Tag Archives: writing prompts

A Story Begins with an Idea

Who is this man? Why is he dressed all in white? Where is he going? What is he waiting for? Is he alone? Is he from this time period? What is the time period?

The man was all in white dressed like an old fashioned milk man. He leaned against the bus stop waiting. He did his best to ignore the smell of pizza mixed with fast food and garbage. He was hungry and simultaneously nauseous, but he kept his discomfort well hidden.

A

story always starts with an idea, but where do we get ideas when our imagination feels drained and exhausted? How do we generate good and great ideas? Many times we find inspiration from our dreams, and of course our lives, but sometimes nothing comes. It can be a frustrating moment sitting in front of your notebook or your computer as you look at the blank page or screen and nothing, nothing comes to mind.

Sometimes (most of the time) I need some help and the following 11 points help me to come up with new things to write about. I use them for exercise purposes like running to prepare for the marathon. I don’t keep every story or go with every story, I’m usually just running laps on the page.

I often set a timer for 10 minutes and pick something to write on for that amount of time. I try to extend the time each day to build up my writing endurance.

11 Sources for a Great Idea

  1. Your life- Well of course! Write what you know. It’s the classic go to. You are a world of stories.
  2. News stories events- In the movie Bad Education by Almodovar, the character who was a writer would search through news articles to find ideas for stories. The film goes into some personal journey for the character, but this idea is great. This is like a meta story teaching writers where to find ideas for writing. If you can make it relate to you great, if not, let your imagination tell the story.
  3. Historical events- I once had the idea to write a short story about a young man who was a tunnel rat in Vietnam. I had gotten the idea from reading real life accounts of American soldiers who fought in the Chu chi tunnels during the war.
  4. Fantasy- We’ve all been kids- remember sitting with your legs straddling a low hanging branch pretending it was your pirate ship, and the twig in your hand was your sword? You raised your sword as winged monsters flew towards your great vessel. Look to your dreams. Write them down and revisit them. There is something in your dreams.
  5. Memories-I say this also falls under your life although it could be someone else’s memory. It can be a brief fleeting memory- the story doesn’t have to be truthful. How truthful are memories anyway?
  6. A single image- at Write Around Portland, a place where I used to teach creative writing, we would often take pictures from magazine and add the image to a prompt. For example, an image of a single tree in a desert and then a prompt: “by this time next year”. Now write. You don’t have to use a worded prompt or magazines. You can use your own photos. The photo above is a picture I took from the hip many years ago while I was visiting New York.
  7. A philosophical idea- this could get one going on a really wild story- I love science and philospophy- since both have a belief that our universe is finite then our stories can be too.
  8. A situation- two men walk into a coffee shop together one is holding a child. The man with the child recognizes the woman behind the counter for some reason there is an uncomfortable tension. There are many sites that can give you a random collection of scenarios, characters and situations- you just put them all together in the plot generator.
  9. Adaption of another story- I’ve always wanted to do a film adaptation of Under a Cruel Star and also I want to write a story about the love affair between Nikolai and Alexandra before he became the Czar of Russia.
  10. Adaptation of other media- The news, music, youtube, twitter, instagram, another blog; media has gotten bigger and your access to ideas had also grown.
  11. Overheard dialogue- I once overheard a two women on a greyhound bus talking about how it shouldn’t be against the law to pick up road kill, after all it’s just a waste of good meat. Now imagine the story.

If you’re feeling a little unimaginative try one of these techniques to get you going. Happy writing!

 

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?

Character Development 1

This post was originally a page, but I’ve decided to turn it into a post as I think that is a more effective and appropriate placement for the post.

Anyone who has ever crossed over this blog knows that I am a bad writer. I don’t mean as in bad quality. I write some decent stuff, I have a good imagination, and on a spectacular day I can even wow my self critic with some of my writing. I have potential. The same as anyone. Writing is a skill. I know this. You know this. We got this knowledge.  I’m not a bad writer, I’m a misbehaved writer. I don’t do the work. I know how to do the work, and I know I could do the work, but I don’t do the work. So there you go. I’ve admitted it. As I’ve admitted it many times before. Supposedly its the first step to recovery. No one tells you that it’s the second step that’s more difficult.

Although, I am an undisciplined, somewhat self destructive, and self sabotaging, but filled with potential (no matter my age) writer, I still know a thing or two about writing. Like I said, I have the knowledge, I just lack the will power. I feel like I’m a whiskey bottle or two shy of being an aging, pathetic, failed artist. Don’t feel bad about reading this because, there is humor in my words. You may not get the humor, but I’m smiling. I enjoy the verbiage. So picture me, sitting in my sweat shirt and leggings sunk into a chair, holding my whiskey glass, and slightly tipsy, yet working on wasted, as I extol the wisdom from my student debt inducing English degree with the writing minor.

Let’s develop a character. Part 1.

Development or Who is this being that you are about to create?

This should take you a lot of work. That’s why I don’t do it, but I’m not telling you to do as I do, but to do as I don’t do. As I said, if you want to make a believable character you need to do a lot of work. Make them real to you and they will be real to me. I watch Game of Thrones and I’ve read about four of the books and one thought that keeps coming to my mind is this: My god, the world he has created! Really, it’s incredible. We won’t even talk about the settings, and the storylines, but just the characters alone. The thing about the characters is that they have history, a long rich deep, deep history. Your characters should too. You are building a world, and even if you are writing about a real person you still need to give that character a life with a history, and life events, and likes and dislikes, you are basically building a replica and you want it to pass the Voight-Kampff test.

So where do you find this person, this being or this talking animals/object? You have two choices internally or externally. You decide.

  1. Your ideas; observations or experience or both.
  2. Inspiration from outside sources.

Okay, now what? Brainstorm and or create an out line. I used to describe this as the vomiting out words. Literally, I would just blahhhhh all over the page. No stoping just writing out all the ideas in a great big mess to clean up later. Here’s some basic questions to ask yourself about you character.

  1. what is the character’s core, what makes the character consistent?
  2. what are your character’s paradoxes? what makes them complex?
  3. emotions, attitudes, values to round the character out.
  4. add details that make them unique and specific.

You have your idea and or inspiration now what? Research the Character. If it’s a real person then by god, you need to do your research, but if it’s an imaginary person then…by god you need to do some research. Below is a list of some questions to think about as you do your research.

  1. What do you need to know about the context of the character(s)?
  2. Do you understand their culture? What is their culture?
  3. Rhythms, beliefs, attitudes that are a part of their culture.
  4. Do you know or have you met or spent time with anyone from their culture?
  5. How is the character different or similar to you?
  6. Do you feel you know enough about people from a culture and have spent time with them so that you don’t create a stereotype based on a few encounters or others outside opinions?
  7. Do you know your character(s) occupation?
  8. Do you have a feel for the occupation, an observation of what the work entails and how people feel about their work?
  9. Do you know the vocabulary enough that it comes out naturally and comfortable?
  10. Do you know where they (characters live) live? Do you know the lay of the land, what it is like to walk the streets of their neighborhood (city, country, seaside et.) ?
  11. What is the climate, what are the leisure activities, what are the smells and tastes of the place where they live, their setting?
  12. How is their location different and similar to your own?
  13. If your story is set in another time period, do you know the historical details, in regard to language, living conditions, what they wore, how they behaved in relationships, their attitudes and influences?
  14. Have you read literature or any other sources from the time period that might help you understand how they spoke and what words and terms they used?
  15. In your research have you reached out and been willing to reach out to ask for help with resources from knowledgeable people from a specific area?

Whooo. Are you done yet? Nah you’re just getting started.

Next post.

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.

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.

Not a Beautiful child- five minute write

Five minute timed writing

Chang Mai was not a beautiful child. In many respects this made her life all the more difficult. It was bad enough that she was born a girl, but to be ugly too, this was not a blessing.
Maybe she will grow to be beautiful her mother whispered to her father.
No. he grunted. She is ugly and a girl we are cursed.
They had already had five unsuccessful births. Each and every one a girl. None of the girls were very beautiful, but Chang Mai was by far the ugliest. Thankfully she was not deformed so she could at least be sold for work, but it would be impossible for them to marry her off.
Father looked at mother as she held the tiny round Chang Mai in her arms.
She is so fat. He said. How do you have such a fat child? Do you sneak food?
No. Mother whispered.
You are a disgrace. He said. You have girls, you have ugly children and now you have a fat child. She will eat us out of home. We must get rid of her right away. Father stared at mother with hate in his eyes. If I could, I would drown you woman. If we had money you would be floating in the river you and your fat children. No sons. We are wasted. You are a waste.
At that Chang Mai let out a shrill and a kick. Her voice piercing fathers ears.
Too much fire! He yelled as her stormed from their shack.
Enough fire. Her mother whispered. Enough fire to burn the earth.
At this Chang Mai silenced. Her crescent eyes peered up at her mother. They were like black moons early in the cycle and curved like frowns. Her head was bald and shiny like an old man who had lost his hair and nothing like a new baby’s. There were no signs of follicles. He lips were fat and puffy as were her cheeks and her apple chin. In other countries, other places, in another time, she may have been thought of as a cute baby, but destiny birthed her here in the damp tent in a wet peninsula stuck out like a crooked finger into the Yellow Sea.
A lot of fire. Her mother said. Like a Queen.