captivated and intrigued.

The main thought that kept circling in my head was how excellent an exercise this was for writers. Especially for beginners. One of the biggest problems I’ve had in my writing is the tendency to write exactly what I see in my head. Most of the time this is fine. However, I forget that I’m seeing a scene in my head that I’m trying to describe to an audience and I want to bring that audience into the scene with me. That means showing them by using descriptors and metaphors that put them there, not giving them stage directions, that will bore them and make them not want to know more. It’s not enough to know it’s raining; they need to feel the rain as well.

The exercise AJ had to do was such a great way to practice this technique. It forced her to bring her reader into the picture, which she did very well. Another way of accomplishing this would be to write for 30 minutes about where you are right this very moment. Are you sitting down at a desk like I am? Are you in a park? Describe in detail what is going on around you, such as the noises, the scents, etc. Use your five senses and bring me to where you are. Show me, don’t tell me.

This works for poetry as well. Last week for the poetry challenge I am doing I was supposed to write a poem about risk taking. Instead, I wrote about a dream I had the night before which continued to haunt me throughout the day. So, I wrote a poem about that instead. You tell me, did I bring you into my dream or not?

You Were Not There

By Jesi Scott

 

Last night, I had a dream about you,

But you were not there.

I know it was you I dreamed about because

I felt you all around…

But you were not there.

I walked the rooms you had walked in,

Placing my steps in the same places you did.

I sat in the chairs you sat in

Imagining you reading into the depths of the night.

I laid my body on the couch in just the same spot,

In just the same way, that you did

Only…

The cushions had forgotten your shape

And so, I could not feel your body next to mine.

The chairs were hard and cold,

And did not retain the memory of you in them.

The floors had erased your footprints.

You were not there.

Yet…

When I looked I noticed the relics of your presence:

Old, worn shoes left by the front door

Waiting for you to put them on again,

The book you turned upside down on the last page you had read

Waiting for the caress of your hand on its pages,

The cup you left by the sink, unrinsed,

Waiting for the softness of your lips pressed against its rim-

All of us waiting for your return.

Yet I could not wait forever so I turned away

and opened my eyes eager to see your face…

But you weren’t there.

 

And I am left,

Bereft.

 

Personally, I think it could use some editing. I could have described the couch more or maybe I could have mentioned the table that the book was lying on. What about adding a clock ticking somewhere? Or did I manage to pull you into the poem by not showing you everything? Showing can mean a little or a lot, and part of our job as a writer is to know when just enough is good enough. Too much can take away from the overall scene by being too descriptive, and too little can leave a reader trying to figure out what’s going on.

Try it for yourself. Find a picture that captures your interest and write to show, not tell, and bring your audience into it.

Have a great week!

Jesi

Brings Back Memories

My family and I just recently tried a local restaurant, Babes, famous in the area for down-home fried chicken and all the fixins served family style in a really homey setting. As soon as we walked in, the smell alone brought back memories of meals shared at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. The food was pretty yummy, but couldn’t quite compare of course to what I had growing up.

It is just remarkable how the smell or taste or sound or sight or feel of something can carry such a powerful memory. The smell of the food took me back to sitting in the kitchen while my grandmother fried chicken. I could have been sitting at the small table next to my Paw-Paw cutting up small bites of potatoes to boil and cream to go with the chicken, which by the way we always snuck a few bites of the raw potato when my grandmother wasn’t looking.  Did anyone else ever do that?  I could see the tomatoes fresh from the garden sitting on the shelf behind the kitchen sink that we might cut up to go with dinner or just sneak a bite of as a snack while we were waiting. I could hear the pop of the grease as my grandmother would put a new piece of chicken into the pan. I was back in those moments with just the little smell of the food at the restaurant.

When I write I have to be careful to remember details like the tomatoes on the shelf, or the kitchen sink facing a window that looks out to the garden, or the process of cutting up the potatoes. I don’t want to get lost in the details, but those type of little sensory details can help paint a much larger picture in a simple way that the reader may later color in with their own memories.

I could also fill in a character’s backstory with what he/she may remember based on a certain taste or smell or other sensory detail. Does the character deal with grief by listening to a song that he used to listen to with his wife? Does the character buy the house that is the setting for our story because the yard makes him think of the one he had growing up? Does the character hate the taste of beans because that’s all she ate growing up since beans and rice was all they could afford? Sensory triggers could be a starting point for a whole character sketch.

A solid go-to writing prompt can be taking one of the five senses and throwing it at your character. What is my character smelling in this scene? How does that smell affect her? Does the smell make her think of anything? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it could be. How might your character react to the taste of a dish offered to him? And why? Does your villain try to torment your character with the sound of a certain song? Why might that impact your character?

For me, I am going to think some more about the beauty of the simple moments like sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen and wish I could somehow take a time travel moment back in time to be with them again. Perhaps someday I will write about that. 😉

What sensory details always trigger memories for you? Is there a certain smell or taste that takes you back? Have you ever read something that really did a good job capturing a sensory detail? Do you try to include these details in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week!

 

~CJ

An Exercise In Sensory Imagery

(Life took a wild turn this weekend past and left me exhausted so I’m reblogging this post from my home blog. – Jesi)

An Exercise in Sensory Imagery

The story I’m currently writing is taking an emotional toll. It’s a hard write because it’s fairly personal, and with the research I’m still continuing to do for it, even though it’s just a short story, I’m really having a rough go with the subject. I have to often take breaks so I don’t drown in the emotional current of the piece. I’ve also begun to prepare myself before I begin by doing some practice writing exercises. In fact, I’ve gone back to basics. So, how about a writing lesson today?

It’s a simple one: all you have to do is sit down and write a paragraph using sound imagery. Think of a noisy place and describe it. You might find yourself using alliteration (same letter or sounds at the beginning of adjacent or connected words) and onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they are-e.g., sizzle, crash).

Don’t worry; this is just for fun. No grades or criticisms. Just free write for twenty minutes.

Here is my practice piece:

It is three in the afternoon on a sweltering summer day. Somewhere, in an air-conditioned house, a dishwasher hums and sloshes its contents into cleanliness while an industrious little bird chirps and splashes in the birdbath outside the kitchen window. A delivery truck rumbles by on its way to some unknown destination. It seems like such a peaceful day, with the sun shining and all relatively quiet in the suburbs. Then a door slams. CRASH! Baby elephants galumph down the stairs, pictures rattling on the walls in the wake of the beasties, and immediate cries of “MOM, can I play Minecraft?”, “MOM, can I have some cookies?”, “MOM, he hit me!” resound through a house in what can only be described as the equivalent of a grenade exploding. Soon, too soon, pips and pops, bashes, slashes, and angry riotous conversation issues from the family room. From somewhere nearby a sigh of resignation escapes a throat but it is barely audible among the cacophony. A woman sits at a table, pens and paper and other writing implements scattered around, and marvels for the umpteenth time at the genius of Mother Nature’s survival instincts, which causes a mother to strongly attach to her young.

 

What can you write using sound imagery? Feel free to share in the comments.

x Jesi

Writers Are People Who WRITE

A Lesson in the Practice of Sensory Imagery

Wanting to be a writer isn’t enough. Grabbing a pen and some paper is a good start. But what really makes a writer a writer is actually writing. We here at Twisted Writers talk about this a lot. If you want to be a writer, write. But how? What if the words don’t come to you? Well, pard’ner, I’m glad you asked. Because I struggle with this as well.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Yeah, thanks Ernest. That’s insightful, but it doesn’t tell me how to write.

So here is what I do that is helpful. I sit my butt in a chair at a table, either with my laptop or a spiral notebook and a pen, and then…I bang my head on the table. Sometimes my brain just empties itself.  I feel like the stereotypical blonde from every blonde joke you’ve ever heard. There’s an empty corridor between my ears and if you listen closely you can hear the wind whistling through it. What to do?

At this stage I usually say screw it and I go do something completely mundane. Ten to twenty minutes into cleaning the bathroom an “a-ha” moment occurs. I get an idea. The problem is I don’t stop and go write. That’s what I SHOULD do. Instead, I continue cleaning the bathroom and more ideas occur to me. At some point, I AM going to realize I should be writing instead of cleaning because I end up forgetting half of the ideas I just had.

I definitely need more discipline.

Something else I do to help encourage the words to come is writing exercises. There are a plethora available to you online. Type “writing exercises” into your Google search box and you are a few clicks away from inspiration. Or you can go to a library and check out writing books. Most have exercises included so you can practice writing. Yes, you may have some basic exercises you think you don’t need to do, and maybe you don’t. They tend towards the repetitive. But this is incredibly good practice for the simple reason that we can get lost in other parts of writing and forget the basics. It never hurts to brush up on those skills. Then there are exercises for the more advanced/seasoned writers. Guess what? They need to practice, too.

I like to read books that teach writing because you get varied viewpoints from different authors. The one advice they ALL say is sit down and write. It’s the Rule of Three: if three people say the same thing, you should listen. EVERY published author says the SAME thing…sit down and write. Whether it’s for five minutes a day or thirty, sit down and write. Doesn’t matter if it’s lists or stream of consciousness or story ideas, sit down and write. Practice makes you a better writer and, more often than not, a published one if you continue and FINISH your writing.

I’ve been working on a final story for a Twisted deadline and it’s been giving me a rough time. Mostly because it’s a hard write. The subject matter is a personal one for me and I feel I’m distancing myself from it so it doesn’t hit as close to home as it actually has been. But, I am writing. I decided to take a break, though, because it is taking an emotional toll on me, and I thought I needed some breathing space. So, I picked up a book I recently checked out from my library and decided to tackle one of the exercises. It’s a simple one: Write a paragraph about an object you can remember from your childhood but use five sentences, one for each of your senses. It’s a lesson in practicing sensory imagery. Great, I thought, I suck at this already. I couldn’t think of anything in particular. I sat for ten minutes before I realized what I remembered wasn’t an object but a person. More specifically, it was a memory of my grandmother washing dishes while I ate a popsicle. Here is my paragraph:

When I think of Granny, I picture her at her kitchen sink up to her elbows in warm, green-scented suds. The scrape of plate against plate, the slosh of the water as she pulled dishes from the bubbly abyss, and the swish of her clothes as she rubbed against the counter accompanied her as she sang her favorite go-to hymn, Rock of Ages. I’d suck on a popsicle as she worked; the syrupy sweet taste of artificial cherries dripping down my chin and onto my fingers created a sticky mess. Granny would notice and stop cleaning briefly to wipe my face and hands with the well-used but soft washcloth. I can still smell the fresh, clean scent of Palmolive Dish Soap from the cloth, and to this day, the fragrance, now Original Formula, works better than any time machine, transporting me back to Granny’s kitchen listening to her sing, “rock of ages cleft for me let hide myself in thee.”

What do you think? Can you picture yourself in my Granny’s kitchen? Does any of the sensory imagery evoke similar memories? Can you smell the Palmolive or taste the cherries?

Now it’s your turn.

I challenge you to do the same exercise. It didn’t take long to do, about 20 minutes. I’d love to read your responses in the comments!

Have a great week!

Jesi

 

Let’s Play A Game

Copying and sharing yesterday’s post from my home blog because I had the Grandest Idea to Inspire people to get writing. There are a few changes…

Dear Writers,

It has come to my Attention that there is a disturbing lack of Creativity within Contemporary Society as a whole. There is a sore need for Sparks of Imagination, especially for the young, those Dreamers of Dreams, Painters of Artful Things, Writers of Inspiring Works, and Creators of All Things Especially Wonderful. This is a sad State of Affairs, and I feel that something must be done.

Therefore, I have put on my Thinking Cap and have had the Most Wonderful of Ideas. I want to play a Game-one most Fun and Creative and Imaginative. I call it The Game of Wonderful, Sparkly Fun. The Objective: to bring to Life worlds most fantastic by writing stories.

The Rules (for there must be some Boundaries, or else Things That Might Not Need To Be Known happen, and that’s just Bad Manners):

1. You must address your story to someone as if you were writing a letter. The story does not need to be a letter but IS the letter, e.g. “My Dearest Lizzi, You will be astonished at what occurred to me today….I have discovered a plot against the Queen. Vickie is just beside herself in indignation at how anyone could possibly want to dethrone her.”

2. There are NO Rules as to subject matter. This is to Spark Imagination and Be Fun. Your Mind is your Limit. Whatever Thinks you can Dream, no matter the impossibility/improbability, are Encouraged.

3. Wanting to add/extend someone else’s story is not only Encouraged but Excitably Supported.

4. Good Taste must be applied as there are Things That Might Not Need To Be Known and Eyes that do not need to read/see Things That Might Not Need To Be Known.

5. Good Times must be had by all and sundry. Laughing is Wanted. So are Smiles, Hugs, and lots of Happy Faces.

Any and all are invited to Participate and will only add more to the Fun. Please feel free to send Invitations to play The Game of Wonderful, Sparkly Fun (to be known as The GWSF hereafter).

All “Letters” must be posted to your Blog and should be Shared Among All Things Social.

My dear Friends Through the Wires, I appeal to your Good Sense of Fun and your Sparkling and Glittering Nature to help Encourage this Endeavor of Magnificence.

I await your reply in Anticipation, and remain your Most Sincere Friend,

Jesi, M’Lady Poet,

Queen of The Light Fantastic (and Lovely Words)

 

Post Scriptum: Come join us on Facebook and post your “letters” there!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/thegwsf/

Creating Characters from Personal Experience

Although I have had limited time lately to engage in any long term writing, I have been playing around with character profiles for a story I am planning to rewrite. I say this because I want to refer back to a couple of my previous posts where I discussed writing from personal experience. In this case, however, I want to focus more on using that personal experience toward developing characters.

Instead of creating outline sketches for character development, as well as as for the plot and general storyline, I prefer to construct my characters from real people whom I know or have known and, there have been quite a few. It also means I don’t need to overtax my limited imagination – just my memory as I go along – plus, reality truly can be more interesting than fiction.

It is usually not just one person from whom I construct any single character, but usually two or three. For example, and without ratting out names, I know several people I draw on for ego-centric personalities, ranging from occasional selfishness to flat out narcissism. By the way, one of my red-line narcissistic “acquaintances” (code for meaning unnamed friend or family member) is at least somewhat aware and surprisingly unapologetic for their deep-seeded self-centered attitude. This particular “acquaintance” is actually rather proud that they use other people as if we were placed on this planet to serve them and only them.

Profiles like that, at least to me, are so rad and off-the-chart that they make it easy to create interesting story characters. Frankly, some of the people I know are so intriguing that it is nearly impossible for me not to apply at least some of their of traits to my characters. In fact, I enjoy character development so much that sometimes I prefer to wrap a plot around the characters or selection of characters, rather than creating a character to fit the plot.

Another “acquaintance” has influenced my character development positively and negatively. This acquaintance, having never driven, used a computer or spoken on a cell phone, pretty much has refused to leave the past and, perhaps not so coincidentally, is a bit conceited. They will never read this or any other blog and lives in their own stagnant comfort zone, actively rejecting any notion of expanding their horizons past 1950.

In this case, I applied their mature age and physical features to the character in the story, but flipped their personality to someone who, through drive and determination, adjusts to new cultures and an evolving world.

I could list several people, individually or in combination, I know that I have used for character development in my stories, but I won’t, because my life wouldn’t be worth the price of a milkshake. A couple of them, and they know who they are, suspect it anyway.

 

Impromptu Prompt

Some days, no matter what I do, my writing can start to fill stagnant. It could just be a scene that I am bored with, or a character that I just find boring.

When this happens, and it does, I have to walk away from my story line and think outside of the box. The only problem is, I tend to think of new and exciting stories to try and write. Then I am left with a shelf of half finished first drafts which accomplishes nothing long term in the writing world.

So what do you do when you are stuck elbows deep in a story that you generally love but need a break?

Do a quick writing exercise. Try a prompt.

What is a prompt?

A prompt can be anything- a word, a picture, and paragraph – to spark an idea that you move forward with creatively.

Where can you find a prompt? 

That is the beauty of the internet… anywhere. Try your local library or used book store. Another great thing about a prompt, they can never really go out of style.

Writer’s Digest posts a weekly prompt here, and you just post your 500 word piece into the comments. Wordpress, Tumblr, and Blogger both have bloggers who dole out weekly/daily prompts. Just type in prompt in Tags and it will pull up a plethora of blogs giving you a prompt to try out.

My favorite is the Carrot Ranch weekly prompt given by Charli every Wednesday. This past weeks prompt was to write a 99 word flash fiction piece about the day the world turned brown. Here was my contribution to last weeks prompt…

Thirsty

We stood on the bridge looking down into the sandy abyss littered with long forgotten lost belongings and decaying fish.

“This isn’t good.”

I shook my head. There was nothing else to be said, we both knew what was coming next. It had already begun. Dehydration crept up the embankments as though the Earth was looking for a drink, and sucking the life from anything in its path.

No one knew how long we had, but we all knew what was coming. Without water, there could be no life.

We watched as the last lake took its last breath.

It was a simple piece, something that I will file away and maybe use for another day. It doesn’t fit in my book right now, but I never know when it could fit somewhere. The point is, I was able to think outside of my box for an hour and think of a brown world.

Now my homework for you… A quick prompt. You have new neighbors that just moved in. Write out a scene 200 words or less and see where it takes you. Extra points to see just how twisted you can make it… For all you know, it could be a new chapter in your current WIP.

Let me know in the comments what you come up with.

Till next time,

~AJP

 

 

 

 

7 Ways To Spark Creativity Today

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Having a rough time getting started on a new project, or continuing on an existing project?  Feeling stuck trying to decide what to blog about?  Searching for your muse and finding her apparently out to lunch?

We all find ourselves stuck from time to time, so it’s always good to keep some ideas on hand to get our creative juices flowing.  Here are seven of my favorite ways to spark creativity or to push myself a little further when I need a push. Books have been written full of such ideas, so it is hardly an exhaustive list, but hopefully one may speak to you.

1) Change Your Perspective

I recently was listening to the radio and that classic Beastie Boys song from my early teenage years, “Fight For Your Right”, was playing.  The big chorus is that you “gotta fight – for your right – to pppppaaaarrttty!!” I can remember being at a middle school dance where everyone was singing along.  I didn’t really party, or fight for my right to party, but it was a bit of a shock for me to realize that I was no longer of the generation to fight for my right to party. I’m the parent my children will one day feel the need to challenge for their freedom. A shift of perspective can be eye-opening!  Are you writing a story told from a teenager’s point of view? Play with the idea of seeing the story for another character, like the parent’s, point of view. Maybe your character is a doctor, think from the perspective of the patient.  You may not use the perspective in your story, but it could add depth to overall effect of the scene.

2) Turn it Upside Down

Sometimes my kids bring home art projects that aren’t always clear what is featured in the picture or what is happening.  More than once I’ve had the picture upside down and didn’t realize it. What if you take the story you are writing and flip it?  Start writing the ending and move backwards. Take the scene and flip it, change it, move it around. If you are writing a poem, play with the form, or take a form and make it new by coming at it from another direction. Who knows where you’ll end up.

3) Make a List

I don’t know about you, but I can seldom go to grocery story without a list because inevitably I will forget the one item I went to the store for in the first place. Why not try making a list to jumpstart your creativity?  Make a list of what you’d like to happen in your scene and write with the list in mind.  Or write a list of words you like that would be cool to work into your story. Write a list of emotions, of colors, of locations, of types of animals, whatever floats your boat. Write a list of boats. Maybe you won’t use any of it, but writing the list may spark an idea or get you moving in a new direction.

4) Take a Break

Once in college I remember writing a paper, a big paper, and being the English major I was, I had put it off until the last possible minute.  (I told myself I worked better on a deadline, but truth be told I was just a procrastinator.) This particular deadline was looming and I was stuck. I remember I finally just had to walk away from it. I didn’t take a long break, because there was a lot to finish, but just taking a short break, leaving the room and taking a moment helped me return with a new energy, and a fresh perspective. Sometimes we need to leave, take a walk, go to the museum, make a cup of tea, sweep the floor, or whatever takes our mind off the place where we got stuck. Maybe what we did in the meantime was stimulating, like the walk or the museum, or maybe it was just white noise, but either way taking a break can get you back on track.

5) Read the News

I haven’t had an actual newspaper in a long time, choosing the virtual news so readily available, but however you get your news, there is a wealth of story ideas all over. Read a personal interest story and spin out that idea into a whole new take on the original story. Check out a celebrity gossip story and base a side character on some ridiculous quality you see. Pay attention to a story about a natural disaster and set your story in that event. The possibilities are endless.

6) Follow Your Senses

I was recently out to dinner and tasted a bite of a fried chicken dish that immediately took me back to my childhood, growing up with my grandmother’s amazing fried chicken. Our five senses hold so many memories and associations. Think of one of those memories or associations wrapped up in one of your senses and then use that as inspiration.  Write a story about the feeling you get thinking of the bright yellow walls that colored your grandmother’s kitchen and always felt so warm. Listen to a song that always brings back memories and use those feelings to color a scene. Is there a smell that is always especially foul to you? Make your villain carry that scent.  Play with all the senses and see where you end up.

7) Look at a Picture

Several years ago, my mom, my sister, my cousin and I met for an informal writer’s group.  We mostly ate brunch and drank coffee and caught up on our lives, but occasionally we would work from a shared writing prompt to each write something to share at our next meeting. One time we took a picture on the wall, gave the couple in the picture a name and we were to write a story about the couple based on the picture.  It was great fun and every time we go back there, it’s fun to think of the stories we wrote about the picture.  You can find the picture on the wall of your favorite coffee shop, in a book, in a museum or on a site like Pinterest, but wherever you find the picture, look for the story living there. What is that girl with the pearl earring thinking?  What would happen after the soldier kissed the girl in Times Square? Sometimes I just take the mood of the picture and use that to influence the mood of my piece.  Pictures can build tons of creative possibilities.

These are just a few of the many ways to spark your creativity. Do you have favorite ways to get your creative juices flowing? Tell us about it in the comments! Did you try one of these?  Tell us about it in the comments, we’d love to hear (or see) the results. 🙂

Have a great – and creative – week!

~CJS

Practice Puts Brains In Your Muscles

“Wrong, Do it again!”
“If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you
have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?”

(Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2-Pink Floyd)

Before any of my compadres make any kind of sarcastic comment about my age or how they are surprised I might actually know who Pink Floyd is, yes, I am actually old enough to know who Pink Floyd is AND what that song is about. So there.

The next question is what the blazes does that have to do with writing? Thank you for asking. I will explain. Basically, it’s the “how can you have if you don’t” part that I’m focusing on in relation to practicing. We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect”. Except that it doesn’t. Not really. Even if you practice something a hundred times a day, you still will not be perfect. But you will be better at whatever it is you are trying to do. With writing, practicing is a must. How can you become a better writer if you don’t bleed ink? (Bleed ink is my new catch phrase-let’s make it a thing.)

No one starts out being a great writer. All of us have terrible first projects. Oh please, yes, you do. Just admit it. Your very first attempts at writing sucked. I know mine did. I have some really bad teenage angst poems. However, I kept writing, and as I matured so did my poetry. I have some terrible first draft stories as well. But I kept writing and practicing. I’m still practicing. Every day. I call it blogging but it’s pretty good practice. And I’m getting better at it. I’m learning and putting brains into my writing muscles.

OK, pop quiz. True or False-Benjamin Franklin copied articles from a paper he enjoyed called the Spectator.

True. In his autobiography he stated that he would buy copies of the Spectator and thought the articles in it well-written and he wanted to imitate them. So, he’d read the articles and make notes. Then he’d put them away for a short while. During that time he’d go back and try to rewrite the articles exactly as he’d read them using whatever words came to mind. Then he’d go back to the paper and see how close he’d gotten. He kept it up until he got it right or had something he thought was better in his own words.

Now, I’m not telling you that you should do the same. Although, copying from great writers can show you things. Your brain will pick up on the clues the writing leaves you. Like a trail of bread crumbs. I am telling you that he practiced this technique until he was satisfied. But should you stop there?

While I was online I looked up quotes about practice and this one stood out:

“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”

I like that. It goes back to my statement that practice doesn’t make you perfect. Because, in my opinion, perfection is based soley on one’s perception. What I think is perfect is not the same as someone else’s idea. The best we can do is keep going until we get it right. But “right” according to whom? My “right” or your’s? The one thing I think we can agree on is to do it until you can’t get it wrong. And if you aren’t practicing, then you are getting it wrong.

Writing takes a lot of effort. There is a lot of work involved and, despite what muggles (non-writing folk) think, it is h-a-r-d. You’ll spend 3/4 of your time trying to write and the rest actually writing. The best way to change that is to practice. Have I made my point yet?

One of the best ways I’ve found of practicing isn’t just the blogging. CJ told you last Wednesday that she and I are doing challenges for the month of April. She’s doing Blogging A to Z and I am doing both Blogging A to Z and NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). The Blogging Challenge is to blog every day in April (except Sundays) using a letter of the alphabet each day. The NaPoWriMo Challenge is to write a poem every day for thirty days. It has an optional prompt we can use or we can do our own thing as long as it’s a poem. And let me tell you…I’ve already been hit twice with a couple of prompts (because I like doing the prompts) that made me want to cringe. I didn’t ignore the prompts though. I completed them. And I’m glad I did. It was really good practice.

There are also online prompts that you can use to help get you started, or you can do stream-of-consciousness writing. What matters is that you practice and you keep doing it. Find some way of sitting your butt in a chair every day and write. Even if it’s just the grocery list.

Now, get out there and let me see you bleed ink!

Jesi