Writing Prompt Friday

Oh. My. Goodness! Is it Friday already? I suppose I could blame my lack of posts on my Internet connection which has been giving me fits lately, but really, I think I just had too much fun at the Whitney Awards last weekend. It’s taken me this long to recover.

So. We’re back to Writing Prompt Friday. Here is your prompt:

Your MC is just back from the gym (or a jog) and is going to take a shower.

From this angle, everything in their bathroom looks perfectly normal.

But when they pull aside the shower curtain…

Write up to 1,000 words inspired by this photo/scenario.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: Info Dumps

Info-dump: Large chunk of indigestible expository matter intended to explain the background situation. Info-dumps can be covert, as in fake newspaper or “Encyclopedia Galactica” articles, or overt, in which all action stops as the author assumes center stage and lectures. Info-dumps are also known as “expository lumps.” The use of brief, deft, inoffensive info-dumps is known as “kuttnering,” after Henry Kuttner. When information is worked unobtrusively into the story’s basic structure, this is known as “heinleining.”

from Bruce Sterling, “The Turkey City Lexicon”, Paragons iteration.

Perfect examples of info dumps done wrong can be found on CSI shows—where one character explains the scientific details of an experiment to another character who should already know that information.

Sometimes you have vital information that you need to weave into a story. The temptation is to just tell the reader the details and get if over with. This can lead to long passages that stall out your story. Too many of these, especially in the beginning, will stop the reader completely and they’ll never get around to finishing the book.

The trick is to determine which details are vital and which are fluff, and to weave those details into your story in a way that moves the plot and action along.

Here is a good example of how to do that.

Another good discussion of how to avoid info dumps is found HERE. I recommend you read the entire article because she has some good ideas on avoiding the info dump. However, I’m reposting an excerpt as your writing prompt/excercise for today:

Too much background? Do the Q&A test.

A test to find out if you’ve put too much data in the story is to read it yourself and, paragraph by paragraph, underline any background information and write in the margin what question it’s intended to answer.

After doing this, look through the questions. Are some listed more than once? If your protagonist keeps flashing back on degrading episodes he’s suffered because he’s illegitimate, perhaps most of those flashbacks can be taken out — your reader is screaming, “I got it, already!”

Also, are all of the questions important to the story? The history of the Fifth Dynasty may be a fascinating tale in itself, but perhaps all the reader needs here is to see a portrait of Emperor Archibald IV hanging over the current emperor’s throne, a daunting presence overlooking an insecure ruler. (Question: Why is the protagonist’s father unwilling to admit he made a mistake?)

from Finessing the Infodump by Paula Fleming

Writing Prompt Friday: Showing

The two main weaknesses in the stories submitted for the Book of Mormon contest were too much telling and info dumps.

This week let’s focus on showing vs telling. (Next Friday, we’ll deal with info dumps.)

  1. Go read this short tutorial on Showing vs Telling.
  2. Rewrite the four sentences at the end of the tutorial and post one of them in the comments section.
  3. Find a paragraph in your current WIP. Rewrite it using what you’ve learned.

If you need more practice, continue to go through your WIP to find telling sentences and add specific sensory detail.

One note: Not every single sentence in your story or book has to be jam-packed with sensory detail. That would be hard to read and extremely annoying. However, as a general rule, the more you show, the better.

Writing Prompt Friday: Short Stories

WHY are you wasting your time looking here for a writing prompt when you should be finishing up your Book of Mormon short story???

One week left to submit your Book of Mormon short story!

Deadline is next Friday, February 19, 2010.


I will start posting stories on Monday.

Voting will start on Monday, February 22nd.

Writing Prompt Friday: Phobic Phun

Create a character with an unusual phobia (like chocolate or purple socks or whatever). Write a scene in which this character must face their phobia. What do they do? How do they respond? Do they fight through and overcome? Or do they lose their battle? Limit: 750 words.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: Photo Prompt

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but it can also inspire a thousand words.

That’s your prompt for today.

Write up to 1,000 words inspired by this photo.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: Let’s Practice Swearing

Since swearing, or rather, not swearing was a hot topic recently (see HERE and HERE), let’s practice creating a sense of swearing without actually doing it.

Here are the specs:

  • Set up a scene/situation, with a character(s) who would swear.
  • Do not use actual swear words.
  • It must be believable.
  • Keep it short, 250 words or less.

If you’re brave, post your scene on your blog (leave a link in the comments section) or in the comments below. (If you’re not brave, you can comment anonymously.)

Anon has volunteered to give free feedback.

Writing Prompt Friday:

Start your story with this:

She touched the blue and pink silk scarf in her pocket and smiled.

She cannot be thinking about her boyfriend/husband nor about a baby.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: The List

Lists are a good start to writing. Pick one of the following and make a list of at least 20 items.

  • Things to do before I turn [your next birthday]. . .
  • Ways to entertain yourself if you were stranded on a desert island. . .
  • Reasons to turn down a marriage proposal. . .
  • Signs that it’s time to quit your job. . .
  • Bad things that could happen on the way to a wedding. . .
  • Things to do with one flip-flop. . .
  • Reasons not to wear thong underwear. . .
  • Signs that Santa is an extra-terrestrial. . .

Now that you’ve had some fun stretching your creativity, make a second list—20 plot ideas/actions/events to include in your novel.

Writing Prompt Friday: Let’s Write a Poem

Based on the questions and comments I receive, I’d guess that 90% of the readers of this blog are primarily focused on writing fiction—as in, novels. The other 10% are a mix of non-fiction, short stories, and other types of writing.

It’s a good thing to stretch out of your comfort zone every once in a while. It builds writing muscles and stretches your brain—a lot. When your brain pops back into place, it often brings new creativity back with it that you can use in your main writing project.

So today’s prompt (unless you’re primarily a poet):

Write a poem that has something to do with the season—holiday, family, winter.

If you’re primarily a poet, your prompt is:

Write a short story that has something to do with the season—holiday, family, winter.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: Thanksgiving? No Thanks.

Since I will be taking next Wednesday through Friday off from the blog due to the holiday, today’s writing prompt is centered around the American holiday of Thanksgiving—although non-Americans may participate as well.

Write a short-short story (2,000 words or less) that has to do with Thanksgiving WITHOUT using any of the following words:

  • thankful, thanks, thanksgiving or any variation

  • grateful or any variation

  • turkey

  • pilgrim

  • family

This will get you to stretch a bit beyond the commonplace and cliché.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: Speaking of Shakespeare

Many of Shakespeare’s plays are absolutely timeless because they deal with basic human emotions that have been around since the dawn of time—love, jealousy, prejudice, suspicion, remorse. You can take one of Shakespeare’s basic plot lines, tweak it a bit, and plop it down into any setting you like and it will work just fine.

Annette Lyon did this, setting Much Ado About Nothing in mid-1800s Salt Lake City, and calling it Spires of Stone. You can do it to. Your writing prompt for today is:

Take one of your favorite plays from Shakespeare and update it to some time in the past 100 years. You can write a scene, a synopsis or a short story.

If you’re not familiar with Shakespeare, pick another book or a movie that’s at least 30 years old and update it to today.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

Writing Prompt Friday: Changing POVs

By this, I don’t mean changing POV within your story. I mean, looking at a situation from your character’s perspective. This exercise will help you learn to see from other people’s POVs. If you can do this exercise well, using real people, you can do it for your various characters.

Prompt: Write about a disagreement you had with somebody from their POV, in first person, in their voice. Don’t make them an unreliable narrator. [They should be 100% believable.] Take an external look at yourself, in this case in the third person. How would the other person see you? How would they describe you and your actions?

Objective: To learn how to see from other people’s POVs. This is good not just for writing, but for getting along in friendships, marriages, societies.

Check: Has your antagonist become the protagonist of the story? Have you found weaknesses in your position and shown them? If not, go back and reveal them.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

(Fiction Writer’s Workshop. Josip Navakovich. Story Press, 1995. p 124)

WPF: Boo!

First, thank you so much for sending questions. I love you all—but especially one of you who sent me a “book” of questions. I’ll answer timely/urgent ones first, then answer the rest in the order they were received and/or the order I feel like answering them. So check back daily. You never know when I’ll answer yours. 🙂

Remember a few weeks ago when our writing prompt was to describe a fantasy character using mundane details? Well, this one is similar.

Write a horror story or scene using every day items, people, props. No vampires or werewolves or other fantastical creatures, but you may use ghosts. Create the creepiness with your descriptions of common items, not with the unusual.

This is how Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was born. She, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and some others challenged each other to write “ghost” stories. Maybe today’s little challenge will spark a classic from you.

P.S. My NaNoWriMo name is LDSPublisher. Please come be my buddy.

P.P.S.: Is the NaNo site always incredibly slow? Or is it just because everyone is signing up at the last minute? I started to add Buddies and it’s taking for.ev.er.

Writing Prompt Friday

This was one of my favorite prompts from a writing class I took in college many years ago. I think it was because I really liked the story that came from it. Also, the teacher read it in class and praised me in front of my peers.

Hope you get a good story from this one as well.

Use the following bits of information in any way you like to create a short story: Renn (person’s name), Seattle, divorce, tire iron, 3 inches.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

WPF: Practicing Description and Word Choice

This writing prompt is taken from Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. I really like this book because each chapter explains a concept, gives examples of it being done well, and then includes several writing exercises at the end of the chapter to help you practice the concept. I have the first edition in hardback which is now out of print, but there’s a second edition available in paperback (which I am assuming is just as good).

Prompt: One page. Choose a fantasy figure–Dracula, Narcissus, Santa Claus, or one of your making–and convince us of his physical reality by using mundane details.

Objective: To learn how to “prove” the existence of fantastic characters.

Check: Have you mentioned enough real, daily stuff?–dandruff, toothpaste, a hole in the sock, bad temper, toothache, mosquito bite, bronchitis, whatever. If not, go back and do it.

So why did I pick a prompt dealing with a fantasy character? Should you do this exercise even if you hate fantasy? Yes! Because if you can make a fantasy character seem real to us, you can certainly make a human character seem real too.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

(Fiction Writer’s Workshop. Josip Navakovich. Story Press, 1995. p 195)

WPF: Using Cliché the Write Way

I must have been looking at the wrong calendar because I forgot to post a writing prompt on Friday. Posted something else instead, which I’d intended to have post today. Ooops!

Clichés and idioms are bad, bad, bad. Most of the time. As a general rule, don’t use them in your writing—especially in your narrative. It’s okay to sometimes include them in dialog, because that’s how people talk. But it’s better to come up with something fresh and new, and not to use them at all.

Except as writing prompts, where a good cliché can go a long way. (heh)

Okay, so the prompt is:

Find a cliché or idiom that suggests a story line to you. Then write a short story or a few paragraphs using the cliche as either the title, the first line, or the ending punch line.

For example, you might start with, “It was a slip of the tongue, I promise!” or “Jason stared at me with cold, dark eyes. This was my friend. I couldn’t believe it. He was going to throw me to the wolves.” (Or if you’re Melanie G, you could say, “…he was going to throw me to the werewolves…” 🙂

For lists of cliches and idioms, click HERE or HERE.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

WPF: In This One, You Are. . .

An acquaintance who attended The Book Academy last week told me that Brandon Sanderson talked about two different types of writers—the single drafter (writes from an outline; aka “left-brain” writer) and the multi-drafter, or discovery writer (sets the characters loose; aka “right-brain” writer). The multi-drafter apparently loves these writing prompts, while the single drafter does not.

So this is for the Multi-Drafters. (Single Drafters, just go work on your book.)

Spend a little time centering, turning from busyness back toward your own inner reflections. Then call up from your memory a snapshot or photograph of someone important to you. … Usually it is a good idea to take the first one that comes to mind. … If you feel some resistance, that may be an indication that there is a ‘knot’ to be unraveled. …

When you have the picture, begin writing with these words: “In this one, you are…” (You are writing to the person in the photograph.)

(Exercise from Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider, p. 36)

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

P.S. If you’re uncomfortable writing about someone you know and posting it on the web, then go for fiction. Do a Google image search, find a photograph that speaks to you, and go for it.

WPF: Plagues

I announced Writing Prompt Friday over six weeks ago and then—poof!—it totally disappeared off my radar. Uhmm, sorry?

Did you know that during the 14th and 15th centuries, there were these terrible plagues and people were knocking off all over the place?

Except for one group of people—spice traders. They were “immune” to these plagues. Why? It’s theorized that it was because of a special, secret blend of spices that boosted their immune system and protected them from the germies.

These spice traders became thieves—robbing the dead and dying bodies. Which is kind of gross, but understandable, sort of.

(This history may or may not be true, but it makes a fun idea for a story.)

Your writing prompt for today is to write a short story or just a few paragraphs in this setting—14th or 15th century Europe, during one of the plagues. You can write from the perspective of a spice trader, reluctant thief, one of the dying, or whatever.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

(Why was I researching cures for the plague? Nothing to do with a book and everything to do with why I’ve been absent here lately. Cough. Hack. Sniff.)

Writing Prompt Friday

[If you hate writing prompts, don’t come visit me on Fridays.]

I’m done with Fatuous Friday. Bored, now.

Here’s a new feature that I will continue until I get bored with it—Writing Prompt Friday.

Each Friday, I’ll post a writing prompt. Why? To help encourage writing. Writing prompts can be very useful for the following reasons:

  • Prime the Pump—to get you warmed up for a writing session or to help break through writer’s block.
  • Practice—like any skill, it’s important to practice writing creatively. Prompts can help your brain stretch a bit.
  • Drills—like practicing the piano, but you’re writing instead
  • Habit—to get you in the habit of writing regularly. Even if you’re not working on a current project, it helps to write a bit every day.
  • New Skills—sometimes a prompt causes you to develop a new skill or to look at a different style of writing. That’s always good.
  • Fun—do I really need to define this?
  • Low Stress—because no one cares, a prompt is low stress writing.
  • Promise—sometimes a prompt will start you on the road to a new novel. It’s like heaven when that happens.

Okay, so enough justification. Here’s today’s prompt, stolen from Writer’s Digest.com (Stolen because after wasting so much time on yesterday’s post, I now have to hurry to get to my “day job”.)

You’re a pizza delivery driver and it’s your last stop of the night. The house is on an unlit, unfamiliar street. As you ring the doorbell, you’re greeted by an unusual character who invites you in while he gets cash—and abruptly knocks you out cold. When you wake up, you’re tied to a chair. What happens next?

Limit your response to 500 words or fewer.

If you participate in this prompt, leave a comment and let us know how it went. If you post your response to this prompt on your blog, leave the link in your comment.