A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving)

A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving) how to make a stronger villainYou know that moment when you’re writing something and what you’re writing gives you an idea for something else to write? Well, while writing last year’s “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt,” I couldn’t help but think about how it could be turned into a writing prompt for villains (and Thanksgiving).

Seem wrong? Of course it is! It’s villainous!

How to Make a Stronger Villain with the
Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

If you think back to last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt, you’ll remember that it was all about what characters want and how badly they want it. From a writer’s perspective, that’s important for figuring out character motivation and planning character behavior. From a villain’s perspective, it’s useful for almost exactly the same reasons.

After all, villains are plotting against your characters the same as you are (or should be).

That means that a very similar writing exercise can help you make a stronger villain and up the stakes of your plot. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick the villain and target(s) you’re going to work with. If this is for a book, the target should include all the heroes (all the people opposing the villain) – thinking of 1 is not enough, but you can work on them 1 at a time.
  2. Use the happy Thanksgiving writing prompt to figure out what the target(s) values. If you’ve already done this, all the better.
  3. Think of ways the villain could endanger the objects, ideals, or people the target values. You can aim for the most important ones, but a villain with a meticulous personality might try to cover them all. If the main hero’s family or valuables are protected, consider their friends or allies. There has to be a vulnerable spot somewhere.
  4. Integrate the villain’s plans into your plot. Does the villain do the work him or herself? Does he or she assign someone else? When do the point of view characters find out about the danger(s)? How is the danger averted? Are the attacks spread out (faced one after another), or must several be confronted at once?

Remember that realistic villains have finite resources, so they may need to prioritize attacks by the cost, profit, and chance of success. That said, if they can’t manage to threaten at least a couple of the valued people or things, then they’re not that impressive as villains. The more efficient, effective, and insightful their threats are, however, the more frightening and powerful they will seem.

On the other hand, if a villain is bad at figuring out what the enemies value, he or she isn’t going to succeed (not without help or lucky happenstance).

And when you think of it that way, it makes sense that a villain would like last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt. A process for identifying the hero’s weaknesses? Oh, yeah. That’s handy. It’s like an excerpt of Villainy for Dummies. 😉

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Horror or Humor? A Writing Prompt

Tis the season to be scary, so why are so many “horror” movies funny instead? What is the boundary? What makes a story horror or humor? Explore the answer with this hilariously scary writing prompt.

Are You Writing Horror or Humor?

Interestingly, what determines whether a story is funny or scary is less the topic and more how the topic is treated. As an example, let’s discuss a comedic Halloween classic: Hocus Pocus.

Main Concept: 3 witches who suck out the souls of children to stay young

Is it just me, or is that a pretty creepy (see terrifying) idea? So how can it be a funny movie?

The answer is “the emphasis.” More of the movie is spent on the goofiness of witches, their confusion about modern stuff, re-inflatable cats, and rolling heads, and the last two are practically Looney Tune-like with their abilities to be mangled but unharmed.

In other words, although the scary idea provides impetus for the plot, it is overshadowed with hilarious hijinks.

To prove the idea works, here’s a writing prompt to take the same idea and make 2 totally different stories. Here’s what the two parts will have in common:

  • a frightening condition or situation (serial killer, hungry witches, etc.)
  • the basic characters (3 witches, 2 vampires, and a human teenager)
  • the beginning mood (for about the first scene or the exposition)

The rest… well, the rest is going to vary a bit.

Writing Horror

This time, we’ll make it creepy and try to give our readers nightmares (*wicked cackle as lightning flashes*). That means we need to emphasize the darkness of the situation.

Here are some pointers for keeping it headed in a scary direction:

  1. The consequences are experienced repeatedly (people die, are maimed, etc.).
  2. Focus on the losses and the main character’s plans to avoid experiencing it.
  3. Frightened reactions need to be serious and realistic (no flailing in a panic in a way that lightens the mood – if someone flails in a panic [because people do], it had better emphasize the overpowering helplessness caused by the fear rather than how ridiculous the person looks).
  4. No stupid, clichĂ©d actions (we’re not trying to emphasize character stupidity).
  5. Ends badly or at least not completely happily (a chirpy, perky ending shouldn’t really be possible if you took step 1 seriously).

To summarize, the emphasis is on negative aspects and realism.

Writing Humor

With that same situation and even the same starting mood, you can make the story funny instead of scary. All it takes is a different focus:

  1. Having few consequences or glossing over them (So-in-so isn’t really dead – it was just a sleep spell! Someone died? Sorry, I was too busy laughing at these crazy antics to remember that.).
  2. The villain(s) is goofy in some way – clumsy, has a stamp collection that he waxes poetic about at the slightest opportunity, can only kill someone who’s facing him and ends up chasing people in circles like a dog chasing his tail (you get the idea)…
  3. Characters do stupid stuff and survive (how, we’re not sure).
  4. Survival is as much by unfeasible circumstance as by intelligence/bravery (“Thank God that tree fell when it did!” or “If you hadn’t driven into a garlic store, we’d be goners!”).
  5. Ends happily (all the main characters survive and any previous deaths are already forgotten or somehow ok – “He was a killer, too,” or “Their spirits are free and happy now”).

That’s a formula that has turned a number of terrifying circumstances into a funny movie. Just don’t use it when you actually want something to be scary. It won’t end well.

Ok, actually, it will (that’s one of the rules), but it won’t be scary!

All right. Ready to write 2 totally different versions of the same story? These ones would be especially good to share! 😀

Breaking Hyperbole as Writing Inspiration

breaking hyperbole as writing inspirationBreaking hyperbole as writing inspiration is one of the mainstays of creative writing. Especially genres like fantasy and science fiction. And since this tactic is so common, I’m guessing it’s not going to be a totally unfamiliar idea for most writers. That’s why this article isn’t meant to be a treasure trove of new ideas.

Although that would be cool. 

My goal instead is to make you more conscious of how you’ve used hyperbole as a worldbuilding or inspiration technique. Analyzing the techniques we use helps us be more deliberate in our methods – it lets us consciously choose to use them (or not) based on our goals and what we want to achieve.

How to Break Hyperbole for Writing Inspiration

All You Need Is Hyperbole and a Literal Mind 

Like most figurative language, hyperbole (when used correctly) works because the reader knows not to take it literally. It’s great for making people aware of details (without blatantly pointing them out), adding humor, and writing dialogue for characterization. 

Here’s an example:

Milly: Oh, I used to dance and flirt the night away. But that was a thousand years ago!

When the character says this, we don’t assume that she’s over a thousand years old. Instead, we understand that the situation happened a long time ago and that the character either likes using sayings or exaggerations (or doesn’t want to say specifically how long ago it was).

In short, a hyperbole gives us an impression of the truth without being the actual truth.

But what if the character were speaking literally? What if it actually has been a thousand years since she danced and flirted the night away? It’s possible in fantasy stories, right? Possibly even science fiction.

Well, in that case, there is no exaggeration, which means there is no hyperbole. It’s not even figurative language at that point. Instead, the statement is the literal truth.

So when you take hyperbole literally, it’s not hyperbole anymore.

That’s why I called this activity breaking hyperbole. If hyperbole were the goal, you wouldn’t want to do this. For this exercise, however, hyperbole is a means to an end – not what you were aiming for.

Exaggerate Reality to Create Fantasy

Many of my writing prompts involve using elements of real life in the story (people watching, the library inspired writing prompt, Food as a Writing Prompt, etc.). And, oddly enough, when writing for them, you may have also used this one (What?)

As I said before, breaking hyperbole is a common part of the creative process. In other words, it’s a way of transforming reality into something new for your world or your story. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something from real life.
  2. Write a hyperbole about it.
  3. Take the hyperbole literally.
  4. Expand that literal interpretation to create something new.

Lizards could inspire dragons, speed trains could inspire instantaneous travel by train, and a lush garden could inspire a flower world. Or 50 other things. Whatever style or genre you write in can find inspiration by exaggerating reality to form new truths – even romance exaggerates reality for the sake of the story (and we all know to never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

It’s pretty obvious that most writers do this in one way or another. Now that I’ve made you think about it (theoretically), though, you can choose to use it deliberately on days when you’re at a loss for ideas. If nothing else, may it get your creative engine started and lead you in new directions.

Happy writing! Have fun breaking hyperbole – or storming the castle, whatever!

A Found Poetry Writing Prompt

by Le Anne Devol

If you haven’t discovered found poetry yet, you should check it out because it’s pretty cool. Actually, I’d recommend doing an image search because it can be a really interesting combination of poetry and visual arts. Which means that it may be a little different from the poetry you’re used to writing, but don’t worry – here’s a found poetry writing prompt to get you started.

A Writing Prompt for Found Poetry

Like most poetry, found poetry is extremely easy to do and quite a bit harder to do well. These steps will help guide you in the direction of doing it well, but the follow-through is up to you. Here goes:

  1. Find a source. It could be an old classic, a modern novel, a short story, or a scientific article. It’s really up to you and what interests you.
  2. Copy the page(s) you want to use. You don’t want to write in the book, right? Especially if you screw it up the first time.
  3. Pick a relationship. The poem is going to relate to the source simply because its words come from the original writing. What you need to decide is how you want the poem to relate: is it honoring the original, restating it, changing its perspective, or satirizing it? Remember that relating to the original doesn’t mean the poem has to agree with the original.
  4. Find the words. Look for options that tell the message you want. If you feel like there are too many options, set up rules for yourself like having to use only 1 word from each line or each paragraph. Take notes in pencil or write them on a separate page until you have the combination you want.
  5. Decide how you want to mark the words in the final copy. Are you going to circle them? Do you want to black everything else out? Do you want to draw a picture around them? There are plenty of different options.
  6. Mark the words and color. Basically, follow-through on your decision from step 5.

I know, I know. Steps 5 and 6 could be combined. Since making decisions and follow-through are two major parts of poetry writing, however, I decided they deserve their own steps in the writing prompt. As usual, you can use these steps in whatever manner you choose.

And, of course, if you’d like to post the results in the comments, I wouldn’t object. 😉 Happy writing!

The Concealed Carry Writing Prompt for Fashionistas

concealed carry writing prompt for fashionistas

That dynamite is not going to hide in that vest. Not without a pocket of holding.

Guns, knives, garrotes, guillotines – some weapons are more easily concealed than others. And unless you want to use the “Where was he hiding that?!” joke, it’s something you want to think about before writing the scene, and the concealed carry writing prompt for fashionistas will walk you through the basic considerations required.

Well, required for fiction. I have no actual experience *concealing a weapon.

Fashionistas & Concealed Carry:
The Writing Prompt with Something for Everyone

This is what math people might call a bidirectional writing prompt – the main steps can go either way. You can start with clothing and spot check your weaponry options, or you can start with your weapon of choice and design your clothing around it.

For the sake of the article, we’ll use the order below, but you can switch 1 & 2 if you prefer.

  1. Choose the character’s clothing.
  2. Consider the weapon options.
  3. Check whether the weapon can be believably concealed in the chosen clothing. (The “believably” part is important!)
  4. If it can’t be concealed believably, fix it. Or use the lack of concealment to the enemy’s advantage or in the protagonist’s strategy.
  5. Write the scene.

That’s the basics. Now, let’s talk a bit about the details.

Step 1: The Outfit

If you already have a character in a story, odds are you’ve picked at least one normal outfit or style for that character already. Something that reflects the character’s personality and lifestyle as well as the rest of your worldbuilding.

Assuming that the scene you’re writing involves your character’s normal clothing, then, you’re done with step 1.

But what if it doesn’t? What if your character is stuck in prison clothes, a new uniform, or a ballgown? Consider the scene and see whether an outfit change makes more sense than going with the same style.

Step 2: The Weapon

Like the outfit, if your character is a warrior of any kind, then he or she already has a weapon of choice. And if the character already has a normal weapon and a normal outfit, those two should go together although that doesn’t mean the weapon has to be concealed. After all, not all situations or stories require hiding weapons. A knight going into battle is going to carry weapons openly and within easy reach. If not already bared.

Even if your character does not normally conceal his/her weapon, however, we’re assuming that now it’s suddenly necessary. That means you have a couple of options:

  • the regular weapon being concealed in the regular outfit
  • the regular weapon being concealed in a new outfit
  • a new weapon being concealed in the regular outfit
  • a new weapon being concealed in a new outfit

Pretty obvious and little math-y, but these are ideas you have to consider. If the character carries a huge weapon that can’t be concealed, is he/she smart enough to adapt, or is the character going to try anyway.

Always consider the options in relation to your character and the situation. That’ll keep you on a better path.

Step 3: Check

If you’re like me, you may automatically do this in conjunction with step 2. That’s fine. For the sake of clarity, however, I’m going to pretend we picked an outfit and a weapon without considering whether the weapon can be hidden. Maybe, its the only weapon and outfit the character has, and now we have to figure out how to make it work (whatever).

Details to think about when trying to conceal a weapon on a character in a story:

  • Measurements (of the weapon, person, and clothing – if the weapon is taller than the person, it had better fold!)
  • Flexibility (Rigid weapons are going to be harder to hide, especially bigger ones.)
  • Reflectivity (If it’s shiny silver, it may show through thin fabric. If it’s dark, it might show through light fabric.)
  • Fabric weight (Both for drape and transparency)
  • Cut (Where the clothing is tight, where it is loose, and how it attaches to the body)
  • Safety (Is the wearer likely to get hurt hiding the weapon there – like sticking a sharp knife somewhere without first putting a sheath on it)
  • Movement (Will it noticeably affect how the character moves?)

These ideas should get you thinking in the right direction. Again, it doesn’t need to be 100% realistic unless that’s your usual writing style (and in that case, interview a cop or someone with actual experience concealing a weapon) – just real enough to make the scene seem believable.

Step 4: Adjust

If the weapon won’t work with the outfit, change one or the other. Keep the one most important to the scene or change both. Whatever works best (although, remember: the less you can change to make it work, the less your previous work is wasted. Not always the best solution, but sometimes, it is.).

Some weapons may not be concealable on someone’s person or in someone’s clothing or accessories, so be creative. Maybe, something in the setting needs to come into play.

Step 5: Write the Scene

As always, once the background work is done, it’s time to write. Write the scene, and if at any point, the concealed carry option seems unbelievable, think about the previous steps. You can use them to find the simplest part to change to make the scene work.

Ok. You’re ready to write a fashionable but deadly scene. I can’t wait to see the results.

*These instructions are intended for writing only. Please, do not use them as instructions for actually concealing anything.

A Writing Prompt for the Braindead

writing prompt for the braindead

I may even be an expert on this topic…

Talked to any teachers lately? I have, and I can tell you that they are simultaneously seriously overworked and seriously excited as the school year comes to a close. In honor of that hair’s edge of consciousness, here is a writing prompt for the braindead.

Designing a writing prompt for the braindead is like setting up a marathon for the seriously dehydrated and exhausted…

If you’re still trying to write even when lack of brain power is making it hard, way to go! That’s dedication, and that’s what you need to become a writer! Mad props!

On the other hand, it ain’t gonna be easy. You’re operating a supercomputer with too little electricity. Underwater.

That’s why this writing exercise is a little different from the usual prompts. It’s intended to minimize the use of brainpower and maximize the end result. Here’s how it works:

  1. Look at your book shelf or movie collection. Or both.
  2. Pick 3 of your favorites. They could be similar or not. Or pick 3 at random. It really doesn’t matter.
  3. Write a brief plot outline for each. If you do it on the same piece of paper (landscape perhaps), then they’re easy to compare. And analysis is generally easier than creativity for a tired brain. If you’re really tired, make the outlines extra general (Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back. The end.)
  4. Pick one character from each. The main character from Movie 1, the sidekick from a book, and a love interest from Movie 2. However you want to do it.
  5. Make a new plot outline based on the 3 given. Mix and match based on the characters you chose.
  6. Write the story.

Step 6 is optional braindead-wise. You can always leave it for when you’re more conscious. Even if you do the first few steps, however, you’re still using your brain to explore plots and characterization.

And you might get an interesting story out of it. You’d be surprised. If you rename the characters and tweak them a little, once you start writing, the story can develop a life of its own. With a little editing (after the first draft’s done), you may not even be able to tell what stories you pulled from.

Plus, the first 5 steps have pretty minimal requirements brainpower-wise. With visual cues (the books and/or movies you look at), the memory area should be able to dredge up some details to pick and analyze. It’s like ordering out instead of cooking – sometimes, you’re tired enough it makes sense. You get to eat without expending too much more energy. And, of course, that’s the main idea behind a writing prompt for braindead people (metaphorically speaking).

Will it work? I don’t know. You tell me.

A Spring Writing Prompt in 3 Acts

spring writing prompt for spring daisyWell, 3 parts. It’s not a play or theatrical piece (or cohesive whole), so “acts” may be a bit of hyperbole. But don’t worry – it’s definitely a spring writing prompt for exercising different skills.

3 Takes on a Writing Prompt for Spring

Technically, these are 3 different writing exercises that relate to the idea of Spring. After much debate, I finally decided to put them in order from most obvious to least obvious (probably), and the difficultly level runs fairly parallel to that, as well.

Personification

I say this is pretty obvious because it’s the natural response, especially since Spring is all about growing things (mostly, anyway). And when we’re trying to use something as inspiration, a straightforward artistic approach is to write from that object or creature’s perspective. Especially in poetry.

Here’s the down-and-dirty method:

  1. Pick a part of Spring. A seed, a flower, a caterpillar, a sunny day, a rainstorm, etc.
  2. Make that thing or creature your main character. You can name it or not, but as a main character, it needs to have a perspective, motivation, and personality.
  3. Tell that character’s story of Spring. What does Spring mean to that character?

If you want to vary this one and take it to the next level, try to expand on what stories you tell from that perspective. You could even do a sort of Canterbury Tales of Spring from all different points of view.

Metaphor

Now, let’s go one shade deeper. Instead of transforming an aspect of Spring into a character, take an action or characteristic of Spring and use it as a metaphor or theme. Think extended metaphor or allegory.

  1. Pick an action or characteristic of Spring. A seed fighting through its prison and bursting forth from the soil. Weeds and flowers struggling against each other for light and nutrients. And so on.
  2. Express that action in broad, figurative terms. Think big idea.
  3. Apply the big idea to an unrelated situation. People moving to a city, a child at school, a war, aliens, etc.
  4. Use the big idea to direct the plot. Plotting with post-its can be handy for this to make sure you stick to your big-idea arc. At least for the main points (like a framework).

This one can be as hard or as easy as you choose based on how close the metaphor is to the actual plot. Just remember that the further apart they are, the less likely the readers will get it (They might still enjoy it, but they may not realize it was a metaphor for a flower bud wilting in a vase.).

Mood

I’d call this one the advanced writing prompt simply because many people feel uncomfortable with mood and have less experience trying to write specifically to create atmosphere or reader reactions. It can be a challenge, and imagery and other literary devices go a long way in making it work.

This mood exercise is pretty straightforward, and if you read the 2 writing prompts above, the first step should feel vaguely familiar – a variation on a theme, if you will.

  1. Pick a scene or moment that epitomizes Spring. Something that makes you think of Spring or reminds you of it.
  2. Describe the energy or feeling of that scene.
  3. Pick another scene. It could be totally unrelated like a bustling city street, a sterile field, or a battle in space. Some people find writing mood easier with a lot of action, and others prefer the opposite. Pick one, and if you don’t like it, try the other.
  4. Write the scene you chose in step 3 using the feeling described in step 2. Try to give that scene the mood of Spring even if it doesn’t fit – or “shouldn’t” fit but actually does.

This one’s a little bit like the free verse writing prompt in that it may take several attempts before you get the affect you want. That’s fine. In fact, that’s good. Write more!

And there you have it. 3 writing prompts for Spring. So… ready for Summer yet? 😉

A Writing Activity for Music and Poetry

This exercise is great for demonstrating how so much of a song’s power and meaning come from how the music and lyrics work together (I may refer to lyrics as poetry and vice versa). Technically, it’s only a writing activity for music and poetry if you do both parts; however, even the first part alone is worth the doing. Both because of how well it demonstrates the point and because the results can be pretty funny.

The Power of Music and Poetry Combined

The Demonstration

Like any class, this starts out with a demonstration. This particular demonstration can then be used to inspire writing. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick two songs with very different moods. Preferably songs that you know by heart (lyric and melody). They can have similar topics or not.
  2. Sing the first song’s lyrics to the melody of the second song. You don’t have to do the whole song, but try to make it through a verse and/or chorus at least.
  3. Reverse it. Use the first song’s melody with the second song’s lyrics.
  4. Evaluate the result. If you can stop laughing or shuddering with horror (depending).

It’s not easy to do, is it? When you know a song well, you don’t know the lyrics and melody separately – they go together. The way they fit together is what makes it that song.

Changing the melody or lyrics of the songs can change their moods and meanings completely. Even when the words are exactly the same, so much of what influences their meaning changes. Such as

  • Which words are emphasized (by holding them longer, larger intervals, etc.)
  • The emotion behind the words (Or the one implied by the music anyway – look up the lyrics for “You Are My Sunshine” if you want an example of words and music that don’t really match.)
  • Pauses (You would not believe how much the length and placement of pauses influences meaning!)

Those are really important in songs and in poetry.

A Writing Activity

This writing activity is a little like the poetry writing prompt for free verse – it involves writing the same meaning multiple times before arriving at the final wording. You can be writing a poem or song lyrics (honestly, the only real difference is the intent of the writer).

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Brainstorm the characteristics of that subject that you want to emphasize. In other words, make a list.
  3. Pick a mood to try first.
  4. Write the poem for that mood. Word choice, meter, rhyme, and imagery are some of your best tools for influencing the mood of the poem.
  5. Set that poem aside.
  6. Pick a different mood. The bigger the difference, the better.
  7. Write a new poem for that mood. Use the same topic and characteristics you used for the other poem, but change the word choice, meter, rhyme scheme, etc. to change the mood.
  8. Compare the two.

That’s it. It’s great practice for learning techniques to create different moods with your poetry and especially for making sure that the mood enhances the meaning. For instance, that you didn’t get caught up in a meter that doesn’t fit what you were trying to write (easy to do). Or started rhyming too much or too little. Maybe you need to defy that rhyme or take away alliteration instead of adding it.

It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you don’t feel like you mastered it immediately (who masters anything immediately?), do it again. And again. And again.

How many times will it take? I don’t know – you tell me.

6 Word Short Story Writing Prompt Challenge

6 word short story writing prompt challenge does not use once upon a time

Um…no. You just wasted 4 words.

Can you express a story in 6 words? Or less? If you’ve practiced and mastered writing 50 word short stories like “They Call Him the Philosopher,” you might be ready for the 6 word short story writing prompt challenge.

An Advanced Writing Prompt:
The Challenge of the Six Word Short Story

Pregaming the 6 Word Short Story

*cough* I mean, “prepping for,” not “pregaming.” *cough*

If you’re not quite ready for the 6 word short story (for example, if you’re like me, and writing short stories isn’t your best skill), then, here are a few thoughts for how to pregame. *cough* prep.

  1. Spice Up Your Writing is good for reviewing imagery techniques.
  2. How to Put Your Readers in the Mood might help because mood is all about manipulating emotions, and emotions are a big part of communicating in fewer words.
  3. Poetry Writing Prompt for Free Verse is good practice for expressing meaning figuratively instead of literally.
  4. Four Articles About How to Write a Good Short Story gives you 4 articles with tips for writing good short stories (articles by other people, by the way – not me, the person who’s not so fabulous at writing short stories)
  5. 50 Word Short Stories: Another Way to Challenge Yourself helps you scale down if you’re used to writing longer stories. If you’re used to writing, say, novels, you can start with regular short stories. Then, cut it down to 100 words, 50 words, and so on. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Read up and practice all of these, and you’ll (theoretically) have all the skills you need for the big game.

The 6 Word Short Story

Are you ready to rumble????

Hey! That’s almost a 5 word short story! You know, because we have so many connotations with the phrase that it implies some sort of a match! (I told you I’m not very good at this…)

Seriously, though, if you’re ready to challenge yourself by writing six word short stories, here is the best advice I can give you:

Think abstract painting – imagery and association are everything.

You basically want to say as much as you can with the fewest number of words. To do that, you have to imply the story instead of stating it explicitly. You have to raise questions in the readers mind, but you also have to make the implications strong enough that they don’t question the existence of the story. They have to be certain that something happened even if they’re not sure exactly what or how. (Here’s one of the most famous 6 word stories ever along with its history to give you an idea.)

So… um… how, exactly, are we supposed to do that?

What Good 6 Word Short Stories Do (or Don’t Do)

Now, having admitted how average-to-poor I am at writing these, you may not be interested in any tips I have (Really. Why are you still reading?). But just because I can’t do something well, doesn’t mean I can’t recognize good 6 word short stories. Or can’t break down what they have in common.

  • Avoid filler words, especially articles and prepositions. Even though articles are usually important (prepositions, too), here, they take up too much room and do too little.
  • Don’t use complete sentences. You ain’t got time for that. Or space.
  • Correct punctuation is optional. Yes, it’s opposite day. You’re going to ignore most of the rules in “Top 5 Grammar Rules Not to Break.” The fact is that sometimes, correct punctuation will help you join the thoughts of your fragment(s), but if you’re not writing in complete sentences, correct punctuation isn’t always possible.
  • Try different iterations. It’s 6 words. If you can’t write at least 10 drafts to try out different ways to express your idea or situation, you’re just being lazy. Seriously, people.
  • Pick powerful moments. Brushing your teeth in 6 words or less isn’t much of a story. It needs to be an emotional, high-stakes moment.
  • Practice with “A Writing Prompt for the Worst Time of Your Life,” but instead of starting after that worst time, summarize it. Try to express how it felt, how it affected you, in 6 words. It’s not gonna be easy, but if you manage it, you’ll have mastered the 6 word short story writing prompt challenge.

That’s all I got, but it’s a starting point. And if you manage to do all of these while keeping in mind the implication you’re going for, you have a good chance of writing a good 6 word short story. Heck, if you manage the last one, you’ll have a great six word short story.

So whaddya think? Got any tips for other writers trying to write 6 word short stories? What works best for you?

A One-track Mind Writing Prompt Challenge

A_One-track_Mind writing prompt challenge

Around and around they go…

Yes, the phrase “a one-track mind” often has connotations of X-rated content; however, all it really means is that person is fixated on a specific topic. It could be a video game that a person loves, a show someone watches all the time, a favorite author, a significant other, politics, world news, dieting, a pet – anything a person could obsess over. So what is a one-track mind writing prompt challenge?

A One-track Mind Writing Prompt Challenge

Technically, I guess, there are two writing prompt challenges for the one-track mind: general characterization and an argument.

A One-track Mind as General Characterization

Using a one-track mind mentality as general characterization is an old trick to automatically make a character a little quirky and add comic relief. I bet if I named a couple of obsessions, you could think of characters that have them as character quirks (Obsessions: advances in technology, a specific celebrity, travel, or fashion – If you think of a character, name the character and quirk in the comments.).

The first steps to this writing prompt aren’t as much of a challenge:

  1. Pick a character.
  2. Pick a fixation. It could go with the character and the character’s occupation (like a mechanic obsessed with cars), or it could be a contrast to the character and occupation (like a mechanic obsessed with ballet).
  3. Establish ground rules for the level of obsession and how well the character can control the urge to go on a tangent about the fixation.

You can do that, right?

Keeping it consistent is where the challenge comes in. If you’ve established that the character always brings the conversation back to a specific topic, then, can there be exceptions? What if you have a scene where you can’t afford to lose the momentum by including that tangent?

That’s why the third step is so important. Setting up solid rules and following them from the beginning can give you a major advantage as far as consistency of character behavior. And if you run into a spot where you need to move forward but it would mean breaking a rule, consider outside interference (“Oh my God, Joe – you can look at the car after we save the world!”).

A One-track Mind in an Argument

Whether the character usually has a one-track mind or not, he or she can still get locked into a single track in a specific situation. I see this as a huge balloon blown up in a room: there may be other, more important items scattered around it, but you can’t see them because the balloon is so overwhelming. Once the balloon is popped, however, you realize that it was just air – no substance.

When a character gets stuck on a specific fact or idea, it’s like that idea is taking up so many brain cells that the person can’t process things right in front of him or her. The balloon is blocking them from sight.

This usually inspires an argument from the characters who can see around the balloon. And if those characters need to get around the one-track mind to move forward, well, that could be a problem. Arguments like this tend to go around in circles because the one-track mind isn’t really registering or accepting opposing arguments.

Figuring how to deflate that balloon is a challenge, and doing so while trying to hold down the frustration from the circular arguments is even harder. In fact, it may be impossible for your characters. And exposing that difficulty adds realism.

Want to give it a try? Here’s one way to practice.

  1. Pick a set of characters. Or create new ones.
  2. Select a goal they’re trying to accomplish that a single person could stop or stall.
  3. Choose the opponent (the person with the one-track mind – it could be one of the group or someone outside of it).
  4. Find a fixation.
  5. List ways each protagonist would try to overcome the fixation.
  6. Think of how each character would react to that circular conversation.
  7. Decide what (if anything) would actually make the fixated person change tracks.
  8. Write the scene using the parts picked in steps 1-7. You may not get to use all of the options you thought of for 5, especially depending on 6. Also, if the characters wouldn’t think of the answer to 7, then you probably can’t use it.

Whoa, that’s a long list. And a bit nit-picky. You can use it as a starting point or take the idea of the confrontation and do it your own way. If this exact method doesn’t work for your writing style, I wouldn’t want you to get stuck on it – a one-track mind writing prompt challenge is fine, but not a one-track mind that keeps you from writing the best story you can!