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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Writing Prompt #20


            This prompt encourages a strong reliance on symbolism. Pick an item and make it the centerpiece of the story. Decide what it represents; freedom, rebellion, love. I don’t mean that you should have a story where the people are questing for a magic amulet. Take a look at Lord of the Flies. The conch shell holds metaphorical significance throughout the story.
            Even if readers don’t catch on to exactly what an item represents I find that by using this sort of prompt I can add an extra layer of depth to the story.  

            Here are five random items.  


            Pair of glasses

            Sports car


            A painted plate

            Based on a backpack I generated this pitch.  

World A-Whirl - When Jack’s parents start fighting over what to do with him, he decides it’s time to take off and see the world. He fills his trusty back-pack, convinces a friend of a friend to forge a fake ID for him, and then hops on a passenger ship for points unknown.
            The unfettered life agrees with Jack’s disposition – until he finds that a strange laptop has been stashed in his pack. Before he can boot it up and find out who it belongs to a trio of gun-wielding, sunglass wearing goons come after him. And just getting the laptop isn’t enough, they want him dead.
            Jack jumps ship when it docks in South America and heads for the American Embassy there, but is intercepted by hot looking chick that invites him to have a drink with her. After a flirtatious good-bye, Jack discovers that his backpack is gone, along with his fake ID. If he wants to get back home alive, he’ll have to get both of them back and deliver the computer to someone who can get him out of this jam.  

(Just as a note: my initial concept was to use the backpack as the centerpiece for the story. Once I decide what it represents, I can develop several scenes around that theme. However, the fake ID and the laptop also can be used to enrich the depth of the story.)


Writing Prompt #19


            With this prompt the author creates an unusual holiday. It can be something you are already passionate about, like camping, talking on the phone, or collecting cereal box tops. If all else fails you can take a random noun or verb and turn that into a holiday. Then use that holiday as the setting for your story.  

            Here are five made up holidays. 

            Parking Ticket Day

            Take a Swim Day

            Back to School Celebration

            Borrow Something Day

            Eat a Bug Week

            Based on Back to School Celebration I generated this pitch. 

Back-to-School Pool - After a long summer of swimming, biking, and fighting with her younger brother, Brenda is ready to head back to school. That is, until she notices the adults acting strangely. They seem a little too happy about getting the kids out of the house and rounded up in one place.
            With the help of her best friend and her annoying little brother they uncover the conspiracy of all conspiracies – a betting pool where the parents place wagers on how the children will perform during the upcoming year and throw a party for the event.

            Based on Swim Day I generated this pitch.  

Swim Day - No one considered what would happen to the inmates of Harbor Island Correctional Facility if the world stopped functioning as it always had. Now, ten years after the cataclysm, the survivors are desperate to find a way off the island. The first day of every month is Swim Day. The lucky winner of the Swim Day lottery gets a day to live as a cell block celebrity and then is cast into the waters and forced to attempt a trip to the mainland. If any have made the trip they haven’t come back to help the others.
            Stitch is drawn to make the swim. He’d been counting down until the day of his execution when everything went bad. Dying during the swim doesn’t bother him, but leaving behind the only person who ever treated him humanely does. He must do more than just survive the watery ordeal, he has to find a way to return and save his brother, the prison guard.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Writing Prompt #18

            PROMPT 18 – PH-PH-PHRASES 

            This may be the simples writing prompt in concept, but can be tricky to execute. All you do is take an old saying and find a way to turn that into a story, poem, or pitch.  

            Here are five sayings. 

            A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

            Don’t buy other people’s problems

            Look before you leap

            Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

            Happiness is a state of mind

            Based on “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” I generated this pitch.  

Trade-Day Hunt (Middle-Grade) - Trina loved the market on Trade-day. Today was no exception. Molly Burton had on her trade table the perfect doll. The only problem was that Trina didn’t have enough money. Calling upon the age-old tradition of barter, Trina agrees to locate two hard to find collectibles in trade for the doll. Very quickly, she finds out that the rest of the traders have deals of their own they need help with and soon she is in over her head with tricky requests. All of this for a doll – the perfect doll. 

            Based on “don’t buy other people’s problems” I generated this pitch. 

Space Junk - Roy Spunkmeyer wanted to be a space merchant since he was old enough to observe the stars in the sky. When an old friend of the family announces that he is ready to retire Roy jumps at the chance to buy the “slightly used” ship that Bill had been using over the last sixty years. Only after Roy spends the last of his savings, exhausted all sources of credit available to him, and convinced his parents to take out a mortgage on their home does he find out he has not only bought Bill’s business, but all of the problems that go with it. How will he, and the crusty old alien that comes with the ship, solve a cargo full of problems that were forty years in the making and do it in less than a month?


Writing Prompt #17

            PROMPT 17 – HEROIC REBIRTH 

            This is basically the Fantasy/Reality Collision prompt. The difference is where the Fantasy/Reality Collision is a fish out of water scenario the Heroic Rebirth is intended to bring the character’s personality into a new set of challenges.
            Choose someone you greatly admire (historic figures work best) and then place them into a vastly different setting. Figure out how their unique talents, skills, and personality traits would be put to prevail. Emphasize the strong characteristics of the person you’ve selected.  

            Here are five historic figures for the prompt.  

            Mother Teresa

            Groucho Marx

            George Patton

            Joan of Arc

            John Wayne

            Based on Mother Teresa I generated this pitch.  

Aliens Have Mothers Too - Becky graduated at the top of her class in Xeno studies. With the recent advances in warping technology the whole universe is open for exploration. She can hardly believe it when the governing board for Interstellar Research and Exploration assigns her to the most vital interspecies negotiation the Earth has ever participated. Until she finds out that she will be playing translator and nurse-maid to a talkative old woman without even a rudimentary education in alien affairs. What can Mamma Maude, as she insists on being called, bring to the table of interstellar diplomacy that will convince the rest of the universe to accept Earth into their community of civilized sentients.


Writing Prompt #16

            PROMPT 16 – ADVERTISING A-NO-NO 

            Commercials and product placement within movies provide the inspiration for this writing prompt. The idea is to take an advertisement on television, radio, or print medium and write a story about what would happen if the world was just as they depict it in the commercial.
            All that it requires to generate a story that’s a little more serious is turn the commercial into a sinister conspiracy. Imagine what nefarious goal, other than making money, a company might have for wanting you to purchase their product. You can even come up with your own diabolical sales campaign and sell us a product no one in their right mind would want to buy.
            A third method of using this prompt is through product placement. That’s when you see a product placed in a scene, like Pepsi in the Back to the Future films. Pick a story appropriate for the genre you’re writing and then drop that product right in the middle of the plot. Why is it there? How can it affect the characters and their interactions with one another?    

            Here are five alternate realities presented in commercials.

            Humanized candies (M&Ms) attend a hip party

            Life is one big fun-fest if you drink the right kind of beer

            Wearing clothes from this store will cause you to dance non-stop

            The car you drive defines your status in society

            The world will end if you don’t watch this week’s episode of this show


            Based on the M&M commercials I developed this pitch.  

Food for Thought - Lenny doesn’t have any friends. Unless you count his roommate Stewart; the only person in the world with less social skills than Lenny. Worse yet, he has three weeks to finish his final thesis for psychology and has no idea what to write about. Then Stewart asks Lenny to test his latest chemistry experiment – a food additive that will make people smarter. When Lenny takes the serum he doesn’t get any smarter, but now his food talks to him. Candies, vegetables, even soft drinks want to give him advice on everything from the stock market to his love life. He questions his own sanity and urges Stewart to find a way to reverse the effect until he realizes that what the foods have to say makes sense. 

            Based on beer commercials that depict a happy carefree atmosphere as long as you drink their product, I’ve developed a conspiracy to give people something to think about while they’re drinking.  

Happy Hour - Nate might be in a rut, but what a rut it is. Energy-drink his way through eight hours of complete tedium and then meet up with the gang at The Dive. As soon as that first beer hits the back of his throat everything changes. He laughs. The people around him laugh. They don’t even have to know what they’re laughing about. This is the life. And then Nate hits the jackpot; he wins a tour of the local brewery for him and five of his friends. He is half way through the tour when his alcohol-diminished sense of balance sends him tumbling down a set of stairs. Eventually, he wakes up and overhears a discussion that sends chills down his spine. The company is brewing up more than just some tasty suds, they have laced the beer with a chemical that overrides the human drive to excel thus making the country susceptible to an invasion. 

            Based on commercials on food storage I developed this pitch.

Canned Goods - While attempting to invent “Ready to inhale” dinners that a person merely breathes in to consume, Todd Frinkle stumbles upon a method of packaging good behavior. Just pop the top off a can of Consideration and breath deep and you will be amazingly gracious all day long. Fame, fortune and dreams of a Nobel Peace Prize all fade away when Todd discovers a group that plans to reverse engineer the technology so they can create a line of products that will turn people into remorseless killers. Even if he can find a way to stop them it turns out that the short cut to good behavior leads to a prolonged inability to tell right from wrong. But how can a crack-pot inventor, a couple of neighborhood kids, and a nearly blind dog going to prevent it?


Friday, March 25, 2016

Writing Prompt #15


            This prompt takes elements of the fantastic and combines them with the real world. It works with any genre, but fantasy does tend to clash the most with reality and the strength of this type of story is based on that incompatibility.
            There are two methods of generating stories with this prompt. The first is to take a fictional character and move it into a real world setting. But you can also go the other direction and take a historic figure and place them in a fantasy world.  

            Here are five fantasy and reality collisions.            

            Billy the Kid collides with Ghandi

            Dracula collides with the mafia

            Socrates collides with Barbie (the living doll)

            Wile E. Coyote collides with the Arizona Department of Transportation

            The Apollo 13 crew collides with John Carter of Mars

            For this prompt I have listed two movies using this principle.     

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Honest Abe is president by day and a vampire hunter by night. (Or so I’m guessing by the title.) Doesn’t that catch your attention? Aren’t you interested in seeing how the film makers put these two extremely different components together into a single cohesive story?

Enchanted – A fairy-tale princess is transported to the real world and falls in love with a single dad raising a daughter.

            The first example takes a real person and plops them into a fantastic setting. In the second story, a fantasy character is placed in the real world. These two films also work opposite sides of the entertainment spectrum, with Abraham Lincoln covering the horror genre and Enchanted belting out some humorous, family, musical fun.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Writing Prompt #14

            PROMPT 14 – FOR STARTERS 

            For this prompt you are going to borrow a line and use it as the start of your story. This could be from a conversation you overheard at the store. It could be the last line of your favorite novel. Novels, movies, songs, and news articles are all great sources for starting material, but you’ll want to change the line so that it’s a real attention grabber.  

            Here is the last line from my favorite novel, Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny.

            But coming upon the Common, the winds still break about him, and the heavens still throw garbage.”

            Based on that line I generated a first paragraph and this elevator pitch.

Down and Out on Earth – Sam used to be an angel in heaven. Not just any angel, but the leader of the crack legion of Avenging Angels. For millennia he served faithfully. Then a week ago God cast him down to Earth. Now mortal and without his angelic powers he must find a way to stop the approaching spiritual war before it destroys mankind.

“The winds broke around him as if they feared his touch and the heavens threw garbage. Both served as constant reminders of his current status with God. Even the humans took part of this grand snubbing and crossed to the far side of the street as he approached them.”


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Writing Prompt #13

            PROMPT 13 – BABY TALK 

            Art Linkletter wisely noted that “Kids say the darndest things.” For this prompt you will need access to a talkative child, between the ages of four to ten. It works best if you can watch the children in their normal environment as they interact with one another. Sooner or later they’ll drop a gem of an idea. However, I have gained reasonable results from coming straight out and asking them what they think would make a good story.  

            When I asked my seven-year-old what he thought I should write for my next story he told me it should be about a dragon that chased people around because he wanted to be friends with them.

            While my son’s suggestion would make an excellent picture book or Middle-Grade story I decided to turn this into a serious adult offering.

Roaring Dragon – Ben has been hired to travel to the backwaters of the bayou in order to study the body of a supposed dragon. When he arrives he discovers that the remains are not from any species known on Earth and begins a search of the area for a living specimen. Deep in the swamps, his hunting party becomes the hunted when a live dragon charges into their camp. Ben flees and becomes hopelessly lost in the swamp. He is rescued by the dragon and returned to civilization. During their trek the dragon reveals that she and her companion were emissaries to Earth from another dimension and if neither of them return home the warriors of their race will invade Earth and destroy it. Ben must find a way to get the dragon safely past the party of swamp folk that are hunting her and take her to the portal to her world.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Writing Prompt #12


            The title of this prompt might give you images of Tom Clancy-ish storylines, but since conflict is at the heart of every great story it can be applied to nearly any genre. Basically, all you need to do is adjust your mindset to embrace the concept that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Take a real organization or social group and imagine what it would be like if they were a front for an evil empire. Or maybe just a front for a petty gaggle of gossipers.
            Obviously, the more innocent and noble the organization is in the real world the more effect the story becomes when you make the evil-ization (Yes, I made-up that word). seem plausible. This prompt works best for thrillers, horror, and dystopian stories, but I’m going to demonstrate how appropriate it is for comedy.
            Important note: if you don’t want to get sued you should probably change the name of the organization you plan to send through the evil-ization process.

            Here are five seemingly noble organizations.

            Boy Scouts

            Weight Watchers

            The local food bank

            National Endowment for the Arts

            Nobel Peace Prize committee

            Based on the Boy Scouts I generated this elevator pitch.

Junior Man Scouts – Anyone who thinks the battle of the sexes is merely a phrase has already lost the war. Cole finds out what it really means to “Be Prepared” when he joins the Boy Scouts. Thoughts of pleasant weekend campouts and wilderness survival training all fade from his mind when he is recruited for an organization bent on proving that boys rule and girls drool.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Writing Prompt #11


            This prompt has some limitations because it deals with holidays. This is great if you plan to write for the Hallmark Channel and not so much if you deal mainly with science-fiction or horror.
            The idea is to take a holiday and push the traditions and celebrations surrounding it to the extreme. I find it best to focus your twisted imagination on only one aspect of the holiday, like the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree.
            Once you have the holiday-gone-wild concept worked out think of how it got that way and how it challenges your hero. Does your hero embrace the insanity and push the limits even farther or is he/she just trying to survive the event?

            Here are five holiday traditions.

            Turkey bowl
            The perfect Christmas tree       
            New Year resolutions
            Birthday cake
            Anniversary dinner

            Based on the annual block-wide football game I generated this elevator pitch.

The Family Bowl – One day each year determines a family’s fate until the next Thanksgiving. Life is great if your family wins the annual Family Bowl. For the rest of the year the people on your block are at your beck and call. But Josh was twelve and had only Mom and his sister, Stacy, to help him put together a grid-iron monster capable of beating the other families on the block. He needed a “Hail Mary” plan or his family would be on the bottom of the loser’s column . . . again.


Writing Prompt #10

            PROMPT 10 – DREAM GUIDE

            Many good stories start off as a dream. If you happen to remember your dreams then this can be a good source for plot ideas. In order to use this method effectively you will need to keep a pad and pencil next to your bed and train yourself to write down as many details of your dream as you can when you wake up.
            The advantage to this method is that it starts you off with a very strong image. There may also be powerful emotions that go along with the dream which you can then channel into your writing. The drawback is you will be trying to create a whole story from one, or two, scenes that might not make a lot of sense when you’re awake.

            I dreamed that I had two additional children. Boy they were a couple of cute little lads. They had names in the dream, but I didn’t follow my own advice and write them down when I woke. Based on that dream I developed this elevator pitch.

Dream Family – Danny woke up one morning to find he had two more children than he did the day before. Cute, vibrant, and loveable he bonds to them immediately. By the end of the day he wonders how his family and his life felt complete without them. But after he puts them to bed he receives a mysterious call which threatens the existence of his family—both the old and the new.

Writing Prompt #9

            PROMPT 9 – WHAT IF?

            This is similar to the stream of consciousness method of story generating. The difference is that you start with a topic and ask as many “What if” questions as you can. I love this prompt because I can do it when I am stuck in a traffic jam, waiting at the DMV, or otherwise bored. It’s especially helpful if you want to generate ideas in a specific area.
            Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and a couple of years ago I protested that the Hallmark channel introduces several new, formulaic Christmas stories each year, but does nothing for my favorite celebration. So I decided to generate ideas which could be turned into screenplays about Thanksgiving.

            Here is an example of the ideas this prompt generated.

            What if Thanksgiving had a hero like Santa, but was a talking turkey?
            What if a family was picked to have their Thanksgiving feast televised?
            What if turkeys celebrated Thanksgiving with us?
            How would our pets celebrate Thanksgiving if they could?
            What if your family tried to re-enact the first Thanksgiving?

            Based on “what if a family was picked to have their Thanksgiving televised” I generated the following story pitch.

Thanks a Lot - At its best, Marci hated Thanksgiving. People invited relatives they didn’t talk to the rest of the year to come over and stuff their mouths with turkey and stuffing all the while they fought over events that happened years before she was born. What made it bearable was that it only lasted a couple of hours. The joyous declarations of thanks were another matter altogether. Marci’s family bombarded her with greeting card sentiments all month long.
            And then it happened. Mom announced that the family had been selected to participate in Thanks A Lot; the holiday reality show that pitted families together to prove which of them were truly the most thankful family in the nation. Not only would the family take the normally shallow sentiments to new levels of sickening sweetness, but the entire nation would be tuned-in to see it.
            Marci had to find a way to survive a whole month of holiday madness and keep herself looking cool in front of the national audience.




Writing Prompt #8


            Although I haven’t tried this, I know that some authors use a stream of consciousness method to generate story ideas. For this prompt you find a spot to sit, place a pad of paper in front of you, and then write down whatever comes to mind. At some point one thought will lead to another, which will lead to another, and another. When you think you have enough ideas in front of you stop and look them over. Most of it will be a jumble of words, but a pattern should emerge that you can form into a story.

            Here are five words/concepts to start the stream of consciousness flowing.

            A doodle of a daisy
            An arrow pointing up
            Sound of a clock ticking

            Based on the sound of a ticking clock I generated the following pitch.

Clockwork War – Anthony has less than a month before he musters out of the army. Then during a routine patrol he runs across an enemy that makes a strange ticking sound when it moves. This strange mechanical army is marching towards the village where he lives. He must find a way to stop a seemingly unstoppable foe before everything he loves is destroyed.


(This was my train of thought that led to this story. Clock – clock in croc from Peter Pan - creatures/people walking with clocks in them.)