Writing Prompts: Settings

Courtesy of Kirsten WürthMy favorite novel of the past ten years is almost certainly Light Boxes by Shane Jones.  I love it for all sorts of reasons, too many to name, not the least of which being its ability to make me feel like I’m deeply inhabiting its setting.  And this is all the more impressive when you factor in that Light Boxes is a surrealistic text.  Little of what happens in this book is possible under the known laws of physics and rationality.  Yet when I read it, I feel like I’m there.  I feel like I’m in snowbound.  I feel like I’m one of the villagers in this town that cannot exist, part of a war effort waged against the month of February, which casts a long shadow over their lives, and refuses to end.

I feel this because Jones’ prose emphasizes the tangible.  He highlights the physical.  Part fabulist, part poet, he uses simple, direct language to draw the reader’s attention to equally simple and direct elements, which he often repeats.  A kind of rhythm develops.  Again and again we see balloons, snow, clouds, birds, moss, honey, smoke.  These are simple, tangible building blocks, yet they come together to build a rich and fascinating world.  Despite a surface-level simplicity, Jones’ world conjures its own kind of complexity through the use of familiar language in unfamiliar contexts, and the depth of feeling this relationship evokes in the reader. Read More


Writing Prompts: Characters and Momentum

photo-1473147654241-a26ffc2146bbI find it hard to care about most characters in the books I read.  I think it’s got something to do with me being a writer as well as a reader, with my background in poetry just making it worse.  I’m always mulling over word choice, weighing the significance of sound and rhythm, why the author made the decisions they did.  My attention skews to the micro rather than the macro, and the broader sweep of character arc and narrative structure holds less of my interest than the smaller choices an author made in arranging their words.  Over time it has become difficult for me to turn this analytical side of my brain off, and simply enjoy a text for what it is: a story.  My reading brain is always scavenging sentences for new techniques, tricks that may one day prove useful in my own writing; strip mining each row of words for images, influence, and inspiration.  So characters become hard for me to care about, because my default mode is to regard them as illusion, a ghost an author built from a long sequence of decisions. Read More

Writing Prompts: The Unexpected

SurrealismWhen I open a book I’m always hoping to be surprised.  It’s what I look for above all else.  Whether it’s in the narrative, or the language an author employs in its construction, I don’t ever want to know where I’m going in advance.

What I crave is uncertainty—that rush of possibility.  I want to be in free fall through a text.  I want to turn a corner and end up at some place unexpected.  Then take a few more steps, and enter somewhere stranger still. It’s this sense of discovery, of stumbling headfirst into the unfamiliar, that appeals to me most about surrealist and magical realist writing.

In its most interesting variations, the reader is discovering a space whose strange nature extends beyond the material.  The fantastical elements push beyond the physical realm, into something deeper.  These spaces, after all, are purely linguistics in nature.  They are built from and sustained by language, and, as such, basic laws of physics—our understanding of probability, space, and time; all the disparate threads woven through the fabric of reality are suddenly made malleable. Read More

Bring It To the 21st Century

Classics have often been used as a basis for new, and sometimes quite popular, stories.

They can be given a modern twist like these:

  1. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)
  2. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)
  3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy (based on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre)

Or the story can be retold from another perspective:

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Writing About a Place You’ve Never Been To

googlemapsWant your character to be in a city or country that you’ve never been to? Take the time to do a bit of research, which should help you write with authority and conviction.

Naturally, the Internet is a great help, and so are some other sources listed below that you can use: Read More

What You Make of Time

Time takes on a very strange connotation when it comes to writing. Ok it’s not only with writing since most people experience that time flies when you’re having fun and crawls when you’re bored. But time seems to take a life of its own when you write or plan to write or procrastinate to write. It has a whimsical bent and is neurotic, bipolar and slightly schitzophrenic. Don’t believe me? Take an alarm clock and set it to go off in 10 minutes. Now start writing. Really, start writing, and then come back, I’ll still be here. Read More

5 Christmas Story Prompts

It’s almost December and I smell Christmas. In the spirit of the season, here are 5 prompts that might help you find some inspiration in that most happy or sad, annoying, stressful and all around crazy Holliday.

 Stranger than fiction

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Prompt: u nd 2 spk d lingo or gt left behind

I came across the following infographic on OnlineSchools.com on how texting has changed the way we communicate with each other. Eventhough acronyms aren’t a new part of our language, the way we use them in daily conversation is a new phenomenon. “text talk” has become integrated in our language that some of it is now included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

What does this mean for writers?

We now have characters that can text as well as talk. Therefore this prompt: write a short short story in which two characters are communicating with each other purely through text talk. Or in other words, write a piece of dialogue with text messages. Read More