Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writing Prompts with Sisters and a Cafe


Café Tortoni, en Avenida de mayo, Buenos Aires
Robert Fiadone



If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably figured out by now that I love Ted Kooser's weekly column "American Life in Poetry."  I think he picks quality, accessible poems ,and often they inspire me.  I plan to feature the columns from time to time because a lot of these poems make great writing prompts.  Enjoy this week's poem "More Lies" by Karin Gottshall, and you will find the prompts below. 

American Life in Poetry by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

Some of us have more active fantasy lives than others, but all of us have them. Here Karin Gottshall, who lives in Vermont, shares a variety of loneliness that some of our readers may have experienced.

More Lies by Karin Gottshall

Sometimes I say I’m going to meet my sister at the café—
even though I have no sister—just because it’s such
a beautiful thing to say. I’ve always thought so, ever since

I read a novel in which two sisters were constantly meeting
in cafés. Today, for example, I walked alone
on the wet sidewalk, wearing my rain boots, expecting

someone might ask where I was headed. I bought
a steno pad and a watch battery, the store windows
fogged up. Rain in April is a kind of promise, and it costs

nothing. I carried a bag of books to the café and ordered
tea. I like a place that’s lit by lamps. I like a place
where you can hear people talk about small things,

like the difference between azure and cerulean,
and the price of tulips. It’s going down. I watched
someone who could be my sister walk in, shaking the rain

from her hair. I thought, even now florists are filling
their coolers with tulips, five dollars a bundle. All over
the city there are sisters. Any one of them could be mine.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Karin Gottshall, whose most recent book of poetry is Crocus, Fordham University Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from the New Ohio Review, No. 8, Fall 2010, by permission of Karin Gottshall and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
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Fiction Prompts:
We have done story starters before to generate fiction, but today's story starters involve you filling in a blank and then going from there.  These starter lines are inspired by today's poem. 
1.  He likes a place that is lit by __________________ . . .
2.  He watched someone who could be her ________________ walk in . . .
3.  She carried a bag of __________________ to the __________________ . . .

Poetry Prompt:
I love the line, "Rain in April is a kind of promise/that costs nothing."  Think about nature and the months and what kind of promises that cost nothing.  Make a list of about 5 things, and then pick one to write a poem about.

Essay Prompt:

If you could add one thing to your life that doesn't exist, what would it be?  Why?  Write about it.

Picture Prompt: 

Look at today's picture and write a scene between two people inside the cafe. This can be done in fiction or drama. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Red Truck Writing Prompts



Today's prompt is brought to you courtesy of Red Oak Publishers.  The whimsical picture, "Red Truck," is by Wisconsin artist Toni Pawlowsky.  Toni's artwork is featured on both Red Oak printed cards (with verse or blank) and is free as an ecard

Your writing prompts today will be based on the painting.

Fiction Writing Prompts:

1.  Look at the picture and write a story about where they are  going today.  Notice how the dogs are all in place for a road trip.  Where will this character take them and why?  What will they do?  What will they encounter?

2.  Study the person in the painting and write a character sketch about her.  What is her name?  What are her hobbies and passions in life?  What is her relationship like with her dogs?  Where do they live?  Write about this character for at least 5 minutes without stopping.

Poetry and Creative Nonfiction Prompts:

If you visit the Red Oak card site, you'll find a super awesome "quote-o-matic" machine that features a new quote every time you go to a new page or refresh the page.  All quotes in the quote-o-matic are by poet Ellis Felker, Red Oak's founder.  One quote states:

"A simple life is what I ask.  Just a life full of hill sitting and west watching." 

Write an essay or poem about the simple pleasures of summer that bring you peace.

Many thanks to Ellis Felker and Toni Pawlowsky for inspiring today's prompts.  I discovered Red Oak cards years ago, and I HIGHLY recommend them.  They are of excellent quality, the artwork is amazingly beaituful, and you can't beat the price.  Spread some joy and send one of their free ecards today.  The process is simple and there are no crazy flash ads or registration requited.  You can get there by clicking here. 
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About Ellis Felker and Red Oak Publishers

Ellis Felker founded Red Oak Publishers in 1976. It all started with the publishing of his first little book of poems, Childhood River. In 1983 he began publishing photographic cards and posters. Gradually he added the work of other fine artists and photographers to the Red Oak line.

From clowns to cows to crocuses, Red Oak cards depict inspired scenes from all across the world - or from deep within the imagination. All cards are available either greeted or blank, and all are printed on recycled paper using soy-based inks. On the back of each is the encouraging motto, 'Find the good - and praise it.'
 
Today, from their rural Wisconsin address, Red Oak distributes cards, posters and across the country. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creative Writing Prompts with Swings



Now that summer has arrived, there are a lot of swings swinging in full motion.  I love swings.   I have many childhood memories from under the maple tree where a simple wooden swing kept my little sister and I entertained for hours.  In between my living room and entrance room hangs a blue hammock chair swing that brings joy and peace to my little boy.  I always longed for a porch swing, but instead I have two gliders outside in the garden where I can enjoy sweet moments with my family.  Before we begin our writing prompts today, please enjoy the poem "The Swing," by Robert Louis Stevenson.  You'll find your writing prompts below the poem. 

The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside-

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown-
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!



Warm-up:  Before you begin your creative writing prompts, take a few moments to reflect on different swings from your life and make a list of all the memorable swings you have ever encountered and where they were. 

Creative Nonfiction Prompt:  Write a memory about a swing from your past.  Think about who you played with, what you might have worn as you played, and what feelings you had.  Write for as long as you'd like.

Poetry Prompt:  Write a poem about one of the swings from your list. 

Fiction Writing Prompt:  Look at the picture below and dream up two characters who are coming to this swing to have a conversation.  Write out their conversation as dialogue practice.  OR You can use two characters from a story or novel you have been working on. 



Monday, June 27, 2011

Jackson Pollock Writing Prompts #1



"Galaxy"  by Jackson Pollock


On this day in 1926, Frank O'Hara was born.  Frank O'Hara was an American poet,   From 1953-1955, O'Hara served as an editor for Art News magazine.  O'Hara found inspiration in art for his work, including the art of Jackson Pollock.  Above, is the picture"Galaxy" by Jackson Pollock.  You can browse more paintings by Jackson Pollock at the All Posters website

Free-Writing Prompt:  Study the picture above for one minute.  Then free-write for 5 minutes without stopping.  Just write what comes to mind.  After 5 minutes, try to work your free-writing into a poem, essay or story. 

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Creative Nonfiction Writing Prompts: 

 "When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident.”  - Jackson Pollock

a.  Applying this statement to the art you do, whether it is writing or dancing or painting, do you agree or disagree with this statement  about controlling the flow of _______ (words, paint, movement, etc.)?  Why or why not?  Write about it. 

b.  Write about the theme of control over something you have or something you don't. 


Friday, June 24, 2011

Writing Prompts and Insight about Creating Realistic Characters with Mark Konkel



For the weekend, we have creative writing prompts by a friend of mine, author Mark Konkel.  He has also has provided us with an article about how to create believable characters.  Teachers take note--you might want to use this article as a resource for your class.  I hope you enjoy the article and the prompts.  Please leave us a note and let us know how you like them.  Also, feel free to give us a little bit of what you come up with from a prompt.

Happy weekend!

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Creating Realistic Characters
by Mark Konkel


Fiction is driven on two wheels: plot and character.  Oh, books on craft and writing teachers will highlight all the elements of fiction, setting, conflict, symbolism, etc., and all of those things are important, of course, but they’re little more than accessories.  Change the setting of a story, and the same story can still be told – those familiar with the twenty-seven (27!) James Bond movies will agree.  The setting changes, but Bond himself stays basically the same. Change Bond, and what do you have: Austin Powers.  Not the same kind of story at all. 

Plot is the most important thing in fiction, because it encompasses all the other elements.  It’s pretty hard to change the conflict, the characters, or the setting without changing the plot, too.  Despite that, plots are pretty easy to come up with (notice I didn’t say good plots are easy to come up with) primarily because there are just a few basic plots, seven or twenty or thirty-two, depending on which site you choose to believe. 
Characters, however, are a different story.   Creating real characters that aren’t flat or cliché is one of the most difficult things for a writer.  Until now. Creating memorable, compelling characters is simple (notice I didn’t say “easy”)  Just give your characters these three traits: Strong, but restrained emotions, self-justification, and surprise. 

Consider one of the most famous characters from literature: Huckleberry Finn. Huck’s emotions are strong, but restrained, he justifies or rationalizes his own behavior, and he surprises.  Take his emotions. He doesn’t share them with other characters; Huck only discusses them with the reader. He’s frightened of his father, but never actually says that.  He’s suspicious of the Duke and King, but reveals that only to the reader.  And he’s in anguish about slavery in the Bible compared to the slavery that he sees.  But he never challenges that hypocrisy; he only challenges himself.  His emotions are restrained.   

Huck also justifies his own behavior.  He explains why he takes off in the raft (to get away from his father), he explains why he goes south on river rather than north to the free states (to connect with the Ohio river, then head north), and he explains why he tears up the note to Miss Watson telling her about her escaped slave, Jim (because freeing slaves is wickedness, and Huck was born to wickedness.)   

And Huck surprises.  The most common forms of surprise are contradictory character traits, the minister who swears, the monster who’s afraid of a tiny mouse, the prostitute with a heart of gold, etc.  Huck surprises by his intelligence, his sense of morality, and his resourcefulness.  Raised by a drunken father, but Huck is able to resist the propaganda of the Duke and the King.  Huck is destitute, but he sees money as a burden.  And unlike the adults around him, Huck, the poor, uneducated, son of a drunk – he’s the one who understands the hypocrisy of slavery.   

The secret to creating memorable, compelling characters lies in these three traits:  strong, but restrained emotions, self-justification, and surprise.  Simple, but not easy. 

Writing Prompts by Mark Konkel

1.  Pick out any domestic or business situation - husband and wife talking, mother and child watching TV, two kids playing any sort of a game, colleagues working on a business presentation, boss firing an employee, two coworkers falling in love -- anything at all, just make sure there are no more than two characters.  The twist is that one of the characters is clearly extremely frightened by something unknown AND the frightened character will NOT reveal the source of his or her fear to the other character, OR to the reader.  

2.  The beginning lines are: 

The woman wore a white dress which, despite that it wasn’t tight-fitting, short, or exposing desperate cleavage, nonetheless interrupted the board meeting.  She wasn’t even that sexy, what with her big hips and varicose veins, but she was standing on the ledge outside the executive conference room.  I took the floor, and made a motion for a break, Carlisle seconded it, but before we could vote on it, Gardner said “For God’s sake, Michael!”, then rushed over to her, presumably to see if she had an employee badge on.  If she did, we might be liable.
 
Continue the story from there. 
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Poetry Prompt:  For those looking for a poetry prompt this weekend, Anjie recommends stopping by Adele Kenny's blog, "The Music In It" for an awesome prompt about rain.

Happy Writing!!!
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Mark Konkel

Based in Wisconsin, Mark Konkel has been writing and teaching for ten years. He’s fifty-one years old and works full time as a teacher and a certified public accountant. He earned his accounting degree from Lakeland College and his Master of Fine Arts from Vermont College.  His primary hope is that readers find his stories meaningful and enjoyable.   His writing appeared in  Faraway Journal, Quality Women’s Fiction (the special Men Write for QWF issue), Read This Magazine, Kaleidotrope, Abacot Journal, Cause & Effect Magazine, River Oak Review, Mississippi Crow, Nano Fiction, Heartlands, American Drivel Review, The Binnacle, Sinister Tales, Free Verse, Timber Creek Review, and Transcendent Visions, he’s been a guest writer for On The Brighter Side, and his first novel, Disaster Park, a sci-fi work, is available from Blue Leaf Publications.

Mark admits he can’t listen to television, radio, especially commercials, and overheard conversations without automatically noting and correcting grammatical errors.

To learn more about Mark and his writing, please visit the following links:

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Creative Writing Prompts About Feelings

BEAUTIFUL GIRL DISSATISFIED
©
Willgame | Dreamstime.com

For today's creative writing prompts, I would like everyone to look at the picture and write down what you think the girl might be feeling, and/or what she might be thinking in her head. (Examples:  I can't believe she did that to me! OR What am I going to do now?) Write for about two minutes. 

Creative Writing Prompts

1.  Creative Nonfiction Prompt:

Have you ever felt any of the emotions from the list?  Write about it.


2.  Fiction Writing Prompt:  Write the scene about what happened to the girl before the picture.

OR

Dialogue Practice:  Write a scene about the girl and someone else coming into the picture to ask her, "What's wrong?"  Use one of the phrases from your list to get you started.  Write about a page of dialogue for writing practice. 

3.  Poetry Writing Prompts: 

Pick an emotion or phrase from your list and write a poem of 15 lines or less with that theme.

OR

Write a poem of 15 lines or less about how you are feeling right now.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Room From Your Past


Creative Writing Prompts Inspired by Ted Kooser:
A Room From Your Past

Today we are going to be thinking not of houses from our past, but rooms.  Start by making a list of 10 or more rooms you remember from your past.   They don't need to be places you lived in; they could be rooms in places you visited, a cottage you might have stayed at, a hospital room, a room from a school, etc.  

After you make your list, and only after you make your list, read Ted Kooser's poem, "A Room in the Past." 

Here are some simple reflections and study questions to help you take in the poem and notice how it works:

Study Guide and Questions to "A Room in the Past" by Ted Kooser. 

1.  Notice how everything describing the poem is concrete until you get to line 5.  What is abstract about line 5?

2.  Look at lines 9 & 10.  There are phrases of time in both.  In line 9, it is "just" to imply something had just happened, but what is the time phrase in line 10? 

3.  Look in lines 13 and 14 and notice how Kooser brings the outside into the room.  What three words are things that are from nature?

4.  On line 14, the poet makes a personal connection by mentioning someone. Who is it?  Why do you think the poet mentions this toward the end of the poem?

5.  In lines 15 - 17, a supernatural and abstract concept are combined.  Then the poem is finished off with a very concrete image, which brings it all to life and makes it all real.  What is the concrete image?

6.  How many adjectives are in the poem?  You will notice there aren't many and they aren't fancy.  Remember, don't overdo adjectives and adverbs in your poems.  Be aware of every one you use to make sure it is truly adding to the poem and moving it along. 

7.  Notice how in line 3, Kooser uses the word "you" to draw the audience in.  Do you think this is effective?


Poetry Prompts:  

1.  Pick a room from your list and work on a poem that includes some elements of nature and/or the supernatural.  Address the audience as "you" in the early part of the poem, just like Kooser did.  Bring a person into the poem (and that person can be you), but not until the poem is at least half way finished.

OR

2.  Write a poem that ends with  "Turning his/her back on the rest of us, forever."  When you are finished, you may want to rewrite your last line so it is not exactly like Kooser's last line, but for now, use it as your guide. 

Fiction Prompt:

1.  Write a story that takes place in one of the rooms from your list.  Add an element of the supernatural to your story.  Write a minimum of 300 words. 

OR

2.  Write a story that starts with an opening scene in the kitchen from the picture. 

Creative Nonfiction:

Write a memory about one of the rooms on your list.  Write a minimum of 300 words.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sumer Solstice Writing Prompts




Creative Writing Prompts for Summer Solstice

For our creative writing prompts today, we will celebrate summer by looking at some quotes that will lead us into various prompts. 



1.  Journal Prompt:

"There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart."  ~Celia Thaxter

Write about what you are grateful for in the season of summer, and why you feel that way.

2.  Fiction Writing Prompt:

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability."   ~Sam Keen

Write about a character who is lazy in summer.  What should the character be taking care of that he or she is not?  How old is the character?  Why is the character lazy today?  Where does the character live?

3.  Creative Nonfiction Prompt

"A life without love is like a year without summer."  ~Swedish Proverb

Write about a specific time in summer when you felt love, or a specific time when you didn't. 

4.  Humor Writing Prompt

"Heat, ma'am! it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones." ~Sydney Smith, Lady Holland's Memoir

Try your hand at humor and complete the phrase, "It was so hot that. . . "
Try completing that phrase 10 times.  Did you come up with anything funny or interesting?
Pick your favorite one and try writing from that for 5 minutes. 

Feel free to put your funny one liners (It was so hot that. . . ) in the comments section.  And as always, you can share anything in the comments section. 

Happy Summer Solstice and Happy Writing!

Writing Prompts Inspired by Phillip F. Deaver

HUNTING KITTEN
©
Tatyana Chernyak | Dreamstime.com

If you are able, please read the poem "Gray" by Phillip F. Deaver that was featured on The Writer's Almanac last week.  Please read it before reading the next paragraph if you don't want to know the ending right now.

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In Phillip's poem, we learn about the life of a family through things about the kitten and things the kitten did.  Note that one of the technique's Phillip uses to make this poem effective is that he draws into the kitten's life (stanza 1), then tells us about the family problem (stanza 2), and then ends us with more sad news about the kitten (stanza3).  With this technique we are drawn into both the kitten and the family, and we are left grieving for both. This poem may seem simple on the surface, but it is layered with two stories, and down to earth with a theme that many of us can relate to. 

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Writing Prompts:


Did you ever have a pet? 

1.  Write a short memoir or poem about a pet you once had.  Focus on things your pet did, whether with you or without you, and let the things your pet did define who each of you are and what the relationship was through the pet's actions.

For the next set of writing prompts, I've taken phrases inspired by the poem and you can just go with them.  Set your timer for at least five minutes and write without stopping. 

2.  Poetry prompt: 

Through the walls to our family life. . .

3.  Fiction and Memoir Starters:

a.  She knew where we were going. . .
b.  After our family broke. . .
c.  Months after we were gone. . .

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Attention Readers:  How is this blog working for you?  We are always looking for comments and feedback.  You can also post some of your writing from the prompts.  Thank you! 


Friday, June 17, 2011

Alice in Wonderland Creative Writing Prompts with Dr. Katy J. Vopal



I'm so excited to bring you this week's guest prompter Dr. Katy J. Vopal!  Not only is Dr. Katy J. a talented writer, passionate professor and a totally awesome person, she is also a dear friend of mine.  She has put quality time into the writing prompts for this weekend, and I'm confident you will get a lot out of these if you take the time to apply your creativity with an open mind.  And if you have fun with these whimsical prompts, well, I'll bet you'll get even more out of them.
 Running with the theme of the Mad Hatta, Cheshire Cat and that curious girl named Alice, these writing prompts will keep you busy creating throughout the weekend and beyond. 
I expect these to be especially poular with teachers, so teachers, please take note.
And for now, all mad hats off to Dr. Katy J. for being our guest--THANK YOU!
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We’re All Mad Here
Creative Writing Prompts by Dr. Katy J. Vopal
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedldee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
While my taste in literature and my own writing have always seemed to dwell in the realm of realism, I always loved, been drawn in, and inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”  For the unsuspecting reader used to the film interpretations, these two novels can seem like an impermeable collection of nonsense that begs the question, “What does this all really mean?”  The beauty of the novels is that there are so many things --  dreams, games, puzzles, questions, commentaries, fantasy, and simple fun.  The narrative is intertwined with lyrics and poetry, many of which infamously stand alone, “Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”  Wonderland is a landscape of unforgettable characters, many of whom the reader will only encounter for a couple of pages – the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, the Doormouse, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. 
Carroll’s Wonderland is popular for a multitude of reasons, and I can only speculate that the main reason is because of the risk he took to simply play with the manuscripts.  He did not follow conventions.  He took a risk, a risk all writers can learn from -- we should craft our writing not as we think it should be, but as our writing thinks it should be!  Taking this risk does not mean that our writing needs to be as surreal as Carroll’s work, rather trusting the path and pattern of our creativity; it does not need to be a mold nor does it need to copy anybody else’s writing. 
Here are some prompts to inspire you … let the writing lead.  When we do so, our stories, poems, and characters take us in directions we never knew existed.  The possibilities are endless.  Don’t be afraid to follow your piece “down the rabbit hole” and see where it goes!
Warm up
"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."
can make words mean so many different things."
In most writing situations, we are restricted to the meanings of words that are dictated by the rules of our language.  In a free-writing warm up exercise, craft a short paragraph or poem where you choose a word and assign it different meaning.  Explore it, expand it, play with it.  Be descriptive.  Make the word and its new meaning central to your piece, the spinal cord, the thread, the yolk.  Here’s the catch, don’t explain to your readers exactly what your “new meaning” is, practice showing them through exploration and description.  This will build the ever-important skill of “show, don’t tell.”
Memoir
“I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly: “but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”


“Explain all that,” said the Mock Turtle.
“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”
I truly believe that our souls are meant to grow and evolve throughout our physical lifetime.  As we journey through life, we become different people.  Alice’s statement is truly prophetic, and the Gryphon in his wisdom speaks of good writing.   Write a unified, flowing flash memoir piece that artfully juxtaposes who you were “yesterday” and who you are now.  Focus on the important moments and the “energy” or psychological feelings of the transformation.  Avoid too-long explanations. Challenge yourself to write about such significance in less than 500 words.
Fiction
'Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; 'but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!'
There are curious things all around us – moments, people, situations, places, objects that are magnificently rich inspirations for our writing, especially fiction.  As a fiction writer, I am constantly on the lookout for situations that I can weave into my stories.   I challenge you to collect at least five “curiosities” and weave them together into a piece of fiction – an overheard conversation, someone wearing an unusual piece of clothing, someone’s strange quirk or habit, an odd item on the shelf at a flea market.  The strange truths of our lives inspire our fiction all the time.
Poetry
“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it's rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn't like to confess, ever to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don't exactly know what they are!"
Alice spoke the words above about the poem Jabberwocky after she read it in the looking-glass book.   It is celebrated as one of the most popular “nonsense” poems ever written.   Read “Jabberwocky” in its entirety (found in chapter one of Through the Looking Glass or many places on the Internet, including here: http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html) 
Let Carroll’s poem of nonsense inspire a poem of “sense” and follow the flow of inspiration.  Many years ago, I was considering the “vorpal sword” used to slay the Jabberwocky; I also found it curious that this word was one letter off my own last name – take out the “r.”  My last name was shortened when my ancestors came to America from Czechoslovakia, and as I thought about this connection, I produced two poems about the haunting of “unknowing” when they traveled across the world.  
Reflection
‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, 'when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole — and yet — and yet — it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I'll write one.'
This is a great quote to end my contribution to Anjie’s wonderful blog.  You are always in the middle of a novel, a story, a memoir, a poem and might not even know it.  Experiment, play, push your writing boundaries.  Don’t be afraid to follow them.  So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
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Katy J. Vopal holds a PhD in English – Creative Writing and is on faculty at Gateway Technical College (www.gtc.edu) where she teaches English and Communication.   She also teaches creative writing courses at Ottawa University (www.ottawa.edu) and workshops for Redbird – Redoak Writing Studio (www.redbirdredoak.com)  While she primarily writes novels for middle grade and young adults, her short fiction for grown-ups has appeared in a number of publications, including Inscape, Upstreet, and Dan River Anthology.  Other publications include numerous articles from her time as a newspaper reporter, essays, and one poem.  In case you were wondering, her favorite Wonderland character is the Cheshire Cat. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Random Words Writing Prompt

CARIBBEAN ISLAND
©
Slidepix | Dreamstime.com



Today we will combine the picture with random words (or any version of the random words) for our creative writing prompts.  You will find the random words below. 

1.  Use 4 of the words below to write an opening sentence that connects with the picture.  Then write for 5 minutes without stopping use that sentence as your starting point.

2.  Poetry Writing:  Write a poem about the picture in 10 lines or less.  Choose a word from the list to be your title. 

3.  Use either the picture OR the some of the words to to write about whatever you want.  Write for 10 minutes without stopping. 

Random Words:
wonderment, struggle, lemon drop, ridge, burnish, vein, sweetness, 24, mouth, choose, twin, primitive, banish, glaze, up, hand print, gaze, recall, auction, chicken, future, city, tree, forget, melody, solo, bead, fly, unwind, stone, change, drum, cymbal

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Haiku Writing Prompt #1

GRASSHOPPER IN GRASS
©
Slawomir Kuter | Dreamstime.com



cricket
do not trample to pieces
the pearls of bright dew 
- Issa (1763-1827)


Haiku by Issa

In spring rain
A pretty girl
yawning.



A giant firefly:
that way, this way, that way, this -
and it passes by.


Despite the morning frost -
a child
selling flowers


Buddha Law,
shining
in leaf dew



Today it is the birthday of the Japanese Writer Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827).   In honor of his birthday, we will enjoy a few of his haiku and write one of our own. 

I have more examples of haiku on my pocket poems page, too. 

About Writing Haiku

Haiku comes from Japan.  The rules for haiku are centered around the Japanese language.  If you try to compare Japanese to English, it is like comparing grapes to kiwis.  So that rule about 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second line and 5 for the last line isn't totally required in English.  Less will work just fine, often better. 

There has been no consensus as to what the rules are for writing haiku in English, but there are general guidelines which are followed. 

One general guideline we apply to English language haiku is that we use three lines.  Syllables per line do not have to be 5-7-5, we often use less.  However, some people like to practice the discipline of sticking to a syllable count, and I'm not opposed to that.  However, if you are using more, it is not such a good idea in my opinion. 

There should be a season word (called a kigo) in a haiku.  For example, if we read a haiku that has the word "snow," that will indicate it is winter.  "Firefly" will indicate summer, and "tulip" will indicate spring. 

The middle line goes with both the first line and last line independently.  For example, in one poem up above, you can have a pretty girl in the rain, and a pretty girl can yawn. 

The first line of the haiku introduces your subject and is pretty ordinary. 

The last line of a haiku should make you feel a little "Wow."  Sometimes a big "WOW!"  The purpose of the haiku is to transport an ordinary moment into a fresh light.  The wording need not be extraordinary; it is how that last image falls in relation to the other lines that gives the "wow" affect.  For example, in the morning frost haiku above, we are drawn in to the image of a child.  We are set up to see something a little sad because frost isn't such a festive image.  But, WOW, the last line shows the child selling flowers, so our hearts are heightened to joy for that image, and we are surprised. 

The haiku is short and should focus on one moment---one little slice of life. 

The Haiku Society of America can give you a lot of information about haiku.  The above is just some general guidelines that should be enough to get you started. 

Haiku Writing Prompts:

1.  Write a haiku with any kind of insect in it.
2.  Write a haiku with a flower in it, and make sure to name exactly what flower it is. 
3.  Write a haiku that mentions rain. 

You can also free-write from the picture for 5 minutes. 


You may also enjoy visiting the Issa Gallery that features Iassa's haiku blended with beautiful photography.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Patriotic Writing Prompts for Flag Day

HEALING FIELD 2
©
Sarah Walker | Dreamstime.com


Today we celebrate flag day today in the United States.  Please read all the verses to The Star Spangled Banner below and you'll find the writing prompts below the poem.

The Star Spangled Banner


Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


"The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key. Public domain.

For your writing prompts today, I am going to use phrases from the song that you can complete any way you would like as a free-write.  Try free-writing for 5 minutes.  After that, you can decide if you would like to take the next step and develop your writing into an essay, a poem or story.

1.  Through the mists of the deep. . .
2.  The morning's first beam. . .
3.  Praise the Power that has made. . .
4.  We must conquer. . .

Fun Write Prompt:  We have flags for countries and states.  Design a flag for your city, community or family.  What should it look like?  What symbols can you use that represent what is important to this group?  Write it out and/or draw a picture.




Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing Prompts with Bubbles

BUBBLY DAISY
©
Pamela Hodson | Dreamstime.com

Today our creative writing prompts will center around bubbles.

Free Write:  Make a list of all the things that make bubbles.  You can turn this into a list poem with a more specific bubble theme OR you can pick one thing from your list and write about that any way you would like. 

Fiction Writing Practice:  Invent a character with the name Bubbles.  Is it the character's real name or a nickname?  If a nickname, how did the character get the name?  Reflect on what the character's favorite food is, what hobbies he or she has, etc. 

After you develop the traits of the character, you are welcome to start a story, of course!

Poetry Prompt:  Write a poem about a place where one can encounter bubbles.  Write about the scene and what makes it magical, special or interesting. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Writing Prompts About Uniforms


Before posting your weekend writing prompts, I'm going to post this week's American Life in Poetry column because I think the poem is excellent. 

This week's TED KOOSER'S "American Life in Poetry" Column # 324

Here is a fine poem by my fellow Nebraskan, Barbara Schmitz, who here offers us a picture of people we’ve all observed but haven’t thought to write about.

Uniforms
by Barbara Schmitz

It is very hot—92 today—to be wearing
a stocking cap, but the adolescent swaggering
through the grocery store automatic door
doesn’t seem to mind; does not even appear
to be perspiring. The tugged-down hat
is part of his carefully orchestrated outfit:
bagging pants, screaming t-shirt, high-topped
shoes. The young woman who yells to her friends
from an open pickup window is attired
for summer season in strapless stretch
tube top, slipping down toward bountiful
cleavage valley. She tugs it up in front
as she races toward the two who have
just passed a cigarette between them
like a baton on a relay team. Her white
chest gleams like burnished treasure
as they giggle loudly there in the corner
and I glance down to see what costume
I have selected to present myself to
the world today. I smile; it’s my sky blue
shirt with large deliberately faded Peace sign,
smack dab in the middle, plus grey suede
Birkenstocks—a message that “I lived through
the sixties and am so proud.” None of the
young look my way. I round the corner and
walk into Evening descending.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Barbara Schmitz, whose most recent book of poems is How Much Our Dancing Has Improved, Backwaters Press, 2005. Poem reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 47, no. 3, 2009, by permission of Barbara Schmitz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
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Creative Nonfiction Prompt:  Think about all the real uniforms you have worn in your life.  Make a list of them.  For me, my first uniform for a job was a polyester navy blue zip-up shirt with ruffled short plaid sleeves.  It bore the emblem "Tastee Freeze."  They weren't too bad, actually.  At another job I had, I wore a white lab coat everyday, but due to the nature of the work getting the lab coat so dirty, I eventually got navy blue lab coats instead.  I never had to wear a school uniform or camp uniform and I never was a Brownie or Girl Scout.  I did play softball for a short time in high school, and if we had uniforms, I do not remember. 
After you make your list, decide if you want to write a themed piece based on the different uniforms you have worn in your life, or if you want to just focus on one.  Write about the uniform and connect it to your life at the time you had to wear it.  You can also write about a uniform your siblings, spouse or children wore. 
Fiction Writing Practice:  Create a character who loves his or her job, but HATES the uniform.  What is the job?  What does the uniform look like?  What kind of uniform would your character like to have instead? 
Poetry Prompt:  Write a poem about a person that tells us about the kind of person he or she is by the way the person is dressed.  This can be a random person you see out on your walk, at the bus stop, etc.  Or it can be a person you know. 
Free Write Prompt:  What costume have you "selected to present yourself to the world today?"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writing Prompts with Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

STARS
©
Sergey Kravtsov | Dreamstime.com


For today's writing prompts, I'm happy to bring you an old, but sparkly poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  I hope you enjoy, "To Jane:  The Keen Stars Were Twinkling."  Read the poem and then you can you try the prompts based on the poem below. 


To Jane: The Keen Stars Were Twinkling by Percy Bysshe Shelley

     The keen stars were twinkling,
And the fair moon was rising among them,
        Dear Jane!
     The guitar was tinkling,
But the notes were not sweet till you sung them
        Again.

     As the moon's soft splendour
O'er the faint cold starlight of Heaven
        Is thrown,
     So your voice most tender
To the strings without soul had then given
        Its own.

     The stars will awaken,
Though the moon sleep a full hour later,
        Tonight;
     No leaf will be shaken
Whilst the dews of your melody scatter
        Delight.

     Though the sound overpowers,
Sing again, with your dear voice revealing
        A tone
     Of some world far from ours,
Where music and moonlight and feeling
        Are one.

"To Jane: The Keen Stars Were Twinkling" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Public domain.


1.  Poetry Prompt:  Start a poem with this line, "Over the faint starlight of heaven comes. . . "

2.  Fiction Writing Prompt:  Write an opening scene from a story that starts in a scene, "Where the music and moonlight and feeling are one." 

3.  Creative nonfiction Prompt:  Write about a memory you shared with someone looking at the stars or the moon.   

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Writing Prompts with Robert Schuman


Today is the birthday of Robert Schuman, a German composer born in 1810.  Did you know that Robert Schuman was training to be a concert pianist, but badly injured his right hand when he was 20, so from there he started composing?  There is a great article about Robert Schuman featured today at Writer's Almanac if you would like to learn more about him. 

In honor of Robert Shcuman's birthday, I am offering this beautiful music video, "Romance Violin," accompanied by images of dancers and roses.  For your free-write prompt today, I ask you to play the music and/or view the images and let them be your guide.

Enjoy!

Now, let's look at some of Robert Schuman's quotes and we'll base our writing prompts off of those. 

"It is music's lofty mission to shed light on the depths of the human heart.”  - Robert Schuman

Poetry prompt:  Write about a poem about how music has shed light on your heart.  Be specific about the music that has moved you.  Name the songs, the instruments, the concert experiences or talk about the joy of playing, singing, etc.


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“People compose for many reasons: to become immortal; because the pianoforte happens to be open; because they want to become a millionaire; because of the praise of friends; because they have looked into a pair of beautiful eyes; for no reason whatsoever.” - Robert Schuman

Essay Prompt: Write about why you write or create.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writing Prompts with Random Words and a Rose






For your free-write assignment today, I ask you to free-write about the person holding the rose.

Our other writing prompt options for today are to use the random words below to compose 3 to 5 sentences using a minimum of 3 words from the list per sentence.  You can change the forms of the words if you wish, like making something plural, etc.  After you compose some sentences, pick one sentence to start a poem, a story, a memoir, etc.  

Happy Writing!

Your random words for today are:

drizzle, more, peaches, moon, skinny, melon, operation, mutter, stand, poppy, anniversary, pebbly, Scottish, spite, meadow, between, anticipation, glance, jaybird blue, cluster, bummer, break, come back, honey, kiss, last, grow, stretch

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writing Prompt with Art by Nancy Canyon


"In the Center" by Nancy Canyon

This is an art piece that writer and artist Nancy Canyon has allowed us to use for our writing prompts.  There is also another creative writing prompt with art by Nancy Canyon on our Prompts for Writers site if you would like to see that, too.

Today you are welcome to free-write from today's image.  Just go where your mind takes you.

You can also repsond any way you wish (poetry, creative nonfiction or fiction) to the following starter lines:

In the center. . .
I'm in the center of. . .
She wanted to be in the center of. . .
If only he were the center of. . .


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Nancy Canyon, MFA, is published in Water~Stone Review, Fourth Genre, Floating Bridge Review, Poetry South , Main Street Rag, Exhibition, Obliquity, and more.  Her paintings have been shown and published in Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane, and Hawaii.  Ms. Canyon holds the MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University and an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Art Therapy from Marylhurst University.  She is a Fiction Editor for Crab Creek Review, as well as a creative writing instructor for Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University's Academy of Life Long Learning.  Currently she is revising her third novel and working on her art in a vintage studio located in historic Fairhaven, a village set along the edge of Bellingham Bay in Washington state.  


Friday, June 3, 2011

Creative Writing Prompts with Fiona Robyn: Small Stones

BEACH PEBBLES
©
Richard J Thompson | Dreamstime.com

This weekend we are having a Stone Festival at Prompts for Writers.  That means, that I am asking you to please contribute your "small stones" here in the comments this weekend. 

Our guest prompter today is Fiona Robyn.  I met her by coming across her blog, River of Stones (check it out for the "Blogsplah of Wedding Small Stones."

I love the concept of writing "small stones," because I believe anybody can do them.  From now on, no excuses for "Writer's Block" because when we write a small stone, we are writing an observation.  There is no "can't" when it comes to observing. 

I think you will all love writing small stones.  A small stone is writing only a little, so there is no pressure.  See how Fiona guides you through the process in her post below, and I'm sure you'll discover something if you try.

Many thanks to Fiona for her contribution to the creative writing prompts today.  I also wish her and her fiance Kaspa all the best as they prepare to marry in a couple of weeks!

I look forward to seeing your stones posted here this weekend as part of our Stone Festival.  Let's see how many stones we can get!

 
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Fiona Robyn

Thank you, Anjie, for inviting me to share my writing prompt with your readers.

I would like to invite you to write a ‘small stone’ every day this week.

What is a small stone? It’s very simple. Pay close attention to something that you notice, and then write it down. That’s all!

Here are three different exercises you could try as you write your small stones:

1.       Use a different sense every day. On the first day, think about all the different things you can smell and choose one (or more) of these smells as the focus for your small stone. Then think about what you can hear, touch, taste, see, feel and think, and then on the last day put them all together.
2.       Try and notice the forgotten corners of your world. Pay attention to the over-grown patch at the bottom of the garden, or the cupboard under the sink. Look for your small stones where you don’t expect to find any. See what you can find.
3.       Practice praise. When you look around for your small stones, appreciate as much as you can – enjoy the colour of the sky, notice the wild flower growing in the street, make the most of the coffee aroma as you walk past the coffee shop. See if you can find something to praise in everything.

You can try polishing up your small stones after you’ve found them by thinking carefully about which words you’d like to use, in which order, and whether you’d like to include line breaks or not. Take out any words that aren’t essential. Say your small stone out loud and see how it sounds. Fiddle about until it seems as accurate as it can be. Try to avoid writing about yourself unless it’s an observation of yourself – leave your opinions out. The more concrete the better!

The main object of writing small stones is to help us pay attention to the world around us. As you look for them, you should notice yourself becoming more engaged with the world around you. A happy side-effect of paying attention is that small stones are often very beautiful too. Here are some examples of small stones from our recent book, Pay Attention:  A River of Stones.

If you get bitten by the bug, we have a small stone writing challenge during July – find out more at the river of stones blog. And do leave me some of your small stones in the comments section – I’d love to read them!
 
winter sun
an old bramble blooms
with frost  

Polona Oblak

On pale straw stalks brown bulrushes sway, slowly being feathered by the wind.

Sam Pennington

in the half-light
my neighbour
rakes her garden
dusk gathering
silently around her

Liam Wilkinson

Through the front window at 42 rue des Champs Elysées: a dozen yellow tulips lazing over the lip of their vase.

 Jeannette Cook

early morning
four hills newly popped
happy moles

Daphne Ashling Purpus

About Fiona Robyn
Fiona is on a mission to help the world connect through writing. She runs a free community at Writing Our Way Home, where she offers e-courses and creativity coaching. She is a published novelist. She started writing ‘small stones’ in 2005, co-curates the ‘river of stones’, and edits the blogzine, ‘a handful
of stones’. She lives in Malvern in the UK with her soon-to-be-husband Kaspa (the 18th of June!) and her two cats, Fatty and Silver.

Fiona’s website: http://www.writingourwayhome.com/
Free community: http://writingourwayhome.ning.com/
A river of stones: http://ariverofstones.blogspot.com/