Category Archives: The Writing Life

Pow! Writing about War and Violence

I don’t speak for everyone, but to me, there never was a more odious piece of literature than Homer’s The Iliad. It isn’t the ancient setting or the character names that include at least three lines of ancestry; nor is it the cause of such a barbaric, yet frivolous war (A spat over Helen of Troy). Instead, it’s the intricately dense, seemingly endless descriptions of battle—and to that effect, weaponry. Oh. My. God.Pass the screwdriver please; I’d like to jam it in my eye.

We live in a culture that loves action. In movies, the more explosions, the bigger the blockbuster. But in film there are special effects, visuals, sounds…muscled men. In books it doesn’t work the same way. And reader/writer types like us tend to prefer the meaning behind the battles over the mere portrayal of spilled blood.

I’m not ripping on Homer. In those days the story-telling tradition was primarily oral. Clearly the ancient Greeks fell some years short on literary technique. Centuries later, however, we’ve taken great strides in the formation of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. You’re out of excuses. It’s time to fine-tune your scenes including wars,fights, and violence.

Andy Fox → in Sculptures

Writing about War

I’ll admit I’ve never attempted this, but in college I took a course called Classics of War Literature. Later on in grad school, in a creative writing class, we practiced writing violent scenes. Based on my readings and writing exercises I’ll share what I’ve learned.

We know war is atrocious, but it can also be—as I once read—utterly boring. A good percentage of the time is a waiting game. Sitting, crouching, and preparing for an attack. Tim O’Brien, renowned Vietnam writer, and one of my personal favorites captures this notion in books like The Things They Carried, and If I Die in a Combat Zone.

That being said, good build up is essential. Dead, quiet time is great for character reflection, for basking in fear. Intensify the scene by including a stray bullet, a footstep, a cough, a shadow. After all, they say the sound of a killer climbing your steps is more terrifying the attack itself. Use this to your advantage in writing.

When the violence does erupt, it should be quick, intense, and powerful. The writing should convey total chaos. It’s also important that something changes as a result of the combat. Maybe a main character is killed or injured in the midst of the mayhem, but there should be no dwelling. In fact, it may not even be discovered by the reader until after the fact. Pain ensues, and the characters are now in waiting for the next onslaught. All is quiet again.

Writing about Fights (domestic, schoolyard, bar, or otherwise)

My novel includes a knock-down-drag-out between the protagonist and one of his heavy metal buddies. It wasn’t an easy scene to write; in fact, I rewrote it several times. After the exorbitant amount of practice, I noticed a few crucial elements that are needed to make “fight scenes” in fiction (or non-fiction) work:

• There has to be a good reason for fighting. If it’s two guys over a girl, she better be a special girl—good friends rarely throw punches over floozies. Unless of course there’s another issue at stake. Or if the two dudes have been firmly established as rivals.

• Generally speaking, physical fights don’t just happen out of nowhere. There should be a “testing” period before the match ensues. In other words, exchanged words, intense arguments, and smashed objects. In fact, a ‘fight’ may take an entire chapter to play out—just not the fighting part itself. Too much description of the violence (not unlike my favorite, The Iliad) can cause the reader to lose interest. Well-crafted tension building on the other hand, can lead to some awesome action.

• The situation should be emotionally charged. If it isn’t, you risk sounding cartoon-y. The fight should suggest deeper issues, reveal character flaws, or perpetuate themes.

• The less clichés, the better. Be creative. Go beyond punches to the face, or knees to the groin. Try an elbow in the eye. An ear twist. Finger biting. Really dig your heels in. Without fresh language to bring a brawl to life, your characters become robotic.

Like I mentioned above, create a perception of absolute chaos. The readers should hear the commotion in their heads as they read. There are ways to do this. Sound effects help—breaking glass, tumbling furniture. Other background noises may include a passerby yelling at the culprits to stop, or to keep going. It should be quick too. To the point of barely knowing what happened. Now that’s what makes a good fight!

Thoughts? How do you go about writing violent scenes?

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Filed under Characters, Plot & Structure, The Writing Life, Writing Tips

Far Out: Writing fiction set in different decades

I’ve always been fascinated by decades past, particularly those before my birth.  My novel spans the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I’ve written short stories set in similar periods. It’s not easy to capture the ‘vibe’ of another decade, because it goes beyond saying, “My story is set in the seventies so I’ll have my characters watch The Brady Bunch.”  Dropping popular celebrity names, fashion styles, or any peppering of timely—and obvious—pop culture references will not do the setting’s vibe justice.

When I first began to research my novel’s era, I was biting off more than I could chew. Countless hours were spent memorizing hairdos, current events, slang terms, and more. None of which, might I add, turned out to be successful in creating my story’s (totally far out) vibe. In movies and television shows these elements may be important due to their visual natures, but it doesn’t work the same way in literature. Though some well-placed epoch-relevant allusions work well, there is no need to constantly remind the reader what decade it is. The groove should take care of itself.

Nicolas Raymond → in Objects

So taking a step back and re-analyzing the situation, I found that taking a broad, academic approach to researching a different decade works wonders. Take any ten year period and think about the big picture. What were people’s hopes and fears at the time? What philosophies surrounded the era? This is what I mean by vibe.

Two great books have aided my process:

Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and The Making of Eighties America  by Phillip Jenkins

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now–Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota

Both books gave a comprehensive overview of the 1970’s and 1980’s, respectively. Just having a sense of the overall climate of the two decades gave me tremendous insight.

In the meantime, I’ve developed some strategies to live by when researching the glory days:

  1. Peruse books, magazines, and newspapers from the era. I got lucky when my father-in-law came across boxes of old Newsweek compilation books in his garage. The books were categorized by year.  From obscure cigarette brands to long-forgotten car models, vintage kitchen equipment, and not to mention, the big stories of the day, these books greatly contributed to my setting’s ‘vibe.’
  2. Watch television shows, movies, and music videos (if applicable, otherwise, listen to the music) of the era. Also, read books written during the era. Particularly with film and television, this helps with the visuals. The semi-faded backgrounds, the slower day-to-day pace, the humor, and of course, the ‘look and feel’ of the decade. Translate this into the writer’s mind, and somehow, magically, it ends up on the page. I’ve made a point to watch movies like Saturday Night Fever, The Breakfast Club, and other pop culture classics circa…well, fill in the blank. Nick at Nite can be helpful, as can old episodes of Saturday Night Live.
  3. Watch television shows, movies, music videos, and read books that portray a different era. Get some ideas on how it’s been done. Which ones are believable? That 70s show, Happy Days, Mad Men, and The Wonder Years come to mind. As do films such as Dazed and Confused, Rock Star, The Sandlot, Forrest Gump and A League of Their Own.Some great fiction that depict the days of yore? Try Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance (Told in parts during the 1930s—what a feat!), and of course, many more.

My main point in this: the details do matter, but so does the bigger backdrop. Establishing setting (either time or place) on details alone just won’t do the trick. The vibe is crucial, even in its most subtle forms. Without the vibe, the story’s just stuck in some timeless purgatory.

Have you ever written in an era other than this one? Did you go back even further (in other words, a ‘real’ historical novel)? What was your experience like? How do you capture ‘the vibe?’

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Breaking Through, The Setting, The Writing Life, Writing Tips

What’s the right point-of-view for your story?

New York Binoculars. Brian → in Objects

Like characters, plot, and setting, a story’s point-of-view can go a long way. Points-of-view in literature have always fascinated me, and I’ve found that most writers tend to cling to certain perspectives. I, myself, tend to gravitate towards first person and third person limited. In fact, I’ve never attempted a multiple point-of-view story! Now I’m suddenly feeling like a novice 😦

Either way, I think certain stories lend themselves to certain points-of-view. I can’t possibly imagine a grandiose bildungsroman such as Great Expectations being told in any perspective outside first person.

I’ve written up a brief overview of each type below. This knowledge is mostly a culmination of courses I’ve attended, books I’ve read, and writing I’ve done. I’m presenting this information to you based on my own…wait for it…point-of-view! I certainly don’t claim to be an expert:

The Major Types of Point-of-View

First Person: These are stories told in the “I” voice. Many budding novelists use this perspective because it feels natural. Generally speaking, first person stories have that unmistakable ‘flow.’ This point-of-view is never to be confused with the author; in fact, the narrator is an actual character in the story.

However, there are two different kinds of first person narrators. (1) A character who is actively involved in the story. Think Jane, from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. (2) A character who is a casual observer. Think Nick Carroway from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Nick may be dictating the course of events, but the story actually focuses on Jay Gatsby (arguably, anyway). Think about how the story would change if Gatsby himself were the sole voice.

Pros:  the reader has the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with one of main characters. Plus, generally speaking, despite bad behavior and less than stellar moral conduct, a reader will root for the protagonist, because it is impossible to see the situations through anyone else’s eyes.
Cons: the reader may miss out on secondary characters’ points of view, thus, misinterpreting their true motives; moreover, the notion of the ‘unreliable narrator’ is most palpable here.

Best used for: Coming of age stories, or other stories where the protagonist undergoes a transformation, has an epiphany, etc.

Second Person: In some cases it is basically a first person narration talking to himself. It could also be the narrator addressing another character (perhaps a lost love?) Finally, the “You” the narrator can speak directly to the reader.

Pros: involves the reader, as if he or she is part of the action taking place in the story
Cons: hard to get involved with the characters’ thoughts, emotions, etc.

Best used: (I’ve heard) Detective or ‘crime solving’ novels, or perhaps a series of letters to another character.

Third Person: Here we have an unknown narrator who is not part of the story. This narrator can shift points-of-view from one character to another.

Pros: generally not unreliable, has multiple perspectives, and can refer to situations and instances outside one sole character’s mind.
Cons: shift from different perspectives can blur, be jarring for the reader

Best used for: Family sagas, any story with more than one main character

Third Person Limited: In some ways, this is very close to first person, because the point of view focuses solely on one character’s perspective. It is an outside force, narrator, that “knows all” without being an actual character, but really only is able to get inside the mindset of one character—nine times out of ten, the main character

Pros: reliable, slightly more open than first person, can be aware of character thoughts that character him-or herself is not aware of—more difficult to do this with first person.
Cons: limited perspective, can’t hear the one character’s voice as clearly as first person

Best used for: coming-of-age stories, short stories (which doesn’t always have time to switch character points of view)

Omniscient: This is a big, grandiose perspective. In other words, “God-like;” sees all, every encompassing move surrounding a band of characters. Does not focus on any characters’ too closely.

Pros: wide, can refer or remark on things characters can’t see, such as someone creeping up behind them in the woods, etc.
Cons: distance from characters. Can watch movements, hear things they say, speculate on them, etc, but can’t get inside any of them.

Best used for: poems, certain short stories, can be disconcerting in novel form

Please tell me…which point-of-view do you tend to write in? Which point-of-view do you enjoy to read most? Waiting for your thoughts.

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Filed under Books and Literature, The Writing Life, Writing Details, Writing Process

Why as writers, we strive to make sense of the world

Stephen Rayburn → in Plants & trees

I’m a reader, teacher, and (intrinsic) writer of literature. I’ve been trained to make meaning from the meaningless. To spot symbolism. To recognize “patterns.” For example, in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening bird references run rampant. First there is the notion of the ‘caged bird,’ hence, the life of the Victorian woman, but as Edna Pontellier’s story moves forward, and she both physically and mentally escapes her bounds, the bird becomes an emblem for freedom—well, sort of.

This post is not an analysis of The Awakening. Instead, it’s an examination of both the reader’s and writer’s minds. As a student of literature, I would have been expected to pick up on Chopin’s bird motif. As a teacher of literature, I might expect my students to do the same.

I’ll always attest to the fact that my extensive reading of the classics and beyond has forever changed the way my brain functions. For years, my search for the significant went beyond the page. Those crocuses sprouting from the dusty snow became a personal “sign.” Hard times are over; transformation is possible. The stray cat in my backyard became an omen for an unexpected visitor. The tenuously shaped heart in the foam of my beer meant love was on its way. It was as though my life were a novel.

Recently, however, I discovered that science can explain this need to make sense of one’s surroundings. In the July issue of Psychology Today magazine, author Matthew Hudson says in his article “Your Sixth Sense:”

“Pattern-finding is so central to survival and success that we see patterns everywhere, even in random data—a phenomenon called apophenia. We spot faces in clouds and hear messages in records played backward. And while we expect some level of order in the world, on occasion our pattern-spotting gets away from us and makes a connection we wouldn’t expect. When that happens, we demand, at least subconsciously, an explanation.”

For the full article click here:http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201206/your-sixth-sense

Hudson says (and I paraphrase) that since our early schooling days, we are taught to recognize patterns. For example, we learn the alphabet and to count—all pedagogical pattern-finding practices. We are shown that the American Flag signifies liberty, and thus, our minds begin to associate stars and stripes with pursuing our dreams.

I believe we writers…we intrinsic writers are quite the experts on this practice. To us, everything is figurative. I’ve gotten so adept at this system that it happens naturally as I write. For anyone who has ever seethed in skepticism, “Did the author really mean to do that? Did she really intend for the road kill on the boulevard to mean that Mrs. Bumblestick’s dreams of becoming a model were ‘squashed?’”

My answer? Maybe. But more likely, with consistent practice, the author has simply gotten good at creating a web of connotation.

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Filed under The Writing Life

How the club scene gave me insight on characterization

Take a minute and think back to a book that you loved, but a read a long time ago. Got one? Good. Now what do you remember the most about the story? The plot? The conflicts? The setting? The descriptive writing? Maybe somewhat, but most likely, right about now, you’re recalling a character.

Characters make or break a story (like you’ve never heard that one before). They are the driving force. Characters are to literature as subjects are to sentences. They perform all of the action. They are the ‘who’ in the ‘who, what, where, why, and how.’ See what I did there? 🙂

That’s why it’s so important to develop rich, flawed, plausible characters. No stick figures. No stock figures. No one-dimensional perfectionist heroes. Real people. Your mother. Your boyfriend. Your neighbor. You.

I wrote an article for Suite 101 that outlined the difference between round and flat characters. See here: Round Characters vs. Flat Characters

But as I grow with my writing, I’ve come to learn that the trick for creating indelible characters lies within the fundamentals. The essentials. The stripped-down-naked emotions. The desires, the needs, the motivations, the vulnerabilities, or perhaps most importantly, the intentions. It may take a few drafts to get there, but once you do, once you see what your characters want, what they are after, the other stuff–physical traits, personality, backgrounds–cleanly fall into place.

I’ll give a real life example. This past weekend was my bachelorette party. We went down to Atlantic City, and stayed at Harrah’s. At night, the hotel pool area is given a sort of pseudo club vibe with remixed versions of various already-disposable Top 40 hits. Hardly my scene, especially since at 29, I felt like the Grandma who seemed to have forgotten how to walk in four-inch heels.

Random groping, photobombing, and dresses that fall right below the butt cheeks were the norm. I could practically smell the pheromones. Naturally I’d never been more grateful for my soon-to-be husband, or quite frankly, my age. If I’ve ever wished I was twenty-two again, I don’t after this weekend, because being twenty-two means going to the pool after dark. And going to the pool after dark means being star struck by Jersey Shore cast members.

At one point in the evening I found myself talking a twenty-three year guy who seemed flabbergasted at the thought of my getting married. “That’s such a long time,” he kept saying. “You’re twenty-three,” I responded, “for tonight, just focus on finding a dance partner.”

But then the conversation took a strange turn. Yes, I’m aware of his state of inebriation, but his whole tone changed. “It’s weird,” he said, “last night I had a dream about a brunette, and I don’t know, I was in love with her or something.” He proceeded to tell me that girls from his town didn’t take relationships seriously, and an ex in the past had hurt him, and so forth.

It dawned on me then. Maybe deep down, this hand-friendly crowd is hoping to meet someone interesting, hoping to feel a spark, a connection. Perhaps secretly, all they really want is a reason for going out, for dressing inappropriately, for drinking beyond recognition…maybe….just maybe, they are hoping to go beyond the overstated notion of ‘scoring.’ Maybe they want to be carried away by love.

Not everyone in the club of course. But some. Your character maybe. See what I did there? I’ve come full circle. If you, as a writer know that in essence, your binge drinking, weight lifting, protein gurgling, hair-gelling party guy character wants someone to connect with…it’s easier to establish his purpose. He may act one way on the outside, but you and your readers know what it is he truly longs for. And that, my fellow intrinsic writers, is what makes a well-rounded character.

9 Comments

July 17, 2012 · 6:06 pm

What is REAL writing? (The case of the babbling brook)

On a recent walk, I treaded upon what some might call a ‘babbling brook’ that ran adjacent to the family-centered park. The water was shallow; heavy, smooth, moss-covered rocks made for slippery pathways from one side of the stream to the other. No frogs, no mallards, maybe a couple of crayfish, and only about fifteen feet away from a plastic playground supported by pieces of shredded tires, and bordered by thin wooden planks. Still, it was canopied by an assortment of trees, and  daggers of sunlight jutted through the leaves’ crevices. Not exactly Yellowstone National Park, but a quiet (ish) place for reflection.

But then I hollowed out all the surrounding noise, and listened…what a sound! Mellifluous as a cello. The brook had such consistency, such purpose, such continuity.  The water knew which direction it was going, and there it went, with unyielding persistence. I sat on a nearby rock and wished I had brought my journal. What a perfect place to write! I could compose the proverbial Great American Novel out here in the partial shade, geese honking from up above, and the echoes of children’s laughter tickling my ears.

Then it hit me, and it seemed too, the water stopped flowing. No I couldn’t.  Who writes sitting atop a rock? My butt would cramp up. What about those unexpected gusts of wind? It’d screw up the pages in my journal—blowing ‘em this way and that. Bugs. Mosquitoes. I might inhale a fly. And am I nuts…children in the distance? Children in the distance? Mid-chapter you’d start to see my handwriting changing, first  the letters would form into a tight hybrid of print and cursive, as though I were writing faster; then, eventually, the words would be bigger, thicker, darker, as though I were writing harder, thus angrier. And can we all agree that angry writing equals poor writing?

There was a time when I yearned for those peaceful sanctuaries where inspiration was conceived and great ideas were born.* But I’ve realized that real, productive writing doesn’t happen that way. It happens at home on the computer. Long, long, hours on the computer. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, inspiration can go to Hell; writing doesn’t get done that way either. Writing gets done by sitting in a chair (not a rock) in front of the computer. Writing gets done a second, third, fourth, etc. time…wait for it…on the computer! It’s rigorous, it’s trying, it’s wearisome, and unlike the babbling brook that travels in one fluid direction (I’m not taking weather into account at the moment) while real writing takes many turns, and often ends in a place where one never even began.

A first draft of a poem? OK, maybe. Ideas? Yes, definitely. A well-crafted, sweat-over, labor-inducing novel, collection of stories, or other long work? Let the babbling brook be. And leave those crayfish alone.

*Cliches intended

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Filed under Inspiration, The Writing Life, Writing Process

Why I will not publicize my writing goals

Anyone who follows this blog knows one thing for sure: I want to write. Not only that actually, in fact, I want to be a writer. Yes, this is a goal of mine, but that—aside from the various writing-related quandaries I discuss so ebulliently with you on a weekly basis—is about as far as I’ll go. I will shed no light on my specific goals, nor will I enlighten you with the proverbial notion of where I’d like to be in five years. Why? Because despite Emma Bombeck’s adage, “It takes courage to show your dreams to someone else” it has never, ever worked for me.

In the past, publicizing my aspirations has lead to one of three outcomes:

  1. The corresponding person, in blunt terms, doesn’t give a rat’s shiny ass
  2. The corresponding person masks an envious expression, which leads me to believe that he or she secretly hopes I will fail.
  3. The corresponding person feigns support by smiling and nodding; this is where my ability to read minds comes into play. He or she is churning this perception around his or her brain: Yeah sure, like that’s going to happen.

Recently, I came upon number four on my list of “Clandestine Ambitions.” I commonly use talks from www.ted.com in my English classes. In turn, I regularly peruse the site for interesting lectures to entice thought in both my students and myself. I came across Derek Sivers’ three-minute speech, “Keep your goals to yourself.”

I’ll paraphrase. When one spreads the word of a new resolution, it is more likely that said person will not reach said goal. Why? Because, psychologically speaking, simply relaying the fact that I will learn French, or I will open my own yoga studio deceives the mind. It makes us feel like we’ve already accomplished something. In turn, the goal is never realized.

I recommend watching the clip. It’s ingenious, and it totally supports my argument.

I’m not saying that this works for everyone. I was born an introvert, and holding in my personal feelings has always come naturally to me. Sure, some need the motivation that comes from others. I am not one of those people. My intrinsic determination runs deep, and I know exactly what I want to accomplish. I have a clear-cut vision. I’m just not going to tell you what it is. (Sticks tongue out).

Agree? Disagree? As always, all comments are welcome.

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Filed under Breaking the Rules, The Writing Life, Writing Fears

You might be an aspiring author if…

I started thinking about Jeff Foxworthy, and the old red neck jokes, and came up with this: You might be a writer, author, aspiring author/writer, if….well, here are ten of my own benchmarks. Let me know if you agree…or can add a new one!

10. Entering a bookstore (full of works by already published authors) leaves you feeling both invigorated and envious.

9. You read novels, short stories, memoirs, poems for both pleasure AND education.

8. Every email, flyer, notification, tweet, blog post, magazine ad, etc. that offers a webinar, class, conference, getaway or service that you cannot attend, drop in, frequent, or take advantage of due to time, money and practically leaves you with that regrettable notion that you’re missing something important.

7. Every fantastic novel you’ve read since you’ve started your own has made you want rip out the pages, pour water on the Kindle, and throw them both in a fire pit; because, daaamn, this author is SO much better than you are!

6. Laundry, food shopping, house cleaning, wedding planning, tooth brushing, eyebrow plucking, nail clipping–just about everything other than writing–feels like a GIGANTIC waste of time.*

5. Everyday you kick yourself for not beginning your project sooner–like when you were 12.

4. What to do first? Research publications? Network? Blog? Tweet? Read? Write? Drink?

3. On a daily basis, you: curse out the world, for moving too fast; yourself, for getting to old; your friends, for using one of your perfectly good, full-of-spare-writing-hours weekends to whisk you away to Atlantic City; your cat, for sticking her butt in your face as you try to write.

2. You’ve realized by now that in this creative pursuit, there are no patterns, no formulas, no quick tickets to success; in fact, the only thing you can really count on is sheer persistence.

And on that note…

1. No matter what stage of the game you’re at, you’re going to keep doing it, because frankly, it’s who you are.

*This does not include new episodes of Mad Men.

 

 

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Filed under The Writing Life, Top Ten Lists, Writing Fears

Ideas for Writing: Five plot-centered prompts to get started!

Be kind, please. I’ve never actually done something like this before. Well, OK, that’s not 100% accurate. Once in a grad class, a professor asked us each to create our own writing prompts. Then he read them (anonymously, thank goodness) out loud and we all picked one for a free writing exercise. He didn’t withhold his opinions, however, on which prompts were worthy and which ones were crappy. I remember when he read mine, he raised his eyebrows and blinked three times in row, a facial expression that could only be construed as: Whoa, this one’s out there. I still believe very much in my prompt! In fact, I included it below–see if you can figure out which one received the ‘look.’

Anyhow, these are some original writing prompt ideas. In this segment, they relate to the plot points of a novel, story, poem, etc. If you’ve seen any of them before, it’s pure coincidence. As far as I’m concerned, they all come from my intrinsic writing brain:

1. A woman is standing at her kitchen sink washing dishes, when she notices, from out the window, a solitary, red (or any color, really) balloon floating in the vast sky. This reminds her of a significant childhood experience. Write about it.  OR A solitary, red balloon is floating in the vast sky. Tell the story of how it got there.

2. Four teenage friends are trying to get into (any concert) back in (any year). Write about their adventure.
For example, it’s 1978, and four high school sophomores from New Jersey are just dying to get access into CBGB’s. How does the night unravel? This may or may not require some research.

3. An old man from the World War II era is taking a long train ride to visit his grandson. When a  strange woman takes a seat across the aisle from him, he is suddenly taken by a distant memory–the day he lost his virginity to a prostitute while in the service. This also may require research.

4. A little boy (or girl) gets separated from his mother at a carnival, and witnesses something that terrifies him. Tell the story from the child’s point-of-view.

5.  A young man sees a young woman in a movie theater, and swears he knows her from someplace. He barely watches the film, because he is trying in vain to figure out why she seems so familiar. After the credits, he follows her outside and approaches her. Who is she? What happens?

This is a fun exercise because it not only gives my readers potential ideas, but it gives me ideas too. Any of these prompts can twist and turn in directions a writer never expected. That’s really the beauty of it all, isn’t it?

Anyone else want to contribute? Pen your own writing prompt below!

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, Plot & Structure, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Setting, The Writing Life, Top Ten Lists, Writing Tips

What are your writing obsessions?

I’ll admit, I’m ripping this one off an old college professor. In a poetry writing course some years back, she asked us to consider our “poetic obsessions.” She even brought in some of her own compulsions from her office within the same building. Vintage advertisements from a younger America, books with brown, image-less hard covers and yellowing pages, china cat figurines with chipped ears. She spread it all out on the long conference table. Told us to sift through it, get inspired, write a poem. “We all have our own obsessions,” she said, “obsessions which fuel our writing, whether we’re aware of it or not. Go home and scan your bedrooms, work rooms, or other places you may sanctify. Examine your bookshelves, closets, dresser drawers. What seems to come up over and over again? These are your obsessions. And I’ll bet you anything that from time to time, they inexplicably show up in your writing.”

I was eager to come home and observe my space for my obsessions. I went straight to my office, and just as my professor said, I noticed some patterns. Flowers, for one thing. Fake flowers. Feather flowers, glass flowers, plastic flowers, wooden flowers. On my desk, shelves, end tables, etc. Then there was my lighthearted fixation on the occult: astrology books, psychic books, palm reading cards. I also have a greeting card with a painted fairy balancing the scales of justice on her shoulders. LIBRA it says in fancy font across the bottom. I have posters, calendars, and books on Elvis Presley. Numerous more books on rock ‘n roll, and Rolling Stone compilations, etc.  I was surprised to find I had more than one book on England–some simply images of the countryside, some tour guides, and some chronicled histories, including an anthology on the kings and queens.

My photo albums are chock full of pictures of myself as a child. On an antique step ladder that I use for decorative purposes are photographs of my grandparents as children. I have another framed picture of my father and uncle as young boys. Then there are the lighthouses–tiny knick knack versions of course. My grandfather–formerly of the Coast Guard–was an avid collector. I also have an image of a lighthouse I took with my digital camera on the background of my computer. And cats…paintings, books, and a humorous tapestry that says, “The more I get to some people, the more I like the cat.” Plus two real live ones that like to rub against my face as I write.

I could go on (Thomas Kinkade desk calendar, prints, and collectors’ coffee table books), but I’ll stop and say this: At one point or another, all of these things have turned up in my work. We all write for various reasons, and sometimes we get too caught up in the ‘business’ side of it–publications, queries, conferences, platform building, etc. and while these elements of living the writing life are both important and thrilling, I think sometimes we forget that writing is a subliminal, unconscious process that can help us connect to our hidden depths, those things that make us who we are. Writing is channeling, it’s drudging up the dirt, and these ‘obsessions’ of ours are symbols, or keys have you, that unlock what we consider to be important.

So I’m interested…what are YOUR obsessions, and do they, perhaps inadvertently or not, reveal themselves in your writing?

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