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Posts Tagged ‘writing prompts’

Everybody has a secret, one thing that they’ve been too embarrassed, too ashamed, too shy, or too afraid to tell anybody else.  Secrets are gold mines for writers; name five novels, and I’ll bet you that at least four of them are based, in part, on someone keeping a secret from somebody else.

There’s a lovely site that you may have visited called PostSecret; anonymous individuals write a secret on a postcard, and send it to be posted on the website.

It’s a treasure trove for writers wanting to generate material; often, the sender doesn’t reveal anything about his or her situation, just tells the bare bones of the secret, and leaves the rest up to the reader.  A few that I find especially intriguing are here, here and here.

Take a look at the site today.  Choose a secret, and write about the situation that might have given birth to it.

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Photo by Jason Scragz

Photo by Jason Scragz

From ear piercing to tattoos to plastic surgery to scarification, body modification has long played a significant role in worldwide culture, and still does today. It’s a nearly universal practice; historically, tattooing, scarring, piercing and the like have been used to mark rites of passage, to enhance beauty, to denote tribal or other affiliations, for spiritual reasons, and, especially in current Western culture, for self-expression and even shock value. On the other hand, body modification is still a taboo in many circles. To some, any kind of body modification that isn’t medically necessary is considered a desecration, a dishonoring of the sanctity of the body. In short, a form of self-mutilation. And, of course, there’s a wide range of opinion and feeling on the matter.

Considering the long and widespread history of body modification, and its cultural significance, this should be a fertile area to explore in fiction, especially for speculative fiction writers. Do the people who inhabit your worlds modify themselves? How? Why? Is modification a subculture or counterculture? Or is the absence of modification uncommon?

If you write contemporary mainstream fiction, consider your characters’ attitudes toward modification. Do your characters practice any sort of modification? What are their attitudes toward the common types of modification, such as piercings or tattoos? Are they likely to encounter the more uncommon types, such as scarification? What would their attitudes to such kinds of modification be?

For further reading:

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Ah, the Tarot. Images from movies and TV and books, of a Bohemian or mystical individual, laying

Robin Wood Tarot, magician

Robin Wood Tarot, Magician

cards out in an arcane pattern, telling us how our lives will progress, whether we will find love or win the lottery.

There’s both more and less to the Tarot than that; basically, it’s a series of cards with artwork depicting images of archetypes. Which is, of course, why they’re popular, and why they seem to apply to everyone’s lives. We won’t get into how, why, or whether the cards work on a personal level, though; we’re going to examine how Tarot can be used in fiction writing.

Because the Tarot are archetypal, they depict issues, traits and situations that are nearly universal.

Rider Waite Tarot, Fool

Take the Fool, for instance. The card shows a young man without a care in the world, with his head in the clouds, totally unaware that he’s about to step off of a cliff, and unheeding of the dog yapping about his feet, trying to warn him of his danger.

Who hasn’t been in this situation? We’ve all had moments of youthful foolishness, not knowing or not caring that there’s danger at our feet. Rather, we’ve been too wrapped up in the idea of adventure or love to notice any warnings the people and the world around us have given.

Each card of the Tarot is like this: each depicts a universal character, trait or situation. In fact, one view of the Tarot is that it is an outline of the Hero’s Journey, beginning with the Fool as the Call to Adventure, and ending with the World as the Hero’s Return. As such, the Tarot makes a very handy tool for writers. It can help generate material, or it can help flesh out existing stories.

Try this today: go to a free Tarot reading website, such as Facade, and choose a one-card reading. Read what the card means, and write. Let the card be a springboard for a warm-up or for a new story, and freewrite for ten minutes or so.

Soon to come: Using the Tarot to create characters.

If you find this post interesting, you might also want to check out the following blogs and websites:

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My computer died a couple of days ago.  Well, it didn’t completely die, but the video card did.  I didn’t lose any data; I just can’t see any of it.  Fortunately, my father-in-law owns a computer store and loaned me one until I can replace it.

For the two nights I didn’t have a computer, I felt like I’d lost a limb.  I sort of wandered around the house, not knowing quite what to do with myself.  I didn’t realize that the technology I’d thought of as simply another useful tool had come to play such a huge part in my life. 

I started thinking about technology, then in relation to writing.  Of course, technology plays a huge part in a lot of speculative fiction, whether in the highly advanced technology of futuristic science fiction, or the alternative technologies of secondary-world fantasy.  But technology doesn’t have to be vastly different from what we use now and today for it to be significant in fiction writing.

In what ways do your characters use current technology?  What roles does technology play in their lives?  How much of your plot and setting depends on it?  What happens if the technology they depend on doesn’t work?

If you could tweak one piece of existing technology to better suit your needs or desires, what would you do?  How would it affect other people’s lives?  If you could invent something that doesn’t currently exist, what would you create?  How would it change your life?  Your family’s life?  Your city, or your nation, or the world?

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Most of the writers I love have one thing in common: exquisite use of language.  Neil Gaiman’s words are razor-edged, as are Connie Willis’, Guy Gavriel Kay is fluid and lyrical, and reading Patricia McKillip is like falling into music.  Their styles, though, are very distinct, and there are elements of each of them that I’d like to emulate.

Students of visual art use master studies in order to study technique, color, etc.  So why shouldn’t writers?

I start by choosing a passage that I find particularly good in its use of language  Nothing too long, just a paragraph, or maybe two.  I read the passage a couple of times, and then I copy it out, preferably by hand, rather than on the computer.  Writing with a pen on paper gives me time to notice the texture of the words, the sounds, the rhythm of the author’s words.  I pay attention to sentence structure, metaphors, descriptors, everything that makes that particular author’s style unique.

And then, when I’ve finished copying the text by hand, I go to my computer and write.  Again, I don’t go for anything too long, just a paragraph or two, and try to incorporate those techniques into my own writing.

A logical drawback of this technique is that it could produce writing that is derivative, not at all original.  But if you try it with several authors’ work, the styles eventually combine in your own, mixing and meshing together into something entirely unique, entirely yours.

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When most people think about politics, they think of government policy, election campaigns, lobbying, and everything that involves the people who run the government.  Of course, politics encompasses more than just government.  Politics includes competition in the workplace, between family members, between members of any organization, even between friends.

It can be difficult to write about politics, however; it’s one of those touchy subjects that almost everyone has very strong feelings about, and many of us would rather not ruffle feathers.  And it’s hard to write fiction about current political affairs without giving your work a very short shelf-life.  But it’s difficult to write without somehow involving politics, whether in the sense of government, or in the sense of competition between individuals. 

If you write fantasy or science fiction, the issue of politics is particularly salient; writing speculative fiction is one way to write about current affairs while giving your work value that lasts beyond today’s headlines.  Many writers have used imaginary political systems to criticize their own, or to speculate about the long-term effects of the decisions their governments have made.

Think today about how politics touches your writing.  Do your characters have strong feelings about how governent should work?  Do your characters compete with others for the best job, the best seat at the table, the most attention from a mentor? Do their feelings about politics affect their actions?  If you write speculative fiction, is the political system in the world you’ve created similar to the one in which you live today, or based on systems from the past, or is it something entirely new?  What does your fictional political system say about the world you live in?

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I was talking with some friends at work yesterday about embarrassment.  Not just feeling mildly foolish, but the kind of embarrassment that makes you want to run and hide. The kind that makes you avoid certain people when you see them on the street.  The kind that comes back to you, years later, in the middle of the night, and you wonder what you could have done differently.

There’s a lot of energy in embarrassment.  It’s a universal experience; all of us have been absolutely mortified at one moment or another.  Thus, it’s an emotion that readers can readily identify with.

If you write fiction, it’s helpful, when writing about strong emotion, to anchor your characters’ experiences in your own; while writing about your own embarrassing moments might not be comfortable, your discomfort can help to make your characters’ discomfort more realistic, more palpable.  In addition, embarrassment and humiliation can be  strong motivating factors for characters; most people would go far out of their way to avoid being embarrassed, and most would go out of their way to redeem themselves after a humiliating situation. 

What are your most embarrassing moments?  Are they experiences that other people would find embarrassing?  What is your reaction to embarrassment?  What kinds of things in your surroundings do you tend to notice?  What physical sensations do you feel?  How long do these sensations last? What is the most embarrassing experience that you can imagine?

For fiction writers, what kinds of things would your character find embarrassing?  How are they different from or similar to what embarrasses you?  How does your character react to embarrassment?

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