Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing Prompts

Today is my daughter Mindy's 38th birthday. Wow, is that hard to believe. I'll call her at 10:00 a.m., the time she was born. That's been my practice for years. My daughter Deanne was born at 5:30 a.m. That's a little harder to do, but I manage. So, Mindy, happy birthday with all my love.

I loved Debbie's post on Friday. Loved the old photo, which could be such an inspiration for a novel, as several of you pointed out. Imagination is such an amazing thing. There's no end to the things that inspire our imaginations, which are truly a gift from our creative God. A few weeks ago, Katy made the comment that writing is very close to dreaming. While I don't dream a lot -- or if I do, I don't remember the dreams -- that time just before sleep is the time my imagination is most engaged, particularly when I'm in the thick of writing a novel. It's a very creative time for me. I look forward to it as though it's the dessert to the end of my day.

Debbie's post got me thinking about writing exercises, like taking a photo and writing an opening paragraph for the story it inspires. Or perhaps writing an entire synopsis. Warm-up exercises are an important part to any number of endeavors. Athletes do them before they run that big race, or play that big game. Musicians do them to limber their fingers. Singers do them to prepare their vocal chords. And many writers do them as well to get the creative juices flowing.

I admit I often skip the exercises at the end of the chapters in the writing books I read, even my favorite ones, like Jim Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, which is a great resource and has some fine writing exercises to drive home the lessons he teaches. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield is another good resource. It too has good exercises at the end of the chapters. So why do I skip them? True confession: It's a combination of laziness and a desire to move on to the next chapter.

But some exercises can be fun, even turned into a game if you approach it the right way. For example, Dragon Writing Prompts, a blog for fantasy and science fiction writers, has this prompt: "...drop a letter from a book, movie, play song, TV show to come up with a new title. Then add on a short plot summary that is, preferably, related in a twisted way to the original." They give some examples: "The Velveteen Rabbi, Huckleberry Inn, Little Omen, Planet of the Aps." You get the idea.

Another terrific resource for writing prompts is found at There are exercises like The Tooth Fairy is a Thief, The Ghost of Your Grandmother, Note Behind the Picture. Are you up for the challenge? Can you give us a creative title by dropping or adding a letter to an existing title, then writing a brief plot for the story? Or will you go so far as to write an opening sentence/paragraph for one of the Writers Digest prompts? How do you feel about writing exercises? Do you skip them, or do you enjoy the opportunity to stretch your brain? Where do your best ideas for your creative writing come from?


Megan Sayer said...

Sharon I need to confess too: I never do writing prompts for pretty much the same reasons you've mentioned here. And because they always seem silly, and removed from the part of me that thinks and feels and writes.

Here's my next confession: I haven't been able to get that comment from Katy out of my brain either. Partly because it's so very true, and partly because it's given me permission to take more notice of what happens in those dreaming spaces, and allow them to influence my work. In the past I've always discounted the things that happen in those dreaming spaces as just...I don't know...dumb stuff, but now I'm learning to not only accept them as part of me, but to find my stories in them and allow them to grow. And the funny thing is that the things that happen in my personal dreaming places can be similar to the dreaming spaces of others too.

Nichole Osborn said...

Debbie, thanks for this post! I don't usually do the exercises either, but I thought I'd try dropping a letter of a TV show.

I came up with Deadliest Cat. (ok so I dropped 2 letters)

She is a ninja calico cat, in NY City. By day she's the mayor's daughter's pampered cat...but by night she fights crime with her ninja skills. Crime in the city has dropped, considerably. The only person who knows what she really does is the doorman, who lets her back in every night. But it's their little secret.

Thanks! :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'll confess right along with you--I skip. Anxious to get to the story.

Happy Birthday Mindy!
~ Wendy

Nichole Osborn said...

OOOPS! Sharon, I'm sorry to have called you Debbie. I was still thinking about her photo.

BTW Happy Birthday Mindy!

Cherry Odelberg said...

"A Well Watered Garter." "Novel tips on ice."
What I really agreed with was your, True confession: It's a combination of laziness and a desire to move on to the next chapter. - not to mention the fact that I immediately began a vocal warm-up while reading your inspiring article - at 6:45 A.M.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

"The Hanger Games"...

Who can get those silky shirts to stay on the hanger longest? Who can get the super heavy winter coat on the hanger without it snapping in two? Who can get one more hanger in the already overstuffed closet?


By the way, I like writing exercises as long as they don't feel like they're written for elementary aged kids. They can be like a puzzle. It can be fun.

Latayne C Scott said...

Hahaha! Novel Tips on Ice!! I may write that book. It would contain all the plots for books I intend to write.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oops. And my best ideas come from observing people. I will stalk someone through the grocery store, ice cream melting in my cart, if I think she/he might be a great character. I try not to be too obvious.

Nichole Osborn said...

Here are a couple more titles:

The Big Bang Hero (the "hero" is a member of the bomb squad)

How I et your mother-a Zombie's tale

Patti Hill said...

Gone with the Win!

Three friends buy the winning super duper gargantuan lottery ticket and one of them takes the money and runs. The other two set out to find her.

I usually skip the writing exercises, unless they are meant to help me build the structure of my story, like Truby's book, Anatomy of Story, or The 90-Day Novel.

Happy Birthday, darling Mindy!

Anonymous said...

Oh, what fun coments. Nichole, you made me laugh! "How I et your mother." Love it. And I'm honored to be called "Debbie." Or any of the other incredible women who blog here. Patti, you're on to something! You too, Latayne.

Cherry and Susie, great examples! How can you be so creative so early in the day?!?

Megan, what happens in those dreaming spaces are nuggets of pure inspiration. I've learned to treasure them, mostly while I'm in the thick of a novel. It's when my subconscious talks to me about the things it's been working on relating to my story. I've scribbled pages in the dark, used pens that light up, whatever I have to do to capture the thoughts.

Nicole said...

"I've scribbled pages in the dark, used pens that light up, whatever I have to do to capture the thoughts." As long as you capture them.

My writing exercises compose my blog. More than that I cannot do. And nothing is more inspirational than those whispers from the Spirit and the premiere writing from a gifted storyteller.

Instruction books and their exercises: no. Rebel that I am, you've seen a few, you've seen them all. Tiresome.

Have a blessed birthday, Mindy. Your mom's a gem.

Bonnie Grove said...

How about adding a letter?

Forest Grump: The story of a curmudgeonly troll who rules the forest with an iron fist, until a young girl discovers the secret he's been hiding for centuries.

Anonymous said...

Boy, aren't we all rebels at heart?! Forest Grump. Love it, Bonnie!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My comment to Ariel: I am tempted to write the second story while the first straggles to an end. Perhaps the two characters, one in the distant future and the other in ancient history might speak to one another. And what does 'finished' look like anyway?
To Sharon, I love writing exercises but time constrains me. Megan Sayer gave me inspiration recently. I also stalk people wherever I find them, listening, observing hand gestures, imagining why she decided to wear THAT necklace this morning.
And I always congratulate the parents of the birthday child. You made it another year!

V. Gingerich said...

I skip writing exercises too but I belong to an informal writing group called Word-a-Week that gives me my fix. Each week someone chooses a word and an assignment (character sketch, poem, descriptive paragraph, whatever) and the rest of us can join in, or pass, or go off on a tangent. Surprising things happen to my usual writing style, thanks to that little group.

Vila Gingerich

Kathleen Popa said...

Okay, here's one (hope this isn't cheating?):

Riding Down the Bones.

I like to watch people I don't know, and imagine who they are and what they are up to.

I love books like A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words, just to get me playing. A good blog for photos that want to be stories (and check out the amazing true story behind them) is