Grab a blank notebook, a manuscript already in progress, or open a new note in your phone. In The Nudge, our publisher gives you the writing elbow~ a nudge to write on...
The Nudge began as a weekly writing prompt in 2017. The first year of The Nudge, each week our publisher gave prompts based on different themes. There are 53 of them below. Some of them still have weekly instructions, but writing every day based on these prompts is possible. Many of the writing prompts also include tools for revision and editing as well as suggestions for reading works of literature that exemplify the themes.
In the second year, she changed it up and gave prompts with four vocabulary words. Those begin at #54 below. You can write using the vocabulary words only, or use the combined challenge of a theme/instructions and the words.
In recent years, she provides inspiration based on a work of art or another writer or idea. Those begin at #106 below.
The Nudge writing prompts work for the lone writer AND in class settings, writing groups, and between pairs of friends. Good luck and enjoy the writing!
Theme: TRANSITIONAL PLACE. Open a story by describing a new setting for your character. This is a scene of discovery for your character. They've never experienced this place until now.
Additional advice: For nonfiction prose and poetry, consider a place that was unfamiliar to you and describe that transformation--a new job, a home, moving to a different city, a new room, a park you wandered into, the first time you saw the ocean or mountains.
Theme: VALUE OBJECT. What is something deeply valuable to your character? Describe something that is important throughout the character's life. Choose a specific time in the character's life to first introduce this object, idea, story, and/or dream to the reader, but consider the full passage of time for the character.
Additional advice: For nonfiction prose and poetry: Is there an object, idea, story, dream that has recurring meaning throughout your life, something you can trace back into childhood and that might have changed in meaning for you over time as well.
Theme: CONFLICT EXPLORATION. Before writing the actual scenes, free-write and explore the central conflict for your main character. What does your main character most fear regarding the central conflict? What situations cause discomfort for the character and either foreshadow the scenes of central conflict and/or trigger the character (their actions, emotions, motives, etc.) in later scenes.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose & poetry: Write about a conflict that you knew was looming in your life based on foreboding events that preceded the conflict. How does this conflict continue to impact your life, especially in unpredictable ways?
Theme: FOOD'S ROLE. Food is essential to life so consider how to incorporate food into your story. Food can be central to the conflict of your story, or it could simply play a minor role in the conflict while still delivering a thematic impact. What role will food(s) play in your story?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose & poetry: Consider a specific food to discuss in your life and/or the overall role of food in your considerations of economics, preservation, and/or sustainability, etc?
Theme: NERVOUS HABIT. Create a nervous habit for one of your characters. If not the main character, choose a minor character who needs more description in order to come alive in the story. This habit could add an element of humor and/or realism to your story. The habit could be a sound they make, an action toward themselves or others, or an inability to act. The habit could create a central conflict for the character (consider habits such as cutting, binge eating, and other forms of serious, repetitive self-harming). Likewise, the habit could be more of a side-note, something endearing and entertaining without being central to the conflict. Adding a habit could show more depth to a character or to the overall story.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Most of us have habits that we form as children and can spend a lifetime trying to break, but we also develop new habits as we age. Focus on your own personal habits. Journal until you express more about one of your particular habits than others. How did the opinions/reactions of others influence your habits as you were growing up? Are there habits that you hide and protect, keeping them a secret from the rest of the world?
Theme: ENRICHED SETTING. Enrich your story's setting by adding details about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and languages found in the story's scenes beyond those expressed by your main character. Consider how much your main character might observe about the setting and/or elements in particular scenes without having a direct experience with those sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and so on. You might want your character to focus on another character at least for a particular scene. Often, this observational stance of the main character can show a comparison/contrast between the main character and a minor character or someone simply passing through the scene of a book. These scenes could reveal how a main character views the setting as a whole or some particular element in the scene, such as a smell, taste, sound, etc. For example, perhaps your character is sensitive to the sound of someone slurping coffee, and you could show this in a scene by using a stranger at a restaurant or a lunch date with a friend, etc.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Choose a setting and a sense (taste, touch, smell, sight, sound) and fully write about each sense in that setting. How does your writing change if you focus on smell versus sight and so on? How does the sensory experience blend together in some settings/places more than others?
Tool: DIALOGUE to SHOW vs. TELL. Read through your story and find a scene in which your narrator tells the reader what happens instead of showing the reader. Often, we get comfortable with a narrative voice in a story and don't allow the characters to show their conversations. One way to accomplish this revision is to use dialogue in a scene where two characters interact, as this allows the characters to speak for themselves versus using a narrator's prose to describe/explain a scene to the reader.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Experiment with how you could use dialogue for emphasis. Consider writing in a specific, unique voice for an entire poem, or suddenly giving a voice to an inanimate object.
Tool: RESEARCH. Consider adding another layer to your story by adding actual historical information, data, political events, cultural events and trends, and/or architectural structures to specific settings in your story and/or the plot/events of the story as related to time period in history when the story takes place (or via flashbacks). If your story's time in history is current or futuristic, you could still include references to actual places and work in that information or create new places as if they have been established (in a futuristic work...think about the novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and how Orwell pulls this off). When you add any of the above styles, it's important not to sound like a textbook or tour guide style of book, so try to share this type of information in a creative way through a character's experience(s).
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore a cultural practice that has changed over time and/or through the generations. Write about the shifting perspective of a cultural practice that's related to history and/or tradition.
Theme: SMELL. Explore the sense of smell for one of your characters. Free-write about the variety of smells and your character's reactions. Take this beyond the typical, and consider how a character's sense of smell changes with the different seasons and how the seasons themselves have a variety of fragrances. What fragrances are pleasant to your character? Do certain scents cause the character to remember his/her past? Are some odors harmful or painful to your characters? Can you add humor to your story or scene by using smell? Consider how some fragrances change in meaning over time, and how cultures categorize scents in different ways. Also, notice how some people and animals are more keen observers of scent.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore one smell for a poem and try to capture the essence of that fragrance. If you have an additional poetic theme, consider writing a series of poems combining your existing theme with the concept of smell. For creative nonfiction, explore how the sense of smell can trigger memories and/or foretell reactions/events to come in the future.
Theme: FRAMING MOTIVE. Don't simply consider your narrator's motive for telling the story (or the main character's focus in a third person narrative), think about why they *need to tell the story and how they would frame it. Everyone frames their story just as they dress themselves in clothes, wear a uniform, and alter their appearance in some way. Framing stories is what we do when we tell them, but you get to construct this frame. Does it have flare? Is it simple and straightforward? How will you choose to present your story and why, oh why, is your narrator telling it in the first place? Somewhere in the beginning, you must give the reader a clue about that without giving away the entire story. The reader wants to feel driven to "know it all," so they need a hint about your motive, even if your narrator surprises them later.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose & poetry: Consider juxtaposing one story about your life with another time in your life and link the two by theme or symbol. For poetry, consider "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as a way of framing a long, narrative poem. The mariner has a need to tell his story.
Theme: ROUTINE. Give your character a mundane task or chore that they must repeat and one that you describe in the story. Make this routine, mundane chore suddenly be a moment or event of significant change and/or awareness for your character. Create a surprising twist on the character's approach to this mundane routine and one that resonates through many more aspects of the character's life.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Have you been surprised during a routine occupation such as folding laundry, making coffee, serving someone at a restaurant job, walking to the store on your usual route at the usual time, and/or standing in line at the post office or the bank. Write about an extraordinary moment and/or awareness that happened during a routine.
Theme: BASIC MOBILITY. How do your characters stand? How do they walk? Are they incapable of walking/running/jumping for some reason? What does their stride look like if they run? Do they have a particular stance and is it altered when they are nervous or lack confidence? What kind of shoes do they wear? Experiment with basic mobility in your story.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider writing about your feet and/or shoes. Do you have a preference for bare feet or keeping your feet covered for some reason? Do you remove your shoes when entering someone's home? Is this related to a cultural stigma or reasons of cleanliness?
Theme: SENSE OF STYLE. Let's look at your character's style. Consider how your characters would dress, groom, and otherwise present their physical body to the world. Is your main character superficial in some ways? How? Does your character make a statement or try to shock other people with their appearance, or is your character more concerned with fitting in? Are your character's choices about appearance motivated by cultural demands or restrictions? Are they using appearance to be rebellious and/or political? Does your character care about social, humanitarian, and economic issues regarding industries related to physical appearance?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider writing about appearance by focusing on the social impact of trends in an essay or a poem. Think about a specific trend and how that could define people who participate in that trend. On a global scale, write about demands on peoples' appearances based on cultural standards and traditions.
Toolbox: REVISION using ACTION VERBS. Find a scene in your story that needs speed/momentum in the tone. This scene might not contain action in the typical way. The momentum could only be in the mind of your character. Choose verbs that will propel the scene forward, even if only in the character's mind (for example, fear and anxiety-laden moments where no real action occurs). Practice using strong action verbs.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Focus on time in your life when you created more momentum and action in your mind and then realized that the events didn't measure up to the scenario in your head.
Write a poem using words that invoke action and/or momentum. Consider how words sound when choosing them.
Theme: LETTERS. Experiment with the epistolary form in your story. Create a situation in which your character must send and/or receive a letter. Try out the old-fashioned form of snail mail, and/or use more modern methods of sending letters/communications (emails, texts, social media posts & responses).
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider how your written communications have changed over time. Can you discuss/show how your way of writing to someone has changed, as well as the medium you use to deliver your communications (pen and paper, envelopes, cards, texts, emails, social media posts and responses)? Do you have any letters from the past that you could borrow from in order to create a unique expression of your written correspondences?
Theme: MAGIC. Bring in an unexpected moment of magic into your story. Perhaps this magical moment is created by the character being in a special place and/or someone they meet imbues the story with mysticism, mystery, or an otherwise magical presence. Allow this situation to be enchanting and, in some ways, mysterious. The character's life may "go back to normal" afterwards, or the magic could inspire a change in the character or their way of life.
If your character or narrator is on the cynical side, this moment of magic creates something unexpected for the character and the reader. It could reinforce the cynicism in the end, or it could create a contrast that reveals more about the characters.
Magic doesn't have to refer to "hocus pocus." You could use magical realism as a style in part of your story. This means giving magical and/or spiritual qualities or powers to ordinary descriptions and details. Try this approach to your creative nonfiction and/or poetry, if you are not writing fiction. This could also be a time to experiment with blending different genres.
Inspiration: Permanent sculpture, "Crawling Lady Hare" by Sophie Ryder part of the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.
Tool: COLOR. Time for revision, again. A regular practice of drafting scenes in your story will allow each section or chapter of your story to shine.
For week 16, find a scene in your story that needs a little more attention. Revise by focusing on color in that scene. You could emphasize tones of one specific color and relate that to the mood of the scene and/or the overall story. Consider a larger emphasis on subtle details using color throughout your manuscript (clothing, hair color, objects in the environment). Overall, how does your character use or feel about color(s) in his/her life? Do your characters prefer earth tones or bright spaces?
Consider photographs in your story. Could you use black and white or faded photographs in the story to add details and to tell additional stories and histories within your manuscript?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider keeping the language and structure simple with a piece like "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, while emphasizing the use of color. Or, write about the cultural implications of color and consider a poem like Robert Frost's "The Vanishing Red".
Theme: RITE OF PASSAGE. Does your character undergo a rite of passage? How old is your character when she/he first realizes that they will experience a rite of passage? Or, is the experience a surprise or shock? If they know about this experience in advance, is she/he excited, nervous, afraid, etc? Does the character's life truly change after the experience? Does the character feel satisfaction, disappointment, both? Is the rite of passage related to family, culture, religious or spiritual practices, etc?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore two different rites of passage in your life--one that you had knowledge of before you experienced it and one that was a shock or surprise to you in some way. If you don't have two experiences, consider comparing one of your own rites of passage to that of someone or something else, perhaps noticing the historical or cultural shifts as one way to approach the theme. For another perspective, consider what it would be like if you were an animal to experience some of the rites of passage that we expect of/ enforce upon animals.
Inspiration: "Glass Bridge" by Siah Armajani located at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens on the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail. Nashville.
Tool: RESEARCH based on PLANT LIFE. Consider the environment/setting where your story takes place. Research the plant life in that environment. Learn about at least one plant that could enrich the symbolism and meaning in your story. Is the plant classified as a tree, an herb, fruit, vegetable, grass, moss, etc.? How does this plant reflect the state of the environment? Can you relate that to your characters directly or symbolically? Another approach could be to practice blending the characteristics of the plant and its seasonal changes with your character's body and her/his seasonal changes.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Research a plant that you could relate to the state of the environment where you live and write an essay based on the research. Explore the qualities of a specific tree in a particular season for a poem.
For journaling, is there a plant that symbolically connects to your family or that you can trace throughout your life? Why do you think that you are connected to this plant? What do you know about it and could you learn more from studying it/reading about it? How is the plant a representation of you and/or your life?
Theme: TRANSFORMATIVE ELEMENT. Bring a transformative element into your writing this week...a dip in a salt bath, a healing tonic, a cooling herb, a visit to the midwife...Is there a curative item, place, and/or person for your character? Consider adding a moment of discovery that is related to an item, person, or place that heals or cures your character. The ailment could be physical, social, psychological, spiritual, and/or all of these. Focus on the moment of healing for your character(s).
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore a time when you were sick with an illness or disease and write about your body's healing and recovery process. Was there anything that was curative for you or that felt that way symbolically in your life?
Theme: SPONTANEOUS CELEBRATION. Writers, Week 20 of The Nudge is about saying, "Cheers!" Create a spontaneous celebration in your story. This could be a party that your character throws or attends, and/or it could be a small celebratory dinner or drink between two characters. Most importantly, it should happen without a plan. This is something that your character experiences as an impromptu event.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Have you created a spontaneous celebration for any reason in your life? How often do you indulge in celebrating the achievements of your life? Consider when you have allowed the current of the moment to carry you into a celebratory mood, and consider if there was a reason to celebrate or if you were simply answering the zest for life that exists. For poetry, write a celebratory poem. Consider celebrating something that isn't ordinarily celebrated in your culture or family.
Theme: ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION. Create a situation in which your character must explore or take alternative modes of transportation than what they are accustomed to in their daily routines. You could place them in a foreign country, where they must use public transportation. You could give them a form of transportation that they must learn as a beginner. How does your character feel about being out of her comfort zone? Does this inspire her, conjure fears, compel her to try more adventurous ways of moving around in life, etc? If she takes the bus, whom does she meet or see on the bus that prompts a change? What new relationships and/or patterns does the alternative transportation create?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Write about an experience when you unexpectedly had to use a form of transportation that you didn't know was available. Maybe your car broke down and you came up with an alternative. Perhaps you had to walk somewhere as the only means of getting there when you expected something else to happen. Consider exploring several different modes of transportation in your life, and how those have changed over time as you have aged and/or your lifestyle needed a different way of traveling.
Tool: FREEWRITE about a MINOR CHARACTER. It's time to have some fun, and play around by exploring the personality of a supporting/minor character in detail. Free-write about a character other than the narrator or main characters; consider characters that might only appear in one scene or animals, pets for example, and even toys as characters. Think about The Lego Movie and Toy Story. There are truly endless possibilities when you consider that Tom Robbins gives voice to a can of beans in one of his novels. After free-writing about the character's personality and/or appearance, etc., write a scene from that supporting character's point of view, even if you don't use it in the final draft of the story. Get to know the supporting character in more detail.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Think back to a scene in your life when a stranger stood out to you, not someone you ever spoke to. Write about someone you observed in real life, but create a poetic or fictional life for them. Make it up, everything about this person. You could set their story in motion from the time that you observed them. Be creative and imaginative about what might be possible in this person's life. You could also choose to write about an animal that you observed as well. Try to write from that entity's point of view as an alternative way of exploring the time in your life, as if they were observing you.
Theme: FORMALITIES. Allow your character to attend a formal event. This could be a graduation ceremony, a large wedding, an inauguration, a change of command in the armed forces, an induction, a homecoming, a burial, a consecration, a baptismal, a dedication, a ball, etc. Is the event somber or festive? Could you inject laughter into a usually somber occasion? Could you bring a sense of foreboding to an event that should be joyful? Is your character comfortable at the event? Does your character notice if others are uneasy with the formalities of the occasion? Allow the character to be transformed in some way by attending the event.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: How do these formal events reflect the passage of time in your life? Are they truly transformative moments? What changes beyond your daily routine (for example, when you graduated from high school versus the changes after your college graduation)? Have you ever skipped a formal ceremony (either attending one for someone else or participating in one for yourself)? Why did you choose to skip it? Was it fear, protection, detachment, or some other motivating force?
Theme: PREDICTIONS. Allow a prediction to be made about your character. This prediction could be from an oracle or it could be something more akin to a family superstition. Maybe the prediction is made before the character is born, while they are an infant, or during a rite of passage later in life. Consider ancient texts and myths that contain this theme, such as Oedipus Rex and the story of Moses.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Has a prediction been made about you or your life? Was the prediction from your family, a stranger, or something else? If you've never had such an experience, have you ever witnessed someone making a prediction about someone else? Were there events that led them to try to foretell the future? Consider writing about how a prediction about someone's life could be constricting, binding, freeing, and/or enchanting, etc.
Theme: REFUGE. Create a place of refuge for your character, a place where they feel safe. Does your character seek the comforts of this place on a routine basis? Is the place indoors or outdoors, both? Does your character ever share this place with others, or is this a place they retreat to in solitude? What activities does your character do in her place of refuge, or does she escape from certain events while there? Show how your character changes after being there.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Write about the changes in your place of refuge over time. The place itself may have changed. Consider writing about what sensory stimuli created a place of refuge for you when you were younger, and what gives you that sense of security now. What are the similarities and differences? We all need places that bring out our true selves at a specific moment in time, and they feel sacred to us for allowing us to be ourselves in that moment, in a way that is secure.
Theme: CREATIVE INSPIRATION. What is your character's creative inspiration? Does your character have a positive outlet for her creativity, and have you written about that within the narrative? Does your main character quilt, dance, paint, write, draw, knit, garden, or any other form of artistic expression? Use this creative practice for your character to add details about not only how this affects your character, but also within your prose as well, to describe the creative action itself. For example, if it's dance that your character uses as a method of self-expression, a job, or a hobby, you can explore and describe elements of dance. Also, consider artistry that's atypical or experimental for your character and story as well.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Choose one of your creative hobbies, not an occupation or job, and write about the reasons why you enjoy this method of artistic expression. Consider the changes you feel during the creative process and after the process is complete for one round or session (for example: a single painting or a dance).
Theme: COLLECTIONS. Create a scene in which your character is astounded by a collection. This scene could be only a moment or a longer series of events. The collection could be something your character has acquired over time, or perhaps your character is shown a collection by someone else. Consider typical collections of items such as postage stamps, trading cards, and antiques, as well as unique or odd collections.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Have you ever witnessed or experienced how a collection can become an obsession? Write about how acquiring items can take over someone's life in a way that is unhealthy, versus gathering materials or amassing a collection of something in order to create a grouping to preserve or represent a history or story; for example, a collection of artwork from a specific time period, culture, obscure artist, or region.
Tool: RESEARCH COLLOQUIAL CHANGES. All about jive talkin'. Do some research about language and conversation, and include phrases and/or words specific to a certain time period and/or region. Language changes over time and some words are popular only for a short time. Think about how an average word can suddenly have either a positive or negative connotation that changes with the generations. Demonstrate the common parlance of your characters by using dialogue. You might also show changes within a foreign language in your English-written novel; for example, Tom Robbins does this with French in his novel, Jitterbug Perfume.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Focus on one word or phrase and fully explore the colloquial changes in a poem or nonfiction essay. You might also write about the language specific to an industry or occupation and focus on the symbolism of that.
Theme: GENEALOGY. Consider family history in relation to your character's motivations and reactions. Show something about your character's family history and explore a family trait, habit, and/or belief. Consider connecting all three in order to fully explore the theme.
Genealogy can be critical if you're writing a book series. Another option is to write out and create a family tree for one or all of your main characters. Louise Erdrich prints a family tree in her novel, Love Medicine. You can print the family tree in the book(s), or keep it for your own private reference and motivation.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Peruse your own family tree if you have one, or create one based on the information that you have available about your family. Many families record their family trees and histories in family Bibles. One approach to this topic could be to tell a story/write a poem from an ancestor's point of view, based on what little information you might have available to you. You may only know someone's name that strikes you as intriguing and use the name as inspiration to create an imaginary story or one that you try to connect to your own personal story.
Tool: PLAYLIST. Writers, get out your toolbox. Time to listen to some music and find your groove with the story. You should have a solid foundation for your story and be familiar with your characters as well as the setting(s) and the time period(s) of the story. Given all of the work you've done so far, stop writing and create a playlist of songs for yourself that's inspired by the story. This isn't necessarily something you will write directly into the story. The music should continue to inspire you while writing your story. The playlist could be composed of songs that you imagine your character(s) would listen to or hear during their time period(s). You might choose to listen to the music while brainstorming or thinking about your story versus while you are actually writing. You could allow the music to inform the mood of your scenes.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Choose a musical genre or a specific artist or song that has influenced your life in some way. Explore the topic of music and its influence in your life. Has your mood changed based on the music in the environment around you? Has music shifted your perspective on something?
Tool: RESEARCH a GLOBAL and/or HISTORICAL EVENT. Use an historical and/or global event in your story. This allows you to connect your story with actual events and something that could be in the memory of your readers, especially if you are writing about more modern events. Consider a solar or lunar eclipse as an example of an event many people could experience. Some other examples could be viewing the Northern Lights, warfare that many people experience and/or witness, an earthquake or natural disaster, a meteorite shower, the passage of a visible comet, and more.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider writing about an expectation you had regarding a global or historical event that you knew about in advance or that you were certain you would experience, and how the actual experience was different than what you had imagined or expected. For example, if you planned to view the Northern Lights at a particular time, what was that experience actually like? Did it happen? How was it different than you imagined?
Theme: "TAKE OUT THE PAPERS & THE TRASH." Explore the trash in your story. Write at least one scene that deals with trash in some way. This could be actually taking out the trash or a situation when the character notices the trash somewhere. You might choose to focus on recycling and waste collection. You could write about composting. Regardless, don't fail to acknowledge the trash that exists. Remember, the trash can be both a nuisance and a treasure, depending upon the situation.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Write about how the trash can be a treasure. Consider how people survive based on the trash. You could focus on an occupation that centers on waste removal in some way. Also, think about how the trash has made an impact or been used as a tool. For example, the 1968 AFSCME Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike during the Civil Rights Movement, or the ways in which trash is used as a weapon or shaming tool during rallies, marches, and boycotts.
Tool: MINIMALIST STYLE. Choose a scene or write a new short story and focus on writing it in a minimalist style. You might choose to write in a format and/or with a medium that creates a limitation regarding the length of the work. Consider not simply paring down how many words you use, but perhaps using less characters, punctuation, and/or other common narrative devices. Either way, explore minimalism as a style that sharpens your writing.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Find a wee baby book to write inside--this will guarantee that your space is limited. You could also use an alternative surface or space that creates a limitation. For examples, consider William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" in poetry or Raymond Carver's "Popular Mechanics" in fiction. Look at the work of minimalist, visual artists who use text as well; for example, Joseph Kosuth, Ed Ruscha, and Carl Andre.
Theme: EDUCATION. The focus is on getting schooled. Within a scene or for a chapter or more, write about some aspect of education within your character's life. You could focus on a single teacher, mentor, subject, or class, or you could explore the larger role of education and/or school within your character's life. Consider alternative methods of learning as well as traditional schools.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Write about an education you received that wasn't related to traditional schools or classroom experiences. Maybe this is some form of self-education.
Consider the following works: "Three Pokes of a Thistle" by Naomi Shihab Nye (creative nonfiction, prose), Runaway: Stories by Alice Munroe (short story collection), The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (novel), "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks (poetry), and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (children's novel series).
Tool: PUBLIC DOMAIN LITERATURE. Find a piece of literature (song, story, poem, book, newspaper article, play) that's now in the public domain. Use a reference to or quotation from that piece of literature. Your character could be influenced by hearing it or reading it. Use this public domain literaturesimply once in a scene or tie it in to the overall theme of your work, giving it a more significant impact within your piece of writing. Generally speaking, a work becomes part of the public domain about 70 years after the death of the author who owned the copyright. Use this opportunity to do some research and look up the copyright laws for different types of literature and media.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Focus on a piece of literature that influenced your perception about life in some way. The literature impacted you to such an extent that you changed your mind or gained a new perspective completely.
Theme: I JUST CAN'T HELP WOOING YOU. Introduce the mood of romance and/or love into your story. Even if your story does not focus on themes of romance and/or romantic and/or passionate love, include a moment, a scene, a memory, and/or a fantasy into the story. Give the reader a little romantic gesture or the full dance. Use this theme of romance to create tension as well. Refrain from going into a full sex scene (...yet if you decide to include one); instead, stay focused on the theme of romance and expressions of romantic/passionate love in this instance, even if you are only hinting at it. How would your character woo someone? Would she actively pursue a romantic interest? What types of affection and romance arouse your character and get his attention?
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Write about a momentary romance in your life. This could be something you only explored in your own imagination--a fantasy--that never transpired in real life, or it could be something akin to a "summer romance."
Theme: (CRUEL) TWIST OF FATE. It's time to create some empathy in the reader. Add a twist of fate to your story--a turn of events that no one excepts. Consider making this a cruel act of fate or circumstance in life. For example, a character who is waiting for something important and after she moves on and gives up, that something happens without her ever seeing it or knowing it was fulfilled. Shakespeare was clever with using these wicked twists within his plays. Another modern, fairytale example can be found in the film Maleficent, Disney's newest version of Sleeping Beauty.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Have you ever wondered how something played out after giving up on it, only to come to the understanding that you will never know? Have you ever become so impatient that you have taken a different route, or given up on a journey due to impatience, and then wondered later what might have happened if you had stuck with the original route or if you had continued the journey? Write about these tricky situations in life, when you wonder if fate is messing with you or prompting you in a certain direction for a reason. Do you think these "alignments of the stars", fate interventions, are real or purely coincidental?
Tool: FAIRYTALE ADAPTATION. Find a fairytale or myth and adapt it to contemporary times in a short story or within a section of your story/chapter in your book. There are many examples in films, but consider short stories that achieve this from authors like Anne Rice and Raymond Carver.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Explore a fairytale or myth that you once believed/viewed in a different way than you do now. Create an essay, creative nonfiction story, or poem about how your views concerning this fairytale or myth changed over time.
Theme: DREAM SEQUENCE. We've entered the dream time. Add a dream sequence to your story. This dream sequence could be one dream that your character recounts, or you may want to add a more substantial dream scene that brings an element of surrealism to your story. An example of a story that is based almost entirely on the consequences of sleeping/escaping is "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving. In her recent nonfiction book, What Made Maddy Run, Kate Fagan writes a dream sequence for one whole chapter of the book. She uses some elements of creative nonfiction in this chapter.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Could you write a nonfiction dream sequence that isn't simply a retelling of a dream? Consider using dreams and dream states in a creative way. Try combining different genres.
Theme: WAR. Add an element or awareness of war to your story. Even if war is not part of your overall story at all, you can still create a scene in which your character must think about and consider war as an activity that exists and happens. You could accomplish this by something your character witnesses on television, in the news, by reading a book, or through another character. Often, war can be introduced as a secondary storyline by showing how a relative or a friend of the main character experiences war. The flashback is another technique used to bring in scenes of war to the story and perhaps add an element of surprise at the same time, especially if your readers are unaware of your character's war experience(s) until the flashback scene.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Intertwine your own life with a war experience of someone you know or an ancestor with war experience about which you have heard from other family members. You could blend some historical nonfiction with your creative writing by somehow connecting your lives.
Inspiration: A WWII-issued Bible that saved the life of a WWII American soldier, Sgt. Glenn Martin, by taking a bullet. The mark of the bullet is visible on the cover of the Bible which was in Martin's front pocket. True story. After his service in WWII, Martin married, and he and his wife Donna had two daughters, three grandsons, and two great-granddaughters.
Theme: BARBER/BEAUTY SHOP REVELATION. The beauty shop, barber shop, hairdresser, manicurist, etc. have always been popular settings in stories. Often, this setting advances the story and shows a range of characters that represent a time and place. Add a scene to your story in one of these locations. Not only does it allow the reader to see some way that your characters groom and detail their appearance, but the setting allows you to create a revelatory story. For example, a minor character could tell a confessional-style story during the time at the salon. You could also create a scene of transformation, not only physically but an overall thematic shift could be possible, too. These places give readers a look into cultural practices and trends as well. Consider describing people based on their hairstyles and/or salon preferences. Examples: Eudora Welty's short story "Petrified Man" and Robert Harling's stage play and later movie, "Steel Magnolias."
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Think back to your experiences at a barber shop or beauty salon and show how you have changed, not simply your appearance and sense of style, but how you have internally shifted as well. Consider writing about a moment of confession at a salon, whether you were the person who revealed a secret or you overheard someone else telling personal information to their hairdresser and other patrons, etc. You might also think about writing about massage therapy, healing touch, or some other self-care routine similar to a salon experience.
Theme: HOLIDAY ANEW. Create a scene in which your character experiences a holiday and/or custom that is new to them. This could be a holiday and/or custom outside of their own culture or the culture where they were born, or it could be within their culture and something they’ve never before experienced. Perhaps you could introduce a new element or theme, some new awareness about the tradition or history of the custom could be another angle to use in your story. If the experience is somewhere other than their home country and culture, allow your character to notice similarities and differences about the traditions.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Write about a time when you learned about the origins of a holiday, tradition, and/or custom and then how that changed either your experience of that holiday and/or your perception of it.
Tool: REVISION of a flashback scene with emphasis on REVERIE/NOSTALGIA/REGRET. Writers, reach in your toolbox and get out your eraser. We're working on revision. Peruse your story and find a scene in which you use a flashback within another larger story. You'll work on revising the flashback scene with a greater depth in mind. You could do this by adding a moment of extended dialogue or a thought pattern, an awareness, of reverie and/or regret. This moment could be nostalgic or remorseful, or both. Give your character some awareness about the passage of time. You could elevate the flashback scene so that it no longer remains on the sidelines as a side story, but becomes a deeper reflection of time. Consider making your main emphasis about the concept and process of aging in a thoughtful and profound scene for your character.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Peruse your writings and find a poem, essay, or creative nonfiction story with some thematic focus on time and/or aging. Consider revising it with more awareness on highlighting the passage of time. Polish a poem that emphasizes time-awareness so that it reaches out toward the reader as well, going beyond the personal experience of aging and timing, and invoking and enveloping the reader into that experience of time moving forward and/or backward. Play around with ways to do that by both directly involving and speaking to the reader, even using the reader in experimental ways, and indirectly triggering the readers' consciousness of time in some way. Revise, experiment, and have fun!
Theme: YOU SAY IT'S YOUR (CHARACTER'S) BIRTHDAY? Write a birthday scene for your character. When is her/his birthday? What have her birthday celebrations been like in the past? Does his birthday occur on any holidays, major or informal, and/or coincide with anyone else's birthday? Maybe a major life event takes place on her birthday.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Let's write a poem or short nonfiction piece from an alternative perspective while still focusing on the self or nonfiction. Write about your birthday from the perspective of someone else. Consider your birthday vibe from the perspective of your parent, sibling, relative, partner, child, and/or friend. How do you treat others on your special day? Do you have a sense of entitlement concerning your birthday? Perhaps you shut others out on your birthday, forfeiting your chances to celebrate or to spend time with other people in your life, or maybe your birthday lasts for a whole week and is full of merriment and joy for being alive. Try taking a look back from an alternative angle.
Theme: ARCHITECTURE. Focus on the architecture within your setting. You may choose to write in detail about one particular building or structure. You could also describe a city or section of a place. Another angle would be to create feelings that your character might have about a certain building or place and/or the architecture of the town where your character lives or is visiting.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Have you been attached to certain architectural structures in your life? Consider any historical buildings or places that hold meaning for you. Have you experienced the destruction of places that were valuable to you or others? Why was the architecture significant? You could also consider how architectural presence creates the mood of a street or section of a town. Have you witnessed a shift in mood when the architecture of a place changes or is altered? Also, as another angle, consider any stories associated with architectural structures, whether those are superstitions, historically documented tales, or other legends and lore associated with architectural structures.
Theme: VOICE. We’re paying attention to sound and voice. Describe your character’s voice in every way. You should consider if your character has a loud or soft voice, any squeaks or little nervous ticks when he speaks, stuttering or sing-song habits in certain situations, and accents or second languages. Does your character have a plain speaking voice but a beautiful singing voice? Think about the different ways to describe and write about voice in order to make your character’s more distinctive. Consider other sounds that your character could make with her voice even when she isn't speaking (for example, when eating, sleeping, driving, exercising, meditating, etc.)
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Write about the contrasts of sound and voice. For example, you could focus on the loss or limitation of your voice. Was it temporary or a more permanent situation? How did the loss or limitation of your voice effect how you experienced sound? You could also write about voice amplification. Have you experienced the unnecessary amplification of your voice or someone else's and noticed how that over-expression of sound caused others to feel?
Theme: FURNITURE. Is it possible to refine your descriptions of the interior details in your settings? Do you tend to skip over descriptions of furniture and use a singular noun (for example, chair, bed, table, etc.) in every situation? Could you, sometimes, be more specific in your descriptions of furniture and furnishings without going overboard with those details? The furniture in a story can be used to date the setting or even the time period of the story. Use furniture as a way to trigger a scene of reverie. Your character might be interested in the furniture for sentimental reasons, or he may simply notice some household item while visiting someone. Use furniture in a subtle way, or in a more pronounced moment to show anger and rage. For example, perhaps your character takes her anger out on a malfunctioning piece of furniture.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Use a piece of furniture or a furnishing to shape an entire poem. Consider ways to emphasize the traits of that furniture. For example: Shel Silverstein's "Furniture Bash" and William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow". For nonfiction, experiment with imagination. Was there a piece of furniture or a furnishing that held a magical quality for you as a child? While it is fiction, consider C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" from The Chronicles of Narnia as an example.
Theme: GAMES. People play games in life, so think about the types of games that your character plays. If you’re writing an historical novel or story, this gives you an opportunity to add a scene that shows a game that may now be out of fashion. Be creative and have fun with playing games in your story. Examples, the play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by Edward Albee is an elaborate mental game shared by a married couple, and our publisher’s novel, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, contains a scene in which secrets are revealed over a card game of Hearts.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Focus on a game that you no longer play but that was important and pivotal in your past. Show your transformation from the time when that game was your focus and why you became enamored with it in the first place, to how you lost interest or moved away from it, as well as how it shaped who you have become now. Consider showing how easily a game can lead to an obsession of some sort, whether that is winning or some other scenario.
Theme: SEASONS OF NATURE. If you tend to avoid writing about nature, let's try some subtle revisions on the setting throughout your novel, or choose a particular recurring place in your setting, AND show the changes of the seasons. In this way, you can show the passage of time, and nature can be a more active element in your story. If you tend to lean away from descriptions of nature in your writing, focus on a single natural cycle and symbolize that complete cycle.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Choose an element of nature, other than the human experience, whether you focus on a plant, animal, mineral, or a land formation, and write about that natural element's cycle of life. Even though you may even write from your own point of view, focus on the seasons of life that accompany whatever life form or natural process you choose.
Tool: Point of View~ ANIMAL'S STORY. Write a scene or short story from an animal’s point of view. This could be a wild animal or a domesticated pet. If you’re incorporating this story into a longer work or novel, consider using the point of view of your character’s pet for an experimental scene or chapter. This is an opportunity to be imaginative and creative. Perhaps the animal is the first person narrator.
Additional advice for creative nonfiction and poetry: Return to a memory from your past that involved an animal. Write about that moment from the animal's perspective. Imagine. Explore. Consider possibilities that you might have overlooked by focusing on yourself or your own point of view.
Tool: DIRTY WORK~ Manuscript Checklist. We're in the home stretch of this version of The Nudge, so these final prompts are aimed at writers of all genres--fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If you’ve been a thoughtful writer all along, these last few will be easy for you. Now, it's time to do the dirty work if you haven’t already. Ensure that the manuscript is all typed in the same font, preferably a font that is easy to read for a variety of readers (Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Georgia are a few examples). Complete a spelling and grammar check. Make sure all the big issues are correct: Section and chapter breaks, paragraph breaks, and title changes to chapters and sections. For the sake of consistency, complete a “Find/Replace” for character name changes that you made. Finally, make sure that your manuscript has a main title.
Tool: READ with minor revisions. Writers, it can’t be all character creation and fun descriptions of fake worlds. Yes, it’s still all of that, but you’re making your writing much better for everyone outside of your head if you revise the manuscript and do a read-through of your own work this week. It’s your responsibility to revise your own work, first. Expecting others to do the dirty work for you in every way causes the work to suffer by your inability to use the depth of talent available from editors. Create a pattern for revising your own manuscript, and maybe this revision needs to be in great detail, but save the revising until later. This is a read-through, so right now only complete the quick and necessary revisions that the computer spelling/grammar/etc. didn't catch. Keep it quick so as not to interrupt the flow of your reading. If you see a mistake, fix it! Don’t wait for an editor. The editors can then give you more advanced editing suggestions instead of being mired in your typos. Enjoy the reading, and hopefully you will find both your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. One of the most helpful ways you can "see" your manuscript is by reading it aloud, whether that is only to yourself or to a friend, family member, or colleague. Just be sure that if you include someone else in this reading, that you note their recommendations after you finish the story. Ask them to keep notes about their opinions, and not to share their thoughts with you until the manuscript reading is complete. Be selective about including someone else, as some influences could suggest alterations that could harm the work and you as a writer.
Our publisher has a new prompt style for The Nudge. Every week, she will provide us with a group of words that are not necessarily related in any way. These words could be nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and/or verbs. You may choose to approach this writing prompt style in a variety of ways. You could use this as a challenge to add words to your story or manuscript that you may not otherwise have used. Another option is for you to learn the definitions of the words, if you don’t know them already, and practice usage of the words in order to incorporate them into your vocabulary. You may also approach these prompts by learning word etymology, delving deeper into the meaning of the word throughout history, and bringing that knowledge into your writing. Be creative as you learn and use words from these prompts. Challenge yourself to use all of the words in a single poem or short prose piece, or even to use them in conversation during the day. Take note of which words are easy and which are difficult or awkward to incorporate into your spoken vocabulary or your particular style of writing.
It’s time for some late night word play in the style of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and all of their friends. Grab a drink, settle in, and conjure up something akin to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. See what you can make out of this week’s word list. Cheers!
Pick or buy yourself a couple of flowers or sprigs from a plant or tree to set upon your table and use as a muse in more than one way. Often, plants, especially aromatic barks and herbs, blooms and bulbs, can be captivating in fragrance as well as visual beauty. Texture adds another element. All combine to allow for experimentation with words...or, choose to use in your own way...
Even if you are familiar with the words of the week, and use them often in your writing and/or your spoken conversations, try them in a new perspective. Apply the words to a new setting or character, and one that isn't commonly associated with the words and the ideas that the words typically convey...
Grab a late night snack and sit down with the new words of the week. Do they inspire a new recipe for your writing? We hope that they give your mouth some new vocabulary words to play around with...
Rise and write! Grab a power drink of fresh orange juice or a smoothie, and set yourself up for a successful writing session first thing in the morning. For some inspiration, we have a few words of the week for you...
Get going on these word groups. Allow them to lead you on a fresh adventure. Observe how these words are commonly used in the world, and what sort of worlds these words inhabit.
Writers, consider changing your writing space. Light a few candles and create a new atmosphere for your writing session. If candlelight writing isn't the type of new mood that would inspire you, find any new atmosphere for your writing and try out these words:
Writers, get outside and write! Look around at your outdoor environment and try blending some elements into your writing. If getting outside isn't possible for you, imagine a scene in nature, describe the landscape by sight, smell, touch, sound, & taste, and try out these words:
Try using a lucky talisman as inspiration for this week's word games. Consider giving your character a lucky charm or superstition related to an object that she values.
Make forces collide for this writing prompt. Blend the lives of your characters. Try creating two or three new character sketches and then allow them to meet and see what new plot twists you can create for your writing, or maybe the characters will prompt a new style from you. While you're at it, here are some words to throw in the mix--
Our publisher asked some of her favorite people to tell her some of their favorite words, and she's included those words in a few prompts of The Nudge. Sometimes, her guests even autograph the notebook. You try it, too: Involve some people in your writing process. Ask them about a favorite place, character, or word, and use their perspective to inform your work’s setting, characters, and/or phrases. Don’t forget to incorporate our words into your writing...this prompt’s words were either provided or inspired by the publisher's youngest daughter.
Try your hand at travel-writing. Even if you aren’t traveling, look around your surroundings and see with the eyes of a visitor or the eyes of a child. Change your point of view by sitting down to take photos or moving to a higher vantage point. Take a new road or route that isn't in your usual routine. Use this perspective to inform your writing and use a new angle in your story. Here are some words to throw in the mix. These words were either provided or inspired by Jennifer, a friend.
Focus on color and physical form in your writing. Consider looking at artwork to help you with inspiration. You might choose to emphasize through minimalism or boldly show color in your work. Use color as a focal point in your descriptions of setting. The absence color can also have a strong effect. Add these words which were either provided or inspired by the publisher's oldest daughter...
Get out your toolboxes and find a good dictionary. In fact, try to use a dictionary in print form and not simply one on the internet. If you don't own a dictionary in print, visit your local public library and use theirs or buy one from a bookstore for your home. We're staying focused on the words--just words and their definitions--as we practice our craft of writing.
Are there words that you like to use simply because you enjoy the way that they sound? Do you shy away from speaking some words also due to their sounds? Try using our words that we chose based on how pleasing and unique the words sound to us, and/or play around with some words that you don't use very often but that sound interesting to you.
Consider words that you associate with a particular time, place, and/or person in your life or your character's life if you are writing fiction. Give some repetitive and particular words to a minor character in a story, or perhaps your minor character uses a word/phrase in a way that is unique, or you might consider giving your character a particular way of using a word during a specific period in her life, or maybe she uses a word or phrase for a short time and then abandons it like a fad or a group of friends that lasts only for a season, even if they are influential. Here are some words to try on for size...
Let’s look at some awkward but intriguing words. Try working these words into your stories. Do you intentionally draw attention to the awkwardness of the word, or do you find some unique way of making the word fit in? Will attaching these words to a character or place create a fitting partnership and thereby a way to introduce words with which readers might have an aversion or be unfamiliar?
star anise (Illicium verum)
Writers, we’re making some noise for The Nudge! Find a rhythm in your work. Listen to the sounds of the words and create beats with movement in the work based on how the words sound and work together in meaning. Consider listening to Yusef Komunyakaa recite his poetry and/or the Beat poets and/or reading their work. Be punctilious in the process of playing with word acrobatics and sound compositions. Try these words out...
Create a scene in which your main character tells a story to a minor character. This could be a story about herself or off topic from personal revelation altogether, but use the storytelling moment to reveal your primary character's ability (or inability) to tell a story to someone else. How do they tell a story? What does she give away to the listener too quickly, or does she go on and on until the listener is so bored that he realizes there is no point to the story, etc.? Does your main character exaggerate? Is he too modest when talking about his personal past and accomplishments? Does he tell stories to strangers that he meets, say, on an airplane or in an uber? Remember, interestingly, in this scene, you are now telling two or more stories by creating this type of situation in your overall story. For an added bonus, try to fit these words into the story...
Start writing a summer story. Be imaginative and inventive in pairing elements together for the summer. This season, maybe like no other, is possibly full of spontaneity, languorous days, adventure, and mystical nights. Read some stories that feature summer as inspiration: E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake” and Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.” Some words to throw in the mix...
We've got a double header in this summer series. To continue the summer story for this prompt, you must step up to the plate and break your character’s heart. Quickly and swiftly, hit that scene out of the park. Then, maybe a few scenes later, you allow him to have the ultimate moment of redemptive summer magic. Combine many elements in order to create a scene that blends several layers of the character’s life. Perhaps, this is a moment when, as her heart mends, she realizes all the gratitude she has failed to give, but can to those who have been there all along. Or, maybe she finds her summer mojo and the mystical awareness of nature’s presence within everyone. Perhaps, he falls in love again, but this time, he’s smarter about how he gives his love away. Either way, give your character a scene of summer magic that changes his life. Throw these words in for an added challenge...
Drift in some descriptive overplay. You can prune it back soon enough. Editing is on the horizon, but for this prompt, choose a scene or the whole story and describe everything fully, without holding back. If you use the summer story from the past two prompts, for example, then notice everything about the summer season as you write. Make the season come to life by saturating those scenes, making them juicy with descriptions. Here are some words to throw into the process...
Change your narrative perspective for this prompt. Use the summer story and/or scene that you've been working on for the past couple of prompts. Choose a different character in the story and write the exact same scene or story from that other character's point of view. The character could be a minor character or an inanimate object, a plant, animal, or insect. The point is to change the perspective so that you are not focused on your main character's point of view. You might not like this exercise or keep the new version of the story created by this practice, but it is a great tool to sharpen your skills. It could also allow you to see your main character from another perspective. An added challenge would be to incorporate the following words...
Get out of your normal routine and explore. Try your hand at travel-writing, even if you are simply traveling to a new park, restaurant, neighborhood, or some other location in your home town. Maybe you are on a vacation or a trip this summer, if so, describe that place. Go beyond basic descriptions by comparing and contrasting the new place with somewhere you've spent a lot of time (maybe your home town as an adult or where you grew up in childhood), look for a range of characters by watching the people in the new location (locals and visitors or tourists), and consider how it feels to travel versus the comfort and/or boredom of being in a familiar place. Another approach would be to look at what is valuable to the people and/or place where you are visiting versus what is valuable to the people/place where you usually reside. Words we thought would be interesting to use...
Take a look back at your writing and revise it, edit it, polish up some stories/poems you've been writing for a while. In the process, if you really need a writing challenge to keep your creativity flowing, then add a storm scene to your story/poem. Does the storm build up over a long period of time, adding pressure and stress to the lives of the characters and/or the landscape? Perhaps the storm arrives suddenly out of nowhere, thundering into the scene. Is the storm a relief in some way? What type of storm, how long does it last, what changes in the process...these are some of the questions to answer in your writing. Check out Kate Chopin's short story "The Storm" for inspiration. One word to add to this prompt's challenge, as the first task is to edit, revise...
Continue editing And/Or work on an opening scene. Revisit how your story opens and craft the first line so that it hooks the reader. Set up the first scene to not only intrigue the reader with visual imagery, but lure them farther into the narrative with fragrance and taste. Often, scenes that involve food or meal times are openers that contain many delights for the reader and keep them wanting more. Words to mix in...
Try writing a drinking scene. This scene could revolve around the act of drinking alcohol, a place where alcohol is the main beverage of consumption, and/or the alcoholic beverage itself (how it is made, stored, etc.). Think beyond the typical alcoholic drinks that are portrayed in stories and movies. Furthermore, strive to show some depth of character beyond the character's relationship to drinking/a drink. Stories for inspiration: the always classic, "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe, and the nonfiction story, "The Queimada" by Michele Morano. Words to mix in...
Consider the history of the tulip as you follow the writing nudge. The tulip bulb acquired a value more than gold in the world market back in the 1600s in Holland, where tulip mania had some devastating effects for a few. Use this as an example to do research about a particular flower. Learn about the habits and processes of the flower and note any interesting history and/or superstitions associated with the flower within human culture. Try to use those ideas, practices, and/or histories within your writing. Some words to sprinkle through the writing...
Choose some imperfections for your character. Perhaps these are only perceived imperfections that often work to the character’s advantage, and/or focus on how your character comes to terms with or gains an understanding for her “flaws.” Often, we make our characters perfect or ideal versions of people. Try making your characters show their humanity by pointing out their weaknesses or character flaws, and maybe you can turn those weaknesses into assets later in the story. Words to incorporate...
How common are stereotypes in your writing? Look at your work with a critical eye and be honest about how often you resort to stereotypes and cliches in order to transition and/or because you lacked the creativity at the time. Revisit those places and work on transforming the stereotypes or eliminating them altogether. OR, we always have words...
We’re writing about machinery and/or patterns and routines that are completed with the use of machinery. Can you allow your writing to imitate machinery in some way? Consider sound, rhythm, control, precision, etc. We have some words to try with this process...
Allow the words to flow, pile, and puddle up. We're free-writing with wild abandon. Letting go is essential to getting a large number of words onto the page. It can also take you places in the narrative that you would never dared to explore without letting down your control devices. This is not a time to judge the words and story lines that emerge. Keep writing and don't look back! A few words to use...
Practice using archaic words and use of language and dialogue from an historical era. Consider the idea of time travel, a dream sequence, or some type of similar scene that makes it easy to create the character and/or use the language differences between the present time period and the archaic language you are using in the story. Consider Tom Robbins' novel, Jitterbug Perfume, as an example. Add these words if they can be worked into your story...
Start working on your endings. Some examples are the full circle ending, the cliffhanger, or an open-ended final page. What type of ending do you prefer as a reader? Do you enjoy stories that give you an uplifting tone at the end of the book, or are you more intrigued by a tragic or mysterious ending? Words to consider including...
Focus on the landscape. If your story allows it, contrast the character's present landscape with one from their past, or maybe you show how the same landscape has been altered over time. Consider not only natural occurrences like plant and tree growth, but also how people and animals might have altered a landscape. Use our words for an added challenge...
We're writing a "get it while you can" scene. Craft a situation in which the character knows that they are getting something that won't last in the long run. This could be a physical thing, or it could be spending time in a certain a place. It might even be time with a person that creates a specific state of mind for the character. In the end, the character KNOWS that this is limited--whatever it is. Vocabulary challenge continues...
mortar and pestle
Create a "know it all" character. What are the specific topics about which he insists on giving his expertise? Is the character this way with everyone, or does she assert her insistence during particular situations? Does this way of being work out for him in the long run? You could use this character to add comic relief and/or aggravation. This character type is one way to share information with the reader.
Keep your character up all night. Write a scene or chapter in which your character is awake all night for some reason. She could be celebrating or she could be in a tortuous situation that annoys her and tests her patience. Either way, make your character pull an all-nighter.
Give an injury to your main character or someone they know. The injury needs to deeply affect the character's life, whether it is her injury or not. Go beyond the physical injury and show how the injury changes the character's mental, emotional, social, and/or spiritual state of being. Even a minor injury has the potential to disrupt your character's routine.
As always, WORDS:
Your characters are getting dressed up for "The Freaker's Ball." Send them into a Halloween party, or otherwise, topsy-turvy party for the evening. This could be a very brief moment in your overall story, or it could be the entire setting (think, Rocky Horror Picture Show). Writers, make yourself a power shot of OJ, a cocktail of colorful and questionable contents, crack your knuckles, and write a dressed-up party scene to remember.
Writers, we're creating monsters and mythological creatures, a practice as old as the human mind. Use a monster of old and place her in the modern world and/or create a new story for him. Consider the novel Grendel by John Gardner who gives a voice to a medieval monster or Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. These monsters that you use in your writing could be unique such as the Cyclops or a group like the sirens. Either way, create your own monster character from a monster or mythological creature based in antiquity.
Try writing a superhero or other character from a child's point of view. Show your superhero as a child. You might also want to continue developing your monster, and if so, show your monster when she was a youth in some way. Again, you could look to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and find Claudia as an example of a child monster within a work of literature.
Continue with developing your monster or villain. The best ones have a likable quality, whether that is an attribute that raises them up OR one that brings them down to earth (that depends on your monster), create a quality that likens the monster and/or villain to the reader, to a human. If the monster is lofty and snobby, you might show a way that she chooses to be average. If the villain is gritty and full of muck, you might show his intelligence and/or kindness.
Look around, and take a walk in your mind. Consider a particularly autumn fragrance and write about that. You could also try writing about the flavors that are specific to autumn. Take a stroll through an autumn garden and try the herbs, maybe even the familiar ones, and see if they are different now. Fall fruits, nuts, and berries are another way to explore this season in your writing.
Let's focus on symbolism. Create a symbol of weakness for your character. This is something that debilitates her and drains her of power and strength. The weakness doesn't have to be as dramatic as comic book characters, but it's the same idea. The weakness could be temporary, as if a storm rolled through your character's life (maybe she didn't see this weakness coming), but it might also be the type of storm that makes a big impact (think, tornado-type of damage resulting from the character giving in to the weakness). Big impact or minor role, we all have our weaknesses, so make sure to give one to your character.
We're still focusing on symbolism, but changing the value and the value object. Create an object of enchantment in your story--this is something that has special power(s) whether by magical property, spiritual endowment, and/or the characters' belief. The object might not be special at all, but only seems so by the character's belief that it is, or you might add that element to your story (Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur, in Arthurian Legend is an example of an object of enchantment and/or one believed to be so and questioned at the same time).
will o' the wisp
Allow your character to go swimming. This swimming scene could be anywhere--scuba diving into the depths of the sea, a hot lagoon in Iceland, a swimming pool at his girlfriend's parents' beach house, a big old-fashioned bathtub, a muddy pond, her daughter's kiddie pool in the backyard, at the end of the dock on the lake...wherever it is, fully describe your character's experience.
Write a scene in which your character is affected by politics or a political decision. Consider a political decision made about the environment that affects the area where she lives or visit, and/or maybe a new law is enacted that changes how his parents are able to conduct their business. These are just two example scenarios.
Take your character out shopping somewhere, and allow him to be in an observant mood. Perhaps this is an exceptionally rare time of exchange, and she witnesses something special in a store. Or, maybe you allow your character to notice his estrangement from a particular side of the economic culture (this could be his home culture or one he is visiting). Either way, this scene should show choices and learning from the experience of purchasing.
Daydream. Time to write a scene in which your character daydreams and imagines something. Think, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber, but feel free not to make it the entire story, or go beyond that if you feel so inclined. There are so many places where people zone out and are in their own imaginations, even when they don't realize it. Sometimes, it's used as a coping mechanism during a time of trauma or thereafter, and other times, it's to pass a period of boredom and waiting. Find your time, and daydream.
Write a fresh start for your character that happens around a holiday celebration. A new beginning for your characters! This could be any holiday, really, but consider the winter holidays of Diwali, Hanukah, Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas and/or New Years. For inspiration: In books, the all-time favorite, A Christmas Carol. For movies, consider It's a Wonderful Life and the ending of When Harry Met Sally. Perhaps the ending is the place where the reader discovers that the character's life will change.
We have new version of The Nudge beginning now. We are taking a break from vocabulary words and focusing on artistic inspiration as a theme with examples from art and literature, film and music. Each prompt will offer a new artistic inspiration with examples. Enjoy!
Artistic Inspiration: Heirloom seed packets
Use the images from heirloom seed packages and advertisements to inspire you in your writing. Read the descriptions of the plants and growing conditions. Allow these to inform your writing. Examples: In music, The Squirrel Nut Zippers album Perennial Favorites. The book cover for POKE SALLET QUEEN AND THE FAMILY MEDICINE WHEEL was inspired by heirloom seed packets, as were portions of the written novel.
Artistic Inspiration: Children's Artwork
Look around at some artwork by children and use that in your writing. Maybe something is revealed to your character through his child's artwork from school. Perhaps a child character of yours uses art as an outlet to express her frustration. Examples: You can find the contributions of children to modern art installations and community projects. Many times, Museums offer interactive exhibitions and/or spaces where children create their own artwork in response to what they have viewed and/or learned. If you have children in your life, their artwork might provide the inspiration. You can view children's artwork used in sitcoms (Good Luck Charlie) and fiction films (The Sixth Sense).
Artistic Inspiration: Ancient Texts
Ancient texts, such as: I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, Book of the Dead, Epic of Gilgamesh, or some other text with philosophical, ethical, and/or moral ways of life. Try using one philosophical idea from an ancient text within your modern story or poems. One approach is using a quotation at the start of a chapter or section, and then allowing the characters to exemplify the idea expressed in the quotation. Another approach is allowing the character to be interested in a particular philosophy and sharing those ideas through the character. Example: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry.
Artistic Inspiration: Travel Stories
Let's travel, for a moment, to a place in your memory that was dreamy and intoxicating, a time when you felt swept up in a frenzy of momentum and exhilaration. Give that feeling a setting, maybe it doesn't go along with the setting of your memory and that's just fine. Allow yourself to daydream and invent a landscape that gives you a sense of wonder and excitement if you can't think of one from past experience. And then, allow the character you place there to be surprised by the reality of the place. Perhaps it's more challenging to be there than she thought, or maybe he doesn't like the local customs of a new landscape. Examples: Bill Bryson's A WALK IN THE WOODS.
Artistic Inspiration: Ghost Story or Legend
Let's use a real legend or scary story as inspiration for one of your own stories or poems. For example, the Wood Booger, the name of the Sasquatch or Bigfoot in Central Appalachia. Allow the Wood Booger to disrupt the life of one of your characters, or perhaps you write something from the perspective of the Bigfoot legend herself. Does the Wood Booger have to be a male? How can you adapt a legend to make it your own? Could you recreate an ancient story and update it? How about making the Wood Booger a character who evokes sympathy from the reader? Example: The Headless Horseman from Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Artistic Inspiration: "El Jaleo" by John Singer Sargent
Write a dance scene in your story. This might be a provocative dance scene or something funny to interrupt the narrative. You could use a cast of strangers as the characters in the dance scene, and perhaps you find these strangers within a painting or photograph. For example, write about the scene depicted in "El Jaleo" by John Singer Sargent. Artwork is a unique and wonderful way to bring imagery from another imagination into your literature and blend the two.
Artistic Inspiration: The Secondary Characters
We're practicing how to be versatile writers. If you used the last prompt to find a piece of artwork and write a dance scene based on it, we're going a step farther this prompt and looking into how everyone came to be there. Look back at your dance scene and determine who the main players are in the scene, even if they are characters who were new to the story and who you thought were only going to emerge one time in the story. Identify the main players. Other than your main character, write a rough sketch for how a character came to be there at the dance. What were the circumstances that led these characters to this moment in time with your main character? Get into the background of these characters. Example: In A MOMENTARY DARKNESS by Nikki Martin, first we see how Kale came to be at the cliff, and then we see how Derrin arrived there in a later scene from his perspective.
Artistic Inspiration: Obsession
We're looking at character traits, specifically the little quirks that make some characters stand out. Give one of your characters an infatuation with some type of cosmetics or cosmetic procedures. For example, your character might be obsessed with avoiding gray hair, so he dyes his hair every chance he gets and is repeatedly looking in the mirror to see if his hair is turning gray. Maybe you have a character who won't go out of the house in sandals if she doesn't have a pedicure on her feet, or a character who won't purchase certain shampoos depending on the name they are given by the brand. Get creative with consumer culture and give your character an obsession related to it. This could be a minor story in their lives, or one that becomes a major storyline and has great consequences. Example: The movie, DUMPLIN'
Artistic Inspiration: "Message in a Bottle"
Cue the music by Sting, we're adding the arrival of a mysterious message into our story. This is a message in a bottle type of situation. Someone called out into the world in decades past and their message has resurfaced into your main character's life. Perhaps your character wrote a message or letter long ago and then forgot about it, only to have it or a response show up when she never expected that it would. Does it revive memories for your character? Do people return into his life along with the words from the past? Example: In THE MOSQUITO HOURS by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo, Vivian's long-hidden journals are discovered by her daughter.
Artistic Inspiration: The Quest
Take your character on a quest for a sacred object. Perhaps you bring the idea into the modern world and the sacred object is something common to the 21st century. You might still endow this object with magical powers or perhaps it bestows a gift on the owner, or some other fairytale storyline within your contemporary novel. Maybe you consider the origins of the object if it is something antique or historical that becomes valuable in contemporary times. Consider breaking the gender roles and norms as you write your quest.
If you're journaling, what do you think about possessions containing special energies or powers? Do you think the circumstances of a thing's creation can shape the energy that it carries? Or, have you witnessed these beliefs as damaging superstitions or tools to pass judgment on the lives of others?
Example: Joseph Campbell's discussion of The Hero's Journey. In A MOMENTARY DARKNESS by Nikki Martin, Kale has this same sacred quest challenge and the heroine of the story.
Artistic Inspiration: The Letter in the Mail
Epistolary stories create the impression of being privy to a personal exchange between two people. Letters within a story give you a chance to practice the confessional, when one character confesses something to another within a letter. You might try love letters, a secret admirer's missives, stolen letters, or the long-lost family member who reaches out after decades. These are only a few examples. Letters allow you to play with dialect and a writing voice or multiple voices. You might even bring the idea of letter writing into contemporary times and use emails and messenger apps as the framework of the story. Tinker with letter writing, and maybe even use the sentiment in a real life letter that you have received to get you started. Examples: In GRACE AMONG THE LEAVINGS by Beverly Fisher, the letters now only reveal a secret about Grace's mother, but they also show us the postal system, Grace's reading level, the literacy of her grandparents, and so much more.
Artistic Inspiration: The Headless Statue or the Faceless Painting. Statues and artwork have been defaced throughout history. One example is the "Winged Victory of Samothrace" housed in the Louvre. In literature, we find many examples, and one is in the headless horseman of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving. In our own publishing company, Shana Thornton writes a scene of sculptural and cultural defacement in Multiple Exposure. In children's literature, Lewis Carroll evokes the sentiment through the Queen of Hearts, as she demands, "Off with their heads!" in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Can you think of some way to add this idea to your writing? Does your character encounter a faceless work of art that otherwise depicts the human form? What does this "headlessness" or "faceless" state reflect about a culture, both the one that created it and the one responsible for its defacement?
Artistic Inspiration: The Topiary
That's right, the garden bushes that might be shaped like a rabbit or boxed neatly, trapping you in a labyrinth. Think of Stephen King's The Shining if you're looking for some modern example in literature. Not only was the hotel haunted, but the topiary hedges offered their own terrors. Perhaps they don't have to be so frightening, but dark comedy, Edward Gorey, also comes to mind. How does the topiary trip unfold? Your character might undergo a tussle under the boxwoods? A rolling of heads among the roses, as in Lewis Carroll, croquet? What about you, dear writer, what shall you do with the topiary scene?
...Or, maybe you say "a trip through topiaries" a few times and write some tongue twisters.
Artistic Inspiration: The DARE
Maybe it's a game of truth or dare, or perhaps it's more subtle than that and the dare isn't vocalized but is understood based on past actions and attitudes. A dare doesn't have to be negative. Consider ways in which a dare can be turned around to the advantage of the character.
In fiction, visit Virginia Brown's bestseller, Dark River Road (Bell Bridge Books, 2011). Notice the various ways that Chantry is dared to act, and notice how his actions are noble and risky at the same time. Notice when he is conflicted by the demand of inaction and the dare of impulse and anger. He must learn how to make distinctions between the two ways of approaching a dare, whether implied or spoken.
I dare you to give your characters some challenges in the form of a dare from someone else. Try both the direct, spoken dare as well as the implied dare.
Artistic Inspiration: A Visit from an Historical Figure
This is not a historical novel, but a passing story within the novel. Consider Sandra Cisneros' novel, Caramelo (2002). Cisneros brings in several historical people whose paths cross with the characters in her novel. Some of these historical people aren't famous or well-known when they interact with Cisneros' characters. Are these family legends and/or tall tales? Does your family have any stories about famous or well known people? Use those ideas in your fiction.
Artistic Inspiration: A Crowd
Consider writing about not a random crowd but a crowd with a purpose. The crowd could be an organized protest, an unorganized riot, perhaps a movement with a goal. Does your character witness it or is she a part of it? Maybe she sees it from afar, or he could be suddenly immersed in the crowd without planning to be a part of it. Your crowd might also originate due to a concert or a large sporting event. An example, the author Milan Kundera writes a crowd scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Artistic Inspiration: A Philosophy
Perhaps this way of life changes your character and her experiences. Some examples from history are the Surrealist Manifesto or the zeitgeist movement. A current philosophy along with an example of a current writer you can search out is pronoia, the belief that life is positive and offering to bless you and known as the opposite of paranoia, espoused by Rob Brezsny, author of FreeWill Astrology. Have fun with diving into philosophy as you write, and allow your character to have some fun with it, too.
Shana Thornton is the author of three works of fiction, THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (2019), POKE SALLET QUEEN AND THE FAMILY MEDICINE WHEEL (2015) and MULTIPLE EXPOSURE (2012). She created the BreatheYourOMBalance® brand and yoga book series, and she is a Series Editor for BreatheYourOMBalance®. Shana teaches both writing and yoga classes in Clarksville, TN. She is the Founder of the Clarksville/Montgomery County African American Legacy Trail (2019). She is a 200hr. registered yoga teacher. Shana earned an M.A. in English from Austin Peay State University. Shana lives in Tennessee with her family.
To find out more about Shana's other books, click on the titles below: Other books (fiction):
RIPE FOR THE PICKIN' (Forthcoming 2021)
THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (2019)
SEASONS OF BALANCE: ON CREATIVITY AND MINDFULNESS (2016), Co-authored with S. Teague
BreatheYourOMBalance yoga book, series editor
Author of The Nudge Writing Prompt series