Posts Tagged ‘creative writing prompt’

Writing Prompts: Using Them In the Introduction

Monday, July 6th, 2009

sunsetWriting instructors—and some clever websites—often provide prompts to motivate writers in need of a creative push. Although stories generated by writing prompts can read like exactly what they are (a story that must include the words “pig,” “rocket” and “deed of restrictions,” for example), they can also be excellent pieces of writing. When used creatively, writing prompts can lead to interesting, original stories.

Arguably, some of the most successful prompt-generated writing happens when the author uses the prompt as a trigger for his or her own ideas—ideas that are unrelated to the prompts themselves. Writers who take a moment to free associate based on the prompt often write something that is unconnected to the original prompt but that is filled with meaning for the author. Taking full ownership of the prompt can make the difference between a mere writing exercise and a well-crafted piece of writing.

One way to break free of the writing-exercise feel of a prompt is to use the prompt, or prompts, at the beginning of a story, in its introductory material. A prompt can, thus, motivate an author in the opening of a story without forcing the author to develop a plot that connects, for example, a penguin, a clown and a cigar.

The following is the unedited opening of a story based on three prompts—chicken, quilt and fake mustache. Below the unedited version is my edit of the text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

It was my turn to make dinner, and I was mad about that fact. I didn’t feel like cooking at all. All I really wanted to do was plop down on the couch and watch TV. I remembered the frozen dinners I had bought earlier that week, on special at the grocery store—two for one. I pulled them quickly out of the freezer and put them on the counter. We’d be having chicken again.

Bruce was wrapped in my grandmother’s old quilt, sleeping and snoring in front of the TV. I plopped down next to him and flipped away from the wrestling program he had been watching on the TV. I found a made for TV romance movie starring a washed up actress who seemed to have developed a facial tick since the last time I had seen her. Her love interest was a scared looking cowboy. The actor playing him looked terrified of his own horse. Or maybe he was terrified his obviously fake mustache would fall off.

Bruce groaned in his sleep, and I turned down the volume somewhat. Suddenly, Bruce was wide awake and gawking at me. I felt startled and looked away from the TV. “What?,” I asked in a frightened voice.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“What is it?” I asked softly.

“You know that convenience store I was telling you about?” he asked nervously.

I nodded. Bruce slowly unwrapped the quilt from around his body, revealing several stacks of twenty-dollar bills on his lap.

The final edited opening reads as follows:

It was my turn to make dinner, and I didn’t feel like cooking. All I really wanted to do was watch TV. I remembered the frozen dinners I had bought earlier that week, on special at the grocery store. I pulled them out of the freezer and put them on the counter. We’d be having chicken again.

Bruce was wrapped in my grandmother’s old quilt, snoring in front of the TV. I plopped down next to him and flipped away from the wrestling program he had been watching. I found a made-for-TV romance starring a washed-up actress who seemed to have developed a facial tic since the last time I had seen her. Her love interest was a cowboy. The actor playing him looked terrified of his own horse. Or maybe he was terrified his obviously fake mustache would fall off.

Bruce groaned in his sleep, and I turned down the volume. Suddenly, he was wide awake and staring at me. “What?” I asked.

“I have something to tell you,” he said. “You know that convenience store I was telling you about?”

I nodded. Bruce slowly unwrapped the quilt from around his body, revealing several stacks of twenty-dollar bills on his lap.

Here is the story opening with my editing marks visible. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

It was my turn to make dinner, and I was mad about that fact. [Linking this sentence to the next conveys the narrator’s feelings about making dinner.]  I didn’t feel like cooking at all. [“At all” doesn’t add to the meaning of the sentence.] All I really wanted to do was plop down on the couch and watch TV. [I cut “plop down on the couch” for two reasons. First, “plop down…,” as an expression, tends to feel clichéd. Cutting it keeps your writing fresh. Second, you later talk about plopping down. I didn’t think you should use this same term twice within two paragraphs.] I remembered the frozen dinners I had bought earlier that week, on special at the grocery store—two for one. [The detail about the special tends to pull the reader away from the story, so I suggest cutting it.] I pulled them quickly out of the freezer and put them on the counter. We’d be having chicken again.

Bruce was wrapped in my grandmother’s old quilt, sleeping and snoring [“Snoring” sufficiently conveys the idea of sleeping.] in front of the TV. I plopped down next to him and flipped away from the wrestling program he had been watching on the TV. I found a madeforTV romance movie starring a washedup actress who seemed to have developed a facial tick since the last time I had seen her. Her love interest was a scared looking cowboy. [I recommend cutting “scared-looking.” The cowboy isn’t scared-looking, but the actor playing him is. Your idea will be clearer if you don’t mention the actor’s frightened looks until the next sentence.] The actor playing him looked terrified of his own horse. Or maybe he was terrified his obviously fake mustache would fall off.

Bruce groaned in his sleep, and I turned down the volume somewhat. Suddenly, Bruce he was wide awake and gawking staring at me. [“Gawking” feels like too strong a word here. Wouldn’t Bruce merely be staring?] I felt startled and looked away from the TV. [The fact that Bruce is wide awake and staring at the narrator is sufficient to indicate to the reader that she is startled.] “What?,” I asked in a frightened voice.

“I have something to tell you,” he said. “You know that convenience store I was telling you about?”

“What is it?” I asked softly. [Although the narrator may have asked this question, it’s unnecessary to the dialogue.]

“You know that convenience store I was telling you about?” he asked nervously.

I nodded. Bruce slowly unwrapped the quilt from around his body, revealing several stacks of twenty-dollar bills on his lap.

[Please send me your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]