Tag Archives: Writing Prompts

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

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/

Show, Don’t Tell

My house has been overrun. I am under attack and have tried to batten down the hatches, build foxholes, and all that military terminology describing hiding in my closet. I have way too many people in my house demanding my undivided attention. My nerves are frazzled, no, wait…they are not frazzled. They are cut electric lines spitting out sparks and looking for something to ignite. I am currently devising a plan to get me the heck out of here for a few days next month (I hope-I really need a break.) because someone is going to get hurt, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my brain.

I am not doing so well on my writing goal, although I have been writing every day, which is great. It’s mostly poetry, but I am writing several a day and I can feel the inspiration flowing. I have been coming up with ideas and taking extensive notes because I really am trying to stick with one project at the moment. But, it’s been hard to find any time or peace and quiet this last week. I haven’t been the only one up in the early hours, which means there is no quiet because (sorry for the stereotyping here-just understand I’m speaking in generalities) you men cannot be quiet at all. I don’t care if it’s closing a door or taking a shower, the men in my house have no idea what “shhh, people are sleeping” means. And when I say “early hours” I mean “early”, as in “did you even go to sleep?”

One of the things I’ve done to try and get some story writing done is I’ve turned back to this book I love called The Practice of Poetry (which I mention a lot because…LOVE) by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. It is filled with some very good exercises. And today I wanted to share one which stood out recently. I haven’t done it myself yet, though I am practicing it with my current work in progress.

The exercise is called Intriguing Objects/”Show and Tell”. You are supposed to grab an object, any object, and talk about it. Tell it’s story because it has one. Where did you find it? What drew you to it? How did it come to you? Then, after telling it’s story (this is a group exercise) you are to write about it in some way (poetry, prose, play, etc). Unfortunately, I’m not in a group setting so I thought about it differently. It brought to mind a common writing mantra-show, don’t tell.

One very common mistake most beginning writers make is in their descriptions, whether for a character or setting. “The tree was tall and had green leaves, which blew in the wind. Diane saw the tree. She put her hand on the trunk and looked up. She could see the sky through the leaves.” Do you see what I mean? The description is boring. It reads more like stage directions to me. And, yes, people do actually have manuscripts that read like this.

What if it read more like this:

“The tree towered over Diane, and she could see the leaves dancing in the breeze. She put her hand on the rough bark of the trunk to steady herself. Just looking up at the soaring height of the tree made her dizzy, so she focused on trying to spot the azure sky through the canopy of leaves.”

See the difference? In the first one, you are being told every little thing. There’s no imagination, no creativity. In the second, there’s more description, it’s active. You get a sense of who Diane is. Does she get vertigo? Where is she? How big is the tree? You want to know more about the story, don’t you?

Show, don’t tell. It’s such a common mistake but easily fixed. Go find yourself a dictionary and a thesaurus, and practice writing descriptions. That’s your exercise for today. 😉

Jesi

 

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