Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spark Your Imagination With Writing Prompts

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Short stories, as with all fiction, require inspiration. Sometimes, real life can supply all you need. Scenes from movies or books can spark ideas. Or, you may have a fertile, twisted imagination.
For me, I’ve found that writing prompts are a great starting point. A writing prompt is a one or two sentence scenario from which a writer can construct a scene. Some are purely exercises, such as describing some object in your bedroom. Others place a character in a frightening or offbeat situation.

Here is one interesting prompt:
You have been captured by cannibals. How do you try to convince them not to eat you? If that fails how do you attempt to get away?
Here is one that is more of an exercise:
Write a scene where shadows or lighting create a mood.
Two writing prompts that particularly intrigued me turned into great short stories that received laughs and even applause at a writers workshop I regularly attend. I maintain a text file on my computer system to save interesting prompts as I come across them. I also jot down my own ideas, some of which are bare-bones notations, like:
An overgrown cemetery.
Or ...
A pet snake gets loose.
These are little things that flash into my mind or appear in a movie, and seem at the moment to have potential.

An excellent site to find writing prompts is Writer’s Digest. They add to them regularly and keep a long list of the older ones. So, if your imagination needs a jump start, take a look at it, or use your favorite search engine to find other writing prompts online.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Descriptive Dalliances

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

My recent foray into short story writing has included an effort to construct eye-catching or offbeat descriptions of things. When I see that in other authors' work, the image they paint jumps right off the page and fully materializes in my mind.

Here are some descriptions I've read that caught my eye. They go beyond the obvious and mundane, or say a lot with little:

  • At the open neck of her white shirt, which revealed hundreds of freckles, Coy caught the gleam of a silver chain. - The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
  • Big John Masters was large, fat, oily. He had sleek blue jowls and very thick fingers on which the knuckles were dimples. - Spanish Blood by Raymond Chandler.
  • Back and forth in front of them, strutting, trucking, preening herself like a magpie, arching her arms and her eyebrows, bending her fingers back until the carmine nails almost touched her arms, a metallic blonde swayed and went to town on the music. - The King in Yellow by Raymond Chandler.
  • A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand held up in a formal gesture of farewell. - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • Sophie Winslow and her flamingo-pink lips stood between him and the restroom. - Border Songs by Jim Lynch.
  • The floor between them was mined with Subway wrappers, Burger King sacks, and Pizza Hut boxes, the coffee table an avalanche of grease-stained magazines and unopened mail. - Border Songs by Jim Lynch.

Here are a few of my own descriptive lines I've written recently:

  • Blanden's greasy black hair and skinny moustache looked uncomfortably like a certain German Führer from the past.
  • The nearest working streetlamp - more than a block away - stood as a lonely sentinel, winking on and off at random intervals.
  • Knee-high weeds gawked at him on both sides of the walkway, a ragtag lineup of lookie-loos anxious to see what would happen next.
  • Dull gray wings hugged rows of ribbed white feathers along his underbelly. Round white patches ringed his beady, push-button eyes.
  • A piss-colored circus-tent housedress bulged over her ample frame, its pattern of delicate blue flowers mingling with spatters of crimson pizza sauce.
  • Across the room, a huge hi-def TV hung on the wall with two potted fichus trees standing guard on either side. On screen, the Home and Garden channel flaunted images of ritzy beach condominiums.

One of the great benefits of participating in a critique group is to put such descriptions to the test. Do they evoke appreciative comments from the other writers? Or, do they miss the mark and serve only as distractions? Are they noticed at all? Either way, it can be fun to conjure up odd ways to describe ordinary things so they seem not so ordinary after all.