February 2016 archive

Tarot Writing Prompt: Decisions, Decisions

swords02.jpegWE’VE ALL BEEN THERE. That moment when we have to make a decision—even though the choices facing us are bleak. We may try to forestall the inevitable, blindfolding ourselves to the necessity of choosing one not-so-good option over another. But eventually, the tide of urgency rises behind us and forces us to the keen sword-edge of decision.

Tarot writing prompt

Today, take pen (or keyboard) in hand and write about such a difficult decision-making moment. But first, you’ll have to make a choice.

Option A) Tell a tale from true life, detailing exactly what happened when you were faced with a plate of unpalatable choices. What were the circumstances? What was at stake? What was the worst (and best) that could come of any of the choices? Which did you pick? HOW did you pick? What happened next?

(Of course, you can drama-up the story. String out the suspense! Double up the consequences! Heck, go ahead and make your decision-making self a hero. Because you probably were. It’s tough to act when no action looks good.)

Option B) Create a character faced with an impossible decision. (Okay, maybe not SOPHIE’S CHOICE-impossible . . . but difficult, nonetheless.) Erect escalating tiers of stakes that force the character to the point of choice—and be sure to show the (excruciating!) risks inherent in her options. But what if your character bails? What if she is so completely paralyzed by choice that she puts her fate in the toss of a coin? Or in the pulling of straws? Or in a round of eenie-meenie-miny-moe? Welp. Then let the penny drop. Let the eenie-meenie begin. And when all is said and done, make her deal with the consequences of her (default) choice.

This writing prompt was inspired by the Two of Swords card in the tarot deck.

Storytellers of Tomorrow

THE STORYTELLERS OF TOMORROW Florida High School Creative Writing Contest

CW_word_0is presented by the Ringling College of Art + Design. The Ringling College BFA in Creative writing was created to support, empower, and honor young writers. Now, the creative writing department of Ringling is inviting Florida high school students to submit unpublished, original stories of up to 2,000 words for this inaugural Storytellers of Tomorrow Contest. The deadline is February 29th, so skateboard those entries right in! Click HERE for the full scoop.

This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by Ryan G. Van Cleave, Creative Writing BFA Coordinator, Ringling College of Art and Design and author of THE WEEKEND BOOK PROPOSAL (Writers Digest), MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES (John Wiley & Sons), and more!

Writing Prompt: Collectible

COMIC BOOKS. COINS. HAND GUNS. Thimbles. Breyer horses. Romantic conquests. Shoes. Recipes. Baseball cards. Tombstone rubbings. Tarot decks. hqdefault-300x225 copy

Q. What do all these have in common?
A. Someone, somewhere, collects them. (And may occasionally engage in some pretty edgy behaviors in the pursuit.)

Writing prompt

Make a list of collectibles. Then, building on your own experience as a collector, or your observations of a collector in your world, write about a situation (fictional or non) in which a collector of one of the categories on your list goes out on a limb, putting himself—or his loved ones—in jeopardy to acquire a new piece for his collection.

Does he cross the line into hoarding? Mortgage his house or skip the rent to make his purchase? Get out of his depth at an auction? List things that could go wrong. Then put a desired object just out of his reach—and go from there.

Writing Prompt: The Peter Principle

HERE’S A SECRET. Peter Elbow, author and professor of writing, is a crazy genius. dvd_jacket_301The spine of my worn, torn copy of his WRITING WITH POWER is cracked at Chapter 9, “Metaphors for Priming the Pump,” from frequent consultation. In that chapter, Elbow lists wild ways to help you get at a topic.

These include (but are not limited to!), “Questions to help you write a self-evaluation,” “Questions to help you write about a place,” and “Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma.”

Writing prompt

Just to give you an example, let’s hop to “Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma,” and see what we can make happen.

  1. To start I’m going to name a dilemma. (If you’re playing along, go ahead and jot down a problem facing either you or your character.)
  2. Dilemma: My unshaded front yard receives unwavering Florida sun. I dislike too much sun. Therefore, I dislike—and neglect—my yard.
  3. Now, I’m going to consult Elbow’s write-about-a-problem list. (If you’re still playing, consider these suggestions to apply to your stated problem.)
    1. The problem is that God is angry. At whom? Why? What did that person do to make God angry?
    2. Assume the problem is a problem of numbers. Try performing the following operations on it: addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, percentages, moving a decimal place.
    3. Assume the problem is sabotage.
  4. I’ve picked an approach: Assume the problem is sabotage. (Because, of course!)
  5. I’m going to write my little heart out about my too-hot-to-bear yard, as if it were an issue of sabotage, and see where it takes me. (Still playing? Pick a suggestion, apply it to your dilemma, and write your little heart out with me!)

The sun beats down on my tiny plot of green. Only it’s not green. It’s brown. Baked. Rimmed with twigs and sticks that used to be shrubs—and punctuated by a few upright posts that once were magnolia trees. Clearly, my yard has been sabotaged. I believe someone comes every night and pours acid into the soil. But why? What have I done to deserve this? I’m such a good neighbor! I pick up bits of paper left behind by the recycling guys. I pat all the dogs and coo at the babies. I even pay my HOA bill on time.

Still, it’s obvious. I have an enemy. And a clever one. One who knows that all I want is green and quiet and shade to meet me when I walk out my front door. One who wants me to be miserable for some reason. One who wants me to put my house on the market and move out . . . so they can move in?

Yes, that’s it! One of my neighbors covets my little sun-baked house and yard. But who could it be? Lorraine, three doors down? I’ve noticed her squinting proprietarily at my place when she walks to the mailbox. Her son recently lost his apartment. Could Lorraine have her eye on my house for Matthew?

Or maybe it’s Kevin. A) Kevin hates cats—and I feed the ferals in our ‘hood. B) Kevin’s own house is lopsided. (And who knows what else is wrong with it.) Maybe Kevin wants to walk away from his crooked little abode and set up housekeeping in mine, which, while unfortunate in its orientation to the sun, does at least sit evenly on its haunches.

Oh! No! I’ve got it! It’s Angela!! I wouldn’t buy Girl Scout cookies from her bratty little Missy, and this is payback! Plus, my kitchen is twice the size of hers, so if she forces me out, she’ll have room to set up her own cookie-baking operation (or meth lab; I have my suspicions about Angela) and give the Scouts a run for their money!

* * *

So. How did that go for you?

For my part, while I have yet to resolve my desert-yard problem, I did have a lot of fun. And I could imagine continuing forward from here with A) a mystery about a woman who is actually the target of neighborhood sabotage, or B) a drama about a woman drifting into clinical paranoia, or C) a psychological thriller about a woman who is both clinically paranoid AND the target of sabotage!

The larger point, however, is that I wrote something quite different than I usually would have (if I’d written at all!) because I was dragged so far from my typical literary course by Elbow’s suggestion my brain had to leap a hundred hurdles-worth of synapses just to begin.

For that, and so much more, I am grateful to Peter Elbow, whose own struggles with writing resulted in him finding around-the-back hacks to get (more! fresher!) words on the page every time.

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