Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: Random Word Generator Flash Fiction

Last week, I attended One Story‘s week-long Craft Lecture Series on Zoom. Most of the lecturers dedicated a chunk of their time to a generative writing exercise. I enjoyed all of the exercises, but I felt most inspired by a very simple but restrictive exercise presented by Don Lee during his lecture on flash fiction.

Before we began, he’d used a random word generator to gather several sets of words. We each chose one group. Each of these words needed to appear in our piece of flash fiction, which we were to try to keep to 120 words or less. We were to try, within those 120 words, to stick to a pretty basic plot arc:

  1. Begin with one situation
  2. Something happens to someone.
  3. End with a different situation, after which nothing is ever the same again.

This is a lot to ask in so few words, but I loved this exercise because I love a challenge. I work well within prescribed structures and I like to meet a goal. For my exercise, I chose the words stingy, questionable, and violet. You can go to the word generator on your own, or choose from some of the word groups I’ve gathered for you:

guitar, wealth, pasture
agenda, tree, instruction
bronze, perforate, passage
rage, village, short
slime, handy, Mars

As always, I’d love to read what you come up with! Here’s mine:

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Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: The Center of Attention

To find today’s prompt, I scrolled through the photos on my laptop. Most of them were of my daughter, in a pink dress, frolicking with our dogs. She’s wearing a peacock feather in her hair and holding a few fake flowers. There’s paint or ink on her arms.

Twenty minutes before these photos were taken, my daughter was not smiling. She moped around the house, growled, grumbled. She was BORED. Everything was BORING.

For a moment, I saw myself at five. I remembered a day when my mom dressed me in a new outfit and took me to the playground, camera in hand. Just us. She had me climb the slide, sit on the swings, look over my shoulder while she took pictures. She used up the roll of film. Just on me. It was one of the very best days of my life.

So I did the same for my daughter. I let her put gel in her hair and loaned her my fanciest headband. She had a great afternoon.

Looking at these photos, I initially titled the exercise “Happy Place.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what made those moments special for my daughter and me, and it wasn’t the place. It wasn’t the clothes or even the photos. It was time spent with our mothers, but that wasn’t quite it, either. It was time with our mothers’ undivided attention.

So I want you to think about one of your characters, or if you’re writing memoir, yourself. I want you to think about a time when they (or you) were the center of attention–the very center–and if they/you never were, I want you to imagine it, preferably in a positive light. This might mean the character has to be very young, and the attention will probably come from an adult whose attention feels terribly important.

Give yourself ten minutes. Try to fill them.

When you’re finished, I’d love to read them! Post in the comments!

Here’s mine:

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Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: Beginning with the End

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!

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Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: I’d Like to Make a Toast

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:

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Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: Flamingo

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.)

Here’s mine:

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Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: By the Numbers

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.

So here we go. Numbers…

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Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: The End is the Beginning

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.

Which goes:

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.

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Cooking & Eating, Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: Pie and Whiskey

I’ve been reading Pie 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.

Here’s mine.

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Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: Two Minutes Out of Control

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.

Here’s mine:

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