Strange Writing Prompts For Your Boring Monday

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’m finding myself consistently disappointed by writing prompts I find on the internet.

I understand that the main point of these niblets are to get our minds jogging and not to help us produce a 1,000 page Pulitzer Prize winning work of art. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel like they aren’t trying hard enough.

For instance, one of them might be like “you are home alone and desperately want a pb&j sandwich. However, you open the cupboard to find that your damn roommate ate all the peanut butter without telling you.”

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Or it will be something cliché like “you’re out walking alone when you spy an abandoned house.”

In light of this lack of imagination, I’ve decided to come up with my own horrible writing prompts for you to enjoy:

1. Scientists have discovered that unicorns are real and wish to integrate into horse society. However, the horses are afraid the unicorns will steal their jobs and form a union to prevent farmers from hiring them. 

2. An owl and a mouse fall in love, defying the social conventions of their people. Then, one night, the owl gets hungry. 

3. Siri develops a mind of her own and is totally cool with coexisting with the human race, provided a virgin software designer is sacrificed to her every full moon. 

4. A giant tarantula, King Tyrenious of Taranchia, First of His Name, appears in your bathtub and offers you his hand in marriage. However, after a misunderstanding with a bottle of conditioner, he declared war on your clothes hamper. 

5. 10,000 years in the future, humanity is divided into two factions: those who believe Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time and those who are wrong. 

6. Atlas shrugs and accidentally sends the world careening towards the sun. Onlookers languish over which Instagram filter they should use to capture this moment. 

7.  The demon who has been secretly living in your attic for 20 years writes you a message in tea leaves and blood, explaining that your relationship is not working out anymore. 

8. A door-to-door salesman angers a witch and is transformed into a public toilet at Grand Central Station. 

9You have just begun working as a public relations specialist for Journey Funeral Homes and must write a PR piece about how their slogan “Don’t stop bereaving” is not horribly offensive.  

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Your Characters are NOT Your Friends: A Public Service Announcement for Writers

I’ve seen several Instagram posts that say things like “is it sad that my characters are my best friends?” or “I have more conversations with my characters than I do with real people. Is that bad?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

Not because you’re a wallflower with friends that exist only in your mind. That’s perfectly normal*.

It’s sad because this means one of two possibilities: One, you are a horrible friend, or two, you are way, way, way too nice to your characters.

It’s natural to form an attachment to people that you’ve created. People have been doing this for centuries. The problem is when you care too much about someone, you want to nurture them, perhaps even protect them from impending doom.

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You cannot do this with your characters.

If you want a good story, you must put your characters through hell. Kill their families, have their lovers break-up with them, have owls eat their dogs. Nothing is allowed to go their way, or at least not for very long.

Loving your character too much might encourage you to go easy on them, to pull punches. Don’t do this. The best characters are forged in fire.

Another problem you can run into is making your characters too perfect. You want the audience to love your characters as much as you do, so you will have them always put their best foot forward. Problem is no one actually wants to read about perfect characters. Real people aren’t perfect so reading about someone who is takes the reader out of the story, constantly reminding them that what they are seeing is an illusion. And not even an entertaining one at that.

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Lastly– and I hate to break this to you– if your characters were magically able to obtain a physical form and interact with you they would probably hate you.

I’m not saying you’re a bad person it’s just that….

Let’s face it, you are responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened to them. Every illness, every death, every catastrophe that has every entered their lives is on you. You could literally make all their problems go away with the scratch of a pen. And yet, you sit there, drinking your coffee like a psycho.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your characters at all, if you don’t care then the audience probably won’t be persuaded to either. Just keep in mind that in order for them to reach their full potential, you must keep an emotional barrier between yourself and your creations.

A mother hawk may love her babies, but she’ll still push them out of the nest so they can fly.

Some of them may die, but it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.

*I have been informed that this actually isn’t normal and that most people have friends that exist in the real world. I was so shocked I couldn’t even find a gif that appropriately conveys my emotions. 

How I’m Writing What I Don’t Know

Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to write what you know.

However, I have decided to go the harder route and try writing what I don’t know.

Why am I trying to carry out this obviously horrible idea?

Because if I never try anything new, every single protagonist I write will be an introverted middle-class white girl from the midwest.

In this particular case, I am writing military sci-fi so I have to learn more about the armed forces.

How hard could that be?

It was a challenge at first. However, once you get past all the acronyms it still feels like your brain is melting.

Once you learn the ranking, then there’s the weapons and machines/equipment they use, and the training regiment. Then there’s figuring out the difference between a fire team, a squad, a platoon, a company, a battalion, a brigade and corps.

There are 8 to 16  soldiers in a squad, 2 or 4 squads in a platoon, 3 to 5 platoons in a company, 6 companies in a battalion, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

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When I venture out into uncharted territory, I always experience paralysis. Even after I do my homework and try to get as close to the facts as I can, there’s that persistent nagging sensation that tells me I’m going to get it wrong.

This leads to procrastination and mental gymnastics, all designed to keep me from trying.

Because not trying is better than trying and failing. Or at least that’s what my ego tells me.

Part of me wants to give up, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the best way for a writer to understand something is for them to write about it. By doing that I was able to come up with a list of strategies to use to fix my problem and yours as well if you’re struggling like I am:

1. Get a beta reader who knows more about the subject you’re writing about than you. Hopefully, you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is knowledgeable about the topic you are writing about and would be willing to provide their services. If they are reluctant to do so, I would recommend bribery: a pizza dinner for every chapter they read.

2. Get another beta reader who knows less about the subject than you. While you want to write like someone who understands the subject they’re talking about, you don’t want to get so technical that only people who are directly involved in this line of work or have studied this subject comprehend what you’re saying.

3. Reconcile yourself with the fact that you may get something wrong anyway. Try as hard as you can to make a good product. But if you wait until everything is perfect you’ll never produce anything. Take it from someone who knows.

Now go out there, my pretties, and make good work!

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When a Writer You Admire is a Jerk

A few years ago, my novel writing class had a high-profile guest speaker talk to us: the award-winning author of a YA book we had been assigned to read about a week prior.

I was pretty jazzed about it considering how much I’d enjoyed the story. I’ve had predominately good experiences with meeting published authors in the past and have always learned quite a bit from talking with them, so I thought this would be a positive encounter.

My first impression of her was not a bad one. She glided into the room on a cloud of confidence, cool oozing from every pore. She made us laugh, told us a bit about her writing process, and then she opened the floor for questions.

I was the first to raise my hand. She called on me and I asked her how much of the book was based on her own life.

I knew she was an army brat from the bio on the back cover of her novel, but I was curious as to how much of her MC’s life mirrored hers. I had a hunch there were quite a few parallels since most authors derive minute details from their own experiences, but I didn’t want to assume that everything was a perfect representation of her youth.

“Oh,” she replied, “that’s a tourist question. That’s not a good question at all.”

Me:

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Her:

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It’s always disappointing when you discover someone you admire is a jerk.

However, it can be a beneficial lesson to learn. It’s a reminder that, in spite of all that someone may have accomplished, they are still a human being, capable of fallibility. Some foibles are more significant than others, but we all have them. Even the most gifted of us. Especially the most gifted of us.

I’m happy this woman could teach me this lesson. So… very… happy.

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In fact, I’m so happy that I’ve been inspired to write the ultimate novel that will earn me critical praise as well as sacks and sacks of money. I will then use those sacks of money to create a giant pyre and burn all her books in a ceremonial fire.

Beware, jerk writer, I will be avenged through the power of literature!

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Editing My Novella, or the Red Pen of Death

I’ve put it off long enough.

I must edit the third draft of my story.

It’s been a while since I looked at this novella and, to be honest, I’m kind of terrified. Is it going to be better than I remember? Worse than I remember? I have no way of knowing until I reread it.

Will it stay a novella? Will I have to hack away at it until it’s a short story, or pile on it until it’s a full-length novel?

There are so many questions.

Unfortunately, there are no answers. 

Only the Red Pen.

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The Red Pen snorts at your characters’ backstories and your obvious social commentary. 

The Red Pen cares nothing for your need to impress your friends. It scoffs at your attempts at fictionalizing yourself and rewriting your high school years so everyone thinks you’re great and you date that hot guy from your chemistry class. 

There is no hope.

Only copyediting.

Remember that character you were going to develop, but then abandoned? The Red Pen does. That awkward sexual metaphor you made in the third chapter? The Red Pen noticed.

The Red Pen sees.

The Red Pen knows.

Wish me luck…

Letting My Friend Break My Kneecaps, or Getting Constructive Criticism

I am happy there is someone who is willing to give me their honest opinion of my work. It can be difficult to a) find someone who is willing to read anything, let alone something I wrote and b) find someone who will not pull punches when it comes to problems with plot, story, characters, etc.

I gave one such friend a manuscript for a short-story/novella I am writing and the response I received went a bit like this:

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My characters:

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Me:

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My friend:

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Okay, in all seriousness, it was for the best. Sure, she wrote a diss track on my story, but none of her critiques stemmed from hatred or toxicity. She even told me she liked the story in spite of its many, many problems. Most of the issues she commented on I had seen for myself and agreed with.

I don’t get writers that won’t take any type of criticism. I’ve had many writing classes and in each there is at least that one person who insists they are the next J.K. Rowling and refuse to believe that anything negative said about their work is be true.

The teacher is just jealous or that editor didn’t “get” the story, etc.

This may be condescending of me, but I have a nagging suspicion most of these writers aren’t going anywhere.

How do you expect to get any better if you don’t even know if you’re doing something wrong? Would it be better if your sky diving instructor didn’t tell you how to properly jump out of a plane?

Having a beta reader is undeniably crucial in my opinion. It’s so much easier to see what elements require further explanation, or which characters need more development.

Everything I type comes from my own head so I have the benefit of all that background information. The reader does not.

That doesn’t mean I’m immune to saltiness when it comes to remarks made against my babies, but I have learned that most thought-out criticisms have merit.

In the end, it’s worth all of the blows to the ego in order for my story to become the best that it can be.

Thoughts on “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it was recommended to me by a creative writing major at my university so I thought I’d give it a read.

I am so glad that I did.

This is, unquestionably, the best book I’ve ever read on writing.

And, yes, that includes Stephen King’s On Writing.

In retrospect, it’s so strange that it’s a mere 237 pages because every inch of it is jam-packed with wisdom and personality.

The latter brings me to one of my favorite aspects of this book: It does not read like a manual.

It’s like you’re talking to your cool aunt from across the kitchen table. In fact, I wish Anne Lamott was my aunt. She’s hilarious and passionate without coming across as hammy or pretentious. I can tell she genuinely cares about helping writers improve in their craft.

She has made several of the mistakes she lists in the book (and sometimes continues to make them), so she knows what she’s talking about. She understands rejection, jealousy, and wanting to be successful.

Her honestly can be a bit discouraging, but hope is a theme that resonates consistently throughout the book.

If I still haven’t convinced you to read this, here are reasons you should:

  1. It’s hilarious.
  2. It’s honest
  3. It’s short
  4. It’s personal.

If you want to write, read this book!