Category Archives: Prompts and Writing Exercises

Prompts and writing exercises with my attempts at using them.

Student Ideas for New Stories

 

In my final year at Portland State University, I took an advanced writing class with  Mary Rechner.  In the class we brainstormed some ideas for generating characters, or stories of poems. It’s been many year’s since my time at PSU, but luckily I have my ever growing student loan to remind me that I was there.

What I’ve written in this post are copies from the notes of that class. I put the name of the student who came up with the prompt.

Pretend that you are an inanimate object and write from that voice. -Naomi

I actually did that once! I wrote a story (very short story) from the voice of a pitchfork and a shovel. I wrote it so long ago it’s hard to know if I still have it somewhere in my papers. There are a few novels out there that have inanimate objects as the characters look at Tom Robbins book Skinny Legs and All.

Use a stranger with whom you have recently had a brief encounter as the main character in a scene.-Julia

Maybe that strange guy on the bus that always wears the yellow rain coat even if it isn’t raining, and he carries his little lunch box everyday as he pushes past people yelling- “I need to get off! I need to get off!” Once he is off the bus he does a little sideways run to his next stop. What’s his story? You can write it.

Imagine the least likely end to your day-Gretchen

Like, I’m sitting here on my bed writing this blog and all of a sudden my cat turns to me and starts talking- telling me about her day- how she really thinks I ought to try a new type of litter and why am I never around. I just look at her, like this is normal for my cat to talk- and I say I’m on it. I didn’t think you cared for the litter you made it kinda obvious-And then she tucks me in bed. Now that’s an unlikely ending to a day.

Write a scene where there is food but no one eats it, and there is both internal and external dialogue- Ashlee

This one is interesting. There are so many whys for you as the writer to answer.

Write a story where everything that’s better is bigger and vice versa for smaller. Lame I know. I really wanted to do something about the Lumberjack Song from Monty Python because I had that stuck in my head all morning.I figured that wouldn’t be fair though, since not everyone has seen the Monty Python shows.-Jeremiah

I just thought that was funny. I don’t remember the guy, but I somehow saved his quote.

Once you have an idea and you’ve maybe sketched it out and let your imagination run wild you might want to take it further really explore where this idea can take you-could it be a story?

Advertisements

The Perfect Couple: Writing prompt 5 mins

Prompt: The Perfect Couple
Timed writing: 5mins

Time:1986

The first days of snow had come. It was a Sunday and my grandparents were at church. They had given up forcing me to go after I had a huge fit in the church parking lot screaming about how if God was so great why did he take away everyone in my family. I don’t think it was so much that they didn’t have an answer, but that all their church friends were watching us, and they were embarrassed. It is very important to my grandma that everything looks perfect and happy. This was something that both my dad and his brother used to complain about whenever they would get together. On all the family holidays when we would be together, grandma would always do something to make one of the parents mad. She would follow our moms around the kitchen cleaning up after them, and criticizing about how or what they were cooking. Or she would comment on how my uncle was dressed or that his kids were not presentable enough. She thought my dad was the perfect son, but he had made one huge mistake, and that was marrying my mother.

My dad had had a pretty blonde girlfriend when he was in high school, and she came from a rich family that had a lot of connections in the town where my dad had grown up. She had been a cheerleader and was, as my dad called her, traditional. She always had her hair perfect, and her clothes always ironed and starched. She wore the latest conservative styles. White butterfly collared shirts and pink cashmere sweaters with delicate embroidery that she did herself. I knew all these things about dad’s high school girlfriend: butterfly collars and embroidery and that her favorite color was pink,  a lady’s color, because my grandmother would talk about her almost every time she was around my mom. Mom had told me that grandma even brought it up at their wedding. My grandmother was crying because she was actually heartbroken that my dad was not going to get back together with his high school sweetheart. My dad said, he had liked the girl that she was nice enough, and a good person, but that she was exactly like his mother, and if there was one thing a man did not want to do it was to marry an exact replica of his mother.

He said they had met at a business function where his father was meeting with the girl’s father, and grandma fell in love with her at first sight. Dad explained it like grandma wanted to marry her herself. It was pretty much an arranged courtship. Grandma constantly inviting the family over for dinner and arranging the meetings. Her family was liked dad’s family, and he was certain that both parties involved were planning a wedding. Since they were business people, and as dad called them the new salesmen rich, it was not acceptable to get married before college. So both dad and the girl were sent off to separate colleges. He was to get prepared to be a businessman, and she was being groomed to be an educated wife who could host respectable dinner parties. Since it was important which school you went to, the girl was shipped off to a private girls’ school on the east coast, and my dad went to Stanford. Dad had said that he had felt sorry for the girl because maybe he would have liked her if it was allowed to happen naturally, but because it was forced he began to resent the girl, especially because the night before the business function where his father had dragged him along, he had finally built up the courage to ask Sally Renton out for a date. He had had a crush on her since the fourth grade. That night they were to go out to a movie. He said the movie was called Dr. No, and he was so upset that he had to cancel just so his father could show him off to a couple of his work colleagues. He said that it had ruined his chance to ever go out with Sally Renton. My mom said she was glad that his mother had ruined his future plans for love because without her meddling they would never have met.

Obviously, my mother was  not Sally Renton.

Outside the Window- 3mins

Three minute write.

Writing Prompt: Outside the Window.

Outside the window Fredric could hear the wind blowing although the alarm from the house across the street was ringing as loudly as if it was his own house. He had wanted to look out the window to see what was going on, but at the same time he hated to be one of “those people”. He wasn’t a nosey neighbor.

“It isn’t nosiness when it is your neighbor’s alarm blaring. It’s neighborly concern.” His wife was addressing him from the kitchen. “What if they need some help.” She was leaning in the doorway in her usual manner of pressing her fist against her hip. There was flour on her apron from baking. She was making biscuits. Fredric did love his wife’s biscuits, nice flakey, and sweetly buttered, but she herself could get on his nerves from time to time. “Look out the window, and see what’s going on.” She said wiping her hands on her apron.

“It’s none of our business.” He grumbled as he shook out the newspaper and settled into his old leather armchair.

 

3 minutes up.  

Stealing Sentences to Get Inspired to Write

 

I have been mentally preparing myself to get into full writerly mode by being writerly all the time. I haven’t actually been able to focus on my book at this point, although, I did do one character study, and I feel pretty secure with her, but there are so many characters involved. When I think about how much has to be developed in order to create a world for my characters, I feel overwhelmed. I immediately beginning criticizing my work as I write. I need to stop that. So to help me rework my brain and derail that monster critic, I have created a writing exercise. It serves two purposes for me.

1) It helps get my head in a new place because most of these writings will never be seen and they allow me to be as free in my fiction and imagination as my journal writing.

2) It forces me to keep writing and I have no excuse not too. The brain is like a muscle in our body and it needs exercise in order to work at it’s optimum potential, and this exercise is one way to go about it.

I can’t take 100% credit for this exercise since the bases for prompts has been shared in many of my writing classes. I had learned the beauty of prompts and timed writing while I was a facilitator with Write Around Portland.

The Exercise:

This is meant to be a ten minute write but it often ends up being longer, and this is A-okay since the minutes are just a trick to force myself to do it. Inevitably, I’ll have that never ending argument with myself about writing:

“I don’t feel like writing.”

“You should write.”

“But I don’t want too.”

“Come on it only takes 10 minutes. You can spare 10 lousy minutes.”

“True. okay I can do ten minutes.”

See how that works? If you’d like to try the exercise it can be done with just one of the prompts, two or all, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you write for at least 10 minutes. I really believe that it takes a good solid three minutes to be able to let your mind just go, and 10 minutes can send you into a beautiful world that you- yes YOU created.

  1. Take the last sentence from a book and poem whatever type of writing of something that you have read.
  2. Take four random vocabulary words- I have tons of vocabulary words on note cards and I just pull from those. The purpose for this is that I am always trying to increase my vocabulary. Some words are archaic but they are still fun to try and use properly.
  3. Pick an object in room
  4. Choose one or more of the other five senses- I notice I’ve been leaning toward scent and I hardly use touch which makes me think I should use some touch.

Then give yourself ten minutes and try to write a story/poem using all the above elements.

This was my first one:

Sentence: He told her that it was as before, that he still loved her, he could never stop loving her, that he’d love her until death. The Lover- Marguerite Duras

Vocabulary:

Baroque– Marked by extravagance, complexity or flamboyance.

Labile– Lacking stability, readily open to change

Machination– And act of planning, especially to do harm.

Obeisance– A bow made to show respect or submission, Deference, homage

Sound: clapping

Scent: poo

Object in the room: lighter

Here are a couple of sentences from what I created out of the exercises- It turned out to be about a 30 minute write- which was great-I’m not super comfortable with the use of the vocabulary in the second paragraph, but they are new words, and I do not use them often. They may be words more appropriate for a different type of writing, but the point is the effort to try and use them as correctly as possible. Once written you can follow up later.

-Enjoy

There was a stench that filled the room and she could not describe it as anything other than shit. Marguerite stepped over the piles of clothes and papers, the stacks of books, strewn newspaper articles, shredded bits of card board, the yogurt cartons, the bottles and cans of beer, the accumulated mess of months of a recluse; a terrible, terrible recluse.

She was not going to obeisance to him or his space or even the memory of him. She was labile at this point and had no room to honor him in anyway. She could drop from the window as easily as he did and with that she let the cigarette, lit and hot, fall from between her fingers.

The Burden

From a photograph

Before the sun rises we will walk out to the river and say good-bye to my daughter. It is the way. I know this. I know— we know— that HE will take all of us one day, at anytime, and it is a blessing, and that is why we are thankful .

It is offensive to show any sadness because to be sad is to show anger to Him, to not trust Him, and that is a sin. There is much to be grateful for and I show it through my silence and my peace. She was a girl, and with the death of a girl there is celebration because now there will be space for a boy. Food for a boy, a future for a boy. And, I am pregnant now so it will be a boy. The girl is gone and in His kindness he has put a boy in my belly. We know this. Yet, I feel empty. Somewhere inside of myself where my daughter once slept curled like an egg warming my blood and filling me with something I can only call love, I feel a hole. A deep hole like a well that reaches no water.

As the sun rises from the dark brown line of the earth and pushes the thin rainless clouds away our toes touch the edges of the water. It is all the women of the village who are with me, but they are not for me they are for Him, because they too must give thanks. In the river I wash the white linens that I will use to swaddle her body. She was little so I do not have to use much, but I wish it to be as white as the lily. The other women partake in the ceremony- they murmur, hum and wail in painful tones of remorse and prayer. They give praise and thank Him for taking her, my daughter, and releasing us from the burden of yet another girl child.

The water flushes over my fingers and in-between the fibers. It is warm and smells slightly of urine. I do not always think it is good, but HE has provided it and therefore it is good. I walk deep into the folding river wringing the white cloth, focusing on cleaning and cleansing them. I think about the preparations for the evening. The dying walk with the white candles, how we must prepare the candles for the ceremony, but she keeps poking her baby fingers into my head. I feel her arms around my  neck. Her fingers tangling in my hair, and she is bound to my body as she had always been when I had washed the clothing in the river. I gasp and pull the linen to me and hold them like I had held her. They smell like her and I feel like I will shake until my knees break and I will then collapse into the dirty river. I want to fall and join her my most beautiful child. My first child. But, I cannot. She has been taken for a reason so the boy can live. I must tell myself this until I believe it.

I walk to the shore still holding my bundle of linen tightly to me like it is my daughter, but suddenly I am aware of where I am and what I am doing, and I hope that none of the other women have noticed me; noticed my weakness. It is a sin to be mournful when a girl dies when there is so much thanks to be had before us. Save the tears for the loss of our boys. I know this, and I can be beaten for such a display of sorrow even on the day of burial.

I drape the linen, heavy with the river’s water, over thick branches and slap out the wrinkles and lines of fabric with my open hand. The sound like a wet drum beat in my ears. Soon the other women are doing the same, pounding out the their linens of many different colors, the rhythm rising toward a song. Coolness and warmth pass over me. It is the breeze warm from the sun and wet from the great river, but there is a thin veil of cool that licks the sweat from my neck and shoulders. She is beside me and I know this because I can feel her. I want to say her name, but it is forbidden.

***

The sun will be setting soon. I have been washing all day, and I continue with the final washing as the dark folds over the sky and I wrap the wet cloth over my body, and my head covering every part of me. The heavy wet fabric gathers about my head and ankles and the weight is like that of a human.  A human child. We return to the village wearing the wet fabric around our bodies, and carrying the dry linen in baskets on our heads. We sing songs of praise as our bare feet pass over the dusty road that will take us to our village. Once we arrive, and hang the last of the wet cloth, I will wrap the white linen around the body of my dead child, and once again we will take the slow walk to the river. The river that gives us life the river that gives us death.

All things have been prepared. The older women have painted her and oiled her. Her face has been dusted the red of the earth and black coal circles her eyes that are closed. White dots divide her face in half. Her arms glisten against the flicking lights of the candles and I inhale the scent of oil. Although she is not a boy she is anointed and praised because HE brought her to us and HE has been kind enough to take her away. Perhaps she will return as a boy and her life could be better in the next life. I wish for that, but at the same time I feel sad that she will not ever be a woman.

The night is blue black and the stars blink and weep as we began our walk to the river. The men carry my daughter on a plank of wood on their shoulders. I want to call out her name, but it is forbidden. The villagers have been singing and as we move closer to the river they sing louder. The night is dark now and only the candles show us the way. The scent of wax and smoke fill my nostrils and I can no longer smell her. My eyes begin to burn and I can feel the wet of my tears streaming down my cheeks. This is a feeling of great sadness and I must not feel this but I am overcome. It is only the smoke. I will say it is only the smoke.

We reach the river and my husband and all the men are the first to place their candles into the water. It is like they heave a great sigh of relief. A daughter is such a burden. We are all relieved—but something… something is empty and there is no relief in my heart. They place her body into the water and push her off to float and get carried away into the mouth to be forever swallowed up by Him and all that HE has given to us. We thank him for releasing us and we pray that the boy in my belly is strong. I place my candle in the water to give thanks to Him who took her. I must say a prayer of gratitude, but all I can say is her name; Kalaya.

Ten minutes: What have we done

Photo from the Oregon Coast

I live far from the oil leak, but the images and the damages that are taking place as I write, are so huge, and beyond my reasoning that all I can do is grasp it in a story. I can only imagine what this is like for the people living there. I can only imagine what it must be like to wait for something like this. What have we done? This is just a ten minute write and a fiction piece.

Every day we go to the beach. We walk slowly along the shore pressing the silk like white sand between our toes. I hold up a handful and watch it cascade between my fingers. It is like watching the seconds pass, the clouds in time elapse, everything moving as in a David Lynch film. These are our last minutes. I watch as my children run up to the water and kick up the surf. They laugh raucously in the ways that only children can; uninhibited, free, what we were all meant to be; joyful and filled with belly aching laughter. They don’t understand what is coming. I look to my wife, sitting in the sand, she is watching the water, silently, she has been crying for weeks. She had grown up here this is her beach. We were married on this beach, almost ten years ago. “We never should have had children,” is what she mutter to me in bed one evening as she had turned away from me. “Don’t say such things I had said, why would you say that,” I had asked. “We are leaving them a terrible world,” she said. I said nothing. We try to avoid watching the news, but now we watch every day to see the warnings to know how soon before the black bubbles roll onto the shore, before the stinking molasses runs down our legs in streaks of grime. When the stench will fill our beach, our street, our home. When the birds, smothering in ooze, their red eyes blinded in reek, when the carcasses encased like nightmarish tootsie rolls, appear at the edge of our doorsteps. How will we explain all the death?

“I feel like I am in a movie”. My wife spoke toward the sea, some how this disaster has effected our marriage, for some reason the oil is separating us. I had looked at the photos, and photos of the birds, and felt as if the oil had coated our house, that those gasping gulls were my children, that the suffocating crude was seeping into my bed covering us. I am useless as a man as a father as a husband in the face of this, all I can do is watch as my children run into the ocean on the last days of life as we know it here.

“It is out there,” she said, “coming, moving, like it is breathing on its own. It is coming to kill all of us and everything. We are going to be like the science fiction movies where there is nothing left, we will be brutalized.”

“No we wont.” I whispered. She looked to me her eyes glaring. She blames me, her eyes and her anger blames me for the accident, as if I single-handedly broke the pipe and released the monster. A part of me felt she was right, that we should not have brought children into this world, that we are irresponsible that we are selfish that we damage all we touch and then we offer it up to our children to clean. They will not have the same freedoms or the same beauties that we had. We broke and torched it all, we did, and our parents, and our grandparents, all for the sake of comfortable lifestyles with no regard or true care for the people, the animals or the environments that we exploited on the way. We chose to ignore the damages done in other places, we couldn’t see it so it wasn’t real. Until it is real, and then there is no stopping it.

A cool breeze blew in off the sea as birds cawed and dove up into the clouds. A hint of gasoline  drifted and ran through my hair like sultry fingers. My wife’s dark hair lifted from her shoulders in the gentle breeze. Our children giggled and waved their hands at their noses.

“It’s here”. She said. “The End”.