Your Weekly Writing Prompt
By Kate Gould
In France it is forbidden to call a pig Napoleon; in England it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow; in San Salvador, drunk drivers can be executed by firing squad; in Indonesia, the penalty for masturbation is decapitation; in Vermont, women must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth; and in Florida, it is illegal to have sex with a porcupine. Peculiar laws offer both entertainment and a fascinating insight into historical customs. As an exercise in research (and as a way to put off writing that feels productive), see if you can find ten.
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This six-word story by Ernest Hemingway is a flash fiction classic. In only eight syllables, there is a myriad of tales and images. Start with 100 words. Write a story of that length, then keep cutting until you get to 20 (or six, if you can manage it). Is your story still intact? Does it still contain the key elements – character, plot, and setting – with which you started? As you cut words, you will have to imply more than you write. In addition to being a way in which to put off whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing, it is also a good exercise in discipline because it makes you hone down your writing, conveying a tale to the reader without crowding your work with unnecessary detail.
You’re driving along a deserted road, miles from anywhere, when you see a wedding dress hanging from a tree. How did it get there?
The fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, is usually told in the third person with the assumption that the children and their father are good while their mother and the old woman who seeks to fatten and eat Hansel are bad. Change the perspective and rewrite it in the first person from the perspective of the children’s mother. What motives might she have had to send the children out into the forest? Did she know about the old woman? If so, how did they meet? Is she actually a baddie in the tale or just misunderstood? Rewrite the tale in any way you like – change the setting and denouement, for example – but make sure you write it entirely from the point of view of the mother.
Who took this picture?
You get up one morning to find a Dear John letter on your kitchen table from someone you thought died 10 years ago. What does it say?
This began as a Valentine’s competition, but it’s a useful writing exercise for any occasion. The discipline of conveying detail in a few words is a good tool to use in all aspects of your writing and, if you’re struggling with a blank page, it can serve as both a distraction and a way to get some words down on paper, hopefully lifting the dreaded block.
Write on anything you like, but if love inspires you, in the 17 syllables of a haiku, tell us why your Valentine is so very special. Or why you’re so right in being anti-Valentine.
In case you’re in need of a prompt, a haiku is a Japanese poem with three short lines of five, seven, and five syllables.
Matsuo Basho is said to have been a master of them. Some of his (not always altogether intelligible) works are below.
the first cold shower
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw
the wind of Mt. Fuji
I’ve brought on my fan!
a gift from Edo
a frog jumps
the sound of water
No epics of courtly love, no novels in verse, and no sonnets, please. Vent or exalt, but do it in no more than 17 syllables then submit it in the box below. We’ll publish our favourites in the next newsletter.
This is a sample from The Pocketbook Of Prompts: 52 Ideas For A Story, available through The Fine Line Shop.
If you would like professional feedback on any of your work, whether it was sparked by a writing prompt or something entirely different, please go to Our Services to find out more about what we do.
Copyright © Katie Gould 2010
About the author:
Kate Gould has worked as an editor, book critic, columnist, slush pile reader, writing competition judge, hotel critic, magazine editor, English teacher, and research assistant. She is now Chief Editorial Consultant at The Fine Line and author of The Pocketbook of Prompts: 52 Ideas for a Story and The Perfect Word: The Fine Line Writing Course. Her book on flashers, Exposing Phallacy, is to be published by Zero Books.
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