Writing prompt: Independence Day

Independence Day took place two days ago. The Fourth of July, as it is also called, commemorates the year the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. When did you declare your independence? What were you declaring independence from? Your parents? An unhealthy habit? A troubling past?

Spend five minutes writing about that.

Writing prompt: Clever trickery and deceit

It’s Wednesday, which means…it’s Writing Prompt Day! There’s nothing that jumpstarts a writer faster than responding to a writing prompt. Why? Because the prompt takes one of the challenges of writing — coming up with a topic — and does it for you, so you can focus on what you really want to do — write.

Just read the prompt below and then spend 5-10 minutes writing about it. That’s it. Sounds simple, but it works.

Chicanery: n. 1. The use of clever but tricky talk or action to deceive, evade, etc., as in legal dealings. 2. An instance of this. Synonym: See deception. — Webster’s New World Dictionary

Show a man using a bit of chicanery to get his inattentive wife to pay attention to him, even if she’s just complaining or reporting a problem. Maybe he hides her car keys so she can’t leave for work in the morning and comes to him all frazzled. Maybe he throws away all the salt in the kitchen, even when she buys more, so she starts to think she’s going crazy.

By “show” I mean instead of this:

The man kept hiding his wife’s car keys just to see her get flustered.

Do this:

The minute his wife’s back was turned, Jeffrey grabbed her car keys off the counter and stuck them in his pocket….

Writing prompt: Get trashy

Okay, we both know you’re a classy writer who only writes stories about saving the earth, improving the economy and lowering one’s cholesterol  — but where’s the fun in that?

Lighten up, Ms. Responsible. Let loose, Mr. Uptight. It’s time to have some fun with your writing, like Perez Hilton does.

Hilton’s website (“Celebrity Juice. Not From Concentrate.”) features everything from snarky movie reviews to photos of celeb cleavage and announcements of celeb breakups.

One of Hilton’s recent articles, “St. Jolie Visits Syrian Refugees,” is part news, part fun:

Angelina Jolie in Turkey -- Photo via Abaca USA


“Just another day in the life of Saint Jolie!” the article reads. “Yes, Mz. Angelina Jolie visited the Turkey and Syrian border this week to meet with Syrian refugees as part of her duties as an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During her visit, Angie will meet with some of the 9,600 people who have fled the violent protests occurring in Syria.

“Just before she arrived, Turkish authorities held a banner that read: ‘Goodness Angel of the World, Welcome.’ As always, it’s so wonderful to see her continue to use her fame to cause awareness around the world. So inspiring.”

What does this mean to you, a writer?

Well, for one thing, Hilton would make an interesting character in a story. According to his online bio, Hilton is:

  •  A Cubano and Miami native
  • The Internet’s most notorious gossip columnist
  • A Hollywood resident where he lives with his precious mini-Goldendoodle Teddy Hilton
  • One sweet yet snarky, sagacious yet salacious gay man
  • One of the 15 most influential Hispanics in the United States

Writing prompt:

Write a one-page scene showing a Hollywood gossip columnist interviewing a movie actor in the actor’s home. Write one version from the point of view of the columnist. Write a second version from the point of view of the actor.

Now wasn’t that fun?


Writing prompt: First lines of famous novels

When you can’t think of anything to write, try using the first line of a famous novel to get you started. Some examples, from American Book Review, a nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University:

1. Call me Ishmael. – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across the sky. – Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

For the entire list, go here.

Dangerous writing

This Wikipedia entry explains Tom Spanbauer’s concept of “dangerous writing, ” which is described as “writing that personally scares or embarrasses the author in order to explore and artistically express those fears honestly. Most ‘dangerous writing’ is written in first-person narrative for this reason and deals with subjects such as cultural taboos. Check out the Wikipedia entry, and then try some “dangerous writing” yourself.

Writing prompt: Bad writing can be fun

Here’s the opening paragraph of the winning entry in the detective division of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing:

She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad checks, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so.

Try writing an over-the-top opening to a detective novel. Hint: Have fun!


What I’m reading: A Walk in the Woods

I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a humorous account of the author’s adventures while hiking the Appalachian Trail. The book includes some history and ecology, as well. A fine example of immersion journalism (in which the reporter takes part in the event he’s writing about), the narrative is both entertaining and informative.

What outdoor adventure have you gone on that you could write about? What story could you tell that an armchair traveler would enjoy?

Writing prompt: Pants on the ground

The rap song  “Pants on the Ground” was written by 62-year-old Vietnam veteran Gen. Larry Platt. The song became an instant hit when Platt sang it on the TV show “American Idol.”  Although the song is fun, it also reflects Platt’s many years as a civil rights activist. In the song, he chastises young men for wearing their pants too long.

Is there a topic that fires you up, one that you could write a rap song about? To get you started, read Platt’s song printed below — and remember to have fun and include rhythm.

Pants on the Ground

  By Gen. Larry Platt

Pants on the ground

Pants on the ground

Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground

With the gold in your mouth

Hat turned sideways

Pants hit the ground

Call yourself a cool cat

Lookin’ like a fool

Walkin’ downtown with your pants on the ground

Hey, get your pants off the ground!

What I’m reading: The Kalahari Typing School for Men

One thing I enjoyed about Alexander McCall Smith’s light-hearted private-eye novel The Kalahari Typing School for Men is how well Smith conveyed the culture of Africa, everything from the formal style with which the locals address each other to how business arrangements are based on personal relationships.

What towns have you lived in? Would any of them make an interesting setting for a private-eye novel? What cultural aspects of that town could you use to create a sense of place?