Last night, I was watching A Christmas Story with my kids when bedtime hit. Right as I had to turn off the TV to start the bedtime routine, the narrator (adult Ralphie) uttered one of my favorite lines: “From then on, things were different between me and my mother.”
At first, I thought this would be a great opening line–for an exercise, perhaps, but not for an actual story. So I thought, perhaps I could use it as a last line–sort of like reverse engineering. I’ve heard of writers thinking this way (the one that comes to mind is Gilmore Girls and the six words Amy Sherman-Palladino swore would finish the series–six words she didn’t get to write until the follow-up episodes a few years ago) and while it might not be the very best way to work, it’s something I hadn’t tried.
Read my attempt below (there is sooo much more work to be done!) and share yours in the comments!
Have you ever made a toast? I mean, a real one–not just “to us!” but a long, thought-out, possibly memorized speech. It’s an embarrassing prospect, especially for those who fear public speaking, but it’s also a nice idea, isn’t it? So I thought this year, though I won’t be standing up in my dining room making everyone listen to me prattle on, I’d write a toast–just for the heck of it. And then I thought it’d be more interesting to write a toast from one of my characters’ perspectives. Even if they, also, would never stand up and orate.
From the perspective of a highly introverted, possibly autistic sixteen-year-old girl, to her very large family on Thanksgiving:
Do you ever get words stuck in your head? I’ve heard it’s a symptom of OCD (though if you look up a full list of OCD symptoms you’ll probably un-diagnose yourself). There was a time in my life when these words plagued me. I’d read the name of a chemical on a shampoo bottle in the morning and it would play over and over and over and over, whenever my mind was quiet.
This morning, for no reason at all, I thought of the word “flamingo.” Flamingo, flamingo, flamingo. And just as it was starting to get annoying I though, “Maybe I could use this.”
So the challenge this week is to write something using a repetitive word. I know it can work when wielded by the right writer–just read something by Robert Lopez and you’ll see what I mean. (Seriously, though, read Robert Lopez anyway. He’s amazing.)
Our lives are so full of numbers. Dates, identification, expenditures–and yet I find, in my writing, I almost never number anything. Part of this is a fear that I’ll get the number wrong–I don’t want to say that something cost $1.69 in case it ought to cost $3.50–but also because that kind of information seems useless and mundane. But today, I’m challenging myself to use numbers in my writing, in part because the protagonist of my current project is a numbers person and likely to numerate the world around her.
One of the most popular writing prompts I’ve posted here on The Sensitive, Bookish Type is also my favorite: The Opening Line. Today, we’re doing basically the same thing but instead of working with a novel’s first line, we’re working with the novel’s last line.
At random, I reached onto my shelf and grabbed Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. This will be interesting for me because I haven’t actually read it yet–excepting, of course, the back cover. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not trying to extend the story itself. I’m simply borrowing its last line.
Arms about each other’s shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living-room and faced the swooping family.
Now, without planning ahead, I’ve come across a perfect example of the theory upon which this exercise is based: the end of a novel should always read somewhat like a beginning. Unless everyone dies at the end (which would be a very poor ending, in my opinion–not even Shakespeare had EVERYONE die) the end of one story is always the beginning of another. So now I shall use this last line to start a paragraph of my own. In this case, I’m going to replace the last name with the name of a family in the novel on which I’m currently writing. My exercise, below, might not be the beginning of a story, but certainly the beginning of a chapter.
I’ve been readingPie and Whiskey, a collection of short stories, essays, poems, and recipes. (The pie crust recipe is spot on, by the way; Kate Lebo knows her stuff.) The creative work in the book comes from a wide variety of authors and covers a wide variety of subjects, but one thing strings them all together (well, two things):
Pie and whiskey.
So, having read a couple dozen short pieces in the past few days, filled with pie-makers and whiskey-drinkers, I’ve got pie and whiskey on the brain. So that’s this week’s prompt. Pie and whiskey. Wherever it takes you.
I am a controlled writer. I have often thought out the words before they hit the page–the first dozen, at least–and they unspool from there in a fairly metered way. I don’t suffer typos (a peeve my smartphone is trying to cure me of through exposure therapy) and I sometimes spend too long deliberating my diction. However, there are times when the writing flows without thinking. These are often the best times. Yes, they might need a bit of editing on the next read and when brought to workshop I have occasionally baffled readers with my oddball phrasing. No, these sentences might not end up in the final draft. But sometimes, whether the words end up working or not, I simply need to turn off my brain and let my fingers fly.
So that’s today’s challenge. Write without thinking. Set a timer for two minutes and simply begin. Don’t go back for typos, if you can help it. Just roll down the hill of your thoughts.