Let’s Go To Italy for Our Writing Warm-Up! – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-APhotographs make great jump-off places for story inspirations and writer warm-ups.  

Pour yourself a cappuccino and let’s get started!

Venice panoramaYour setting is Venice, Italy. Your main character could be a native Italian, an American traveling through Venice on business, or a young girl visiting her aunt for the first time. What if your main character is one of the many cats loitering between the buildings in this marvelous city, quietly aware of everything? Perhaps the water taxis are nowhere to be seen and the only mode of transportation is by gondola. Many options await you! The gondolier could misunderstand the address you give him and take you someplace else: a street fair, a cathedral, a museum, a bookbinding shop… The previous passenger could step out of the gondola in a hurry and leave a package, letter, or list behind. The gondolier could be a spy. He could also be related to one of your cousins. He could know the aunt your main character is visiting. Where will this photograph take you?

Another view of Venice.  

Two gondolas parked side by side.

Your main character observed the two gondoliers exchanging more than conversation.

Venice verticalThen the two men crossed the bridge and disappeared.

What lies beneath each canvas cover?

Where are the gondoliers?

For that matter, where have the Italians and tourists disappeared to?

A stillness has fallen over the city.

Where are the birds?

The shops are empty.

Windows are dark.

curtains are drawn.

Gelato stands are abandoned.

Or perhaps on a less gloomy note, it is early in the morning, the city is waking up, and the first day of your vacation awaits you.

As always, I wish you happy writing!

Leslie

Vivid Writing Through Photographs – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AWe’re often told to write about what we know, and writing what we know goes hand in hand with placing our stories in locations we are intimately familiar with. After all, our goal is to bring the setting to life in a believable way. Sadly, writers of picture books (myself included) don’t have the luxury of drawing out setting details. Much of this must be left to the illustrator. The advice given to picture book writers is to take a highlighter over everything that can be illustrated. Then, read again, skipping over those (marvelous, vivid, fun-to-write, poetic) sections to see if the story still makes sense. What is crucial to the story stays as illustrator notes…everything else goes out. (sniff… ouch…)  But still, the reader needs a handful of well-chosen words to move them from their reality into the setting between the pages of your book. With the use of photographs, taken in your chosen location, you’ll have what it takes to do this.

I recently finished writing a picture book which takes place on a farm. Now, if I had chosen Peru as my setting, I wouldn’t have any first hand knowledge of life there. I wouldn’t know what the living conditions are for the poor, the middle class, or the rich. I wouldn’t know what the local food looks like, what the typical garments are made of, or what homes look like. This is where photographs come in handy. If you’re lucky enough to live near your chosen location, go there to document as much as you can with your camera (or phone camera). Does your story take place on a farm? Visit a farm, photograph the animals, their pens, the barn’s interior, the farmer at work, and take careful notes of everything surrounding you that awakens your other senses (smell comes to mind). If you aren’t fortunate to live near your chosen location, you can go online and search for images of Peru, if that’s where your story takes place. Print out the images of the surroundings at different times of day as well as during the season your story takes place in. Find images of the local food, typical animals, clothing, occupations, and faces of the people. Once you have gathered these photographs, make a scrap-book you can reference. You’ll find that your writing comes to life.

Some other places to get pictures and more of your chosen location.

Hawaii sunsetIf you plan on setting your story in Hawaii, but have never been there, maybe a friend of yours has. I can promise you, most people jump at the chance to share their vacation pictures and will, no doubt, have lots of details to share about the climate, cuisine, customs, and locals.

Check through your blog followers. You might be amazed at how many are from distant places around the world you would love your next novel to take place. What a great way, no… make that fabulous way, to learn about life in other parts of the world and make a friend, too.

Have you ever noticed how good it feels when someone wants to know about your travels and shows an interest in seeing your vacation pictures? “Really? You want to see my photographs from Italy? Over coffee? And cake?” You bubble over with excitement and spill out stories, experiences, amazing encounters, unique experiences, and more. Most people jump at the chance to share their experiences.

The process of writing is more enjoyable when we’ve researched every aspect of our story and have a stack of photographs before us.

Our writing becomes vivid.

 

 

ULTIMATE Brain Warm-Ups For Writers – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AIt would be great if a group of us could get together at a seriously big table. In the center we would place a bowl of questions and take turns pulling slips out. For five minutes we would write our answers, and then share them. I can dream… I’ll go first. Here is our first question.

1. How would you spend your day if you woke up invisible and knew the condition was temporary and would only last for one day? 

Good question, right? Okay, set your timer for 5 minutes and see where this takes you.

2. By some strange string of events, the power has gone out everywhere around the world. The messenger who came knocking on your door (because the doorbell can’t ring without electricity) told you the electricity wouldn’t be restored for 48 hours. NO LAPTOP today! Oh, and by way of that same strange string of events, you lost ALL battery power to each of your mobile devices. Nope, can’t charge it up in your car, that mobile device has a dead battery, too. 

Okay, very funny! Which one of you comedians pulled that slip out of the question bowl?

3. Make a list of ten things or more that would describe who you were as a child. This list can include items you held dear as well as favorite activities and personality traits.  Then, make a list of ten things or more that describe who you are today. Again, you can include items you hold dear, favorite activities and personality traits.  How are the lists similar? In what ways have you stayed the same?

4. Write about a day or event that changed your life. Include as many sensory details as possible. Tap into the emotions you experienced. Write about the changes you made in your life because of this. 

5. Think back to a funny event. By embellishing and exaggerating the details that led to this event and transpired because of this event, can you write a tall tale? 

6. At sundown, your pet will have the ability to share with you his feelings about being your pet, his thoughts on the kind of care and attention he receives from you, what he truly thinks of the food you glop in his dish, his feelings about his sleeping conditions, leash, use of the sofa, and what his greatest desires are. Write this from your pet’s POV. 

7. Imagine that without risk of war breaking out, fear sweeping the nation, or the general weirdness factor taking hold, tomorrow at school or work, aliens will join you.  Wow! This is your chance to find out how life on their planet differs from life on Earth. This is your chance to find out what these aliens cherish. What do they celebrate? What do they believe in? What are their dreams and goals? Do they work for money? Do they drive or fly in vehicles? How old do they need to be to drive? Do they get married and have special outfits for such an occasion? Do they have music and what does it sound like as well as what do their musical instruments look like? Are they ahead of us or behind us with technology? Do they have a relationship to mobile devices, too? Do they live in homes, and if so, are their homes similar to ours with designated rooms? Where do they get their clothing, furniture, and food from? Do they have shopping malls or replicators? Do they keep pets? Do they have something similar to books in which they record their thoughts, histories, stories both fiction and nonfiction?

I could explore that question for a while. But you get the idea.

8. Somehow a dose of truth serum splashed into the punch bowl at a friend’s wedding. 

Need I say more?

9. Think about your favorite book. Now, imagine how events would change if you could become a character in those pages. What would you change about the story? Would you become the love interest of the main character? The protagonist – maybe?  

And now for #10… Drum roll please.

10. Starting right now, time begins to move backwards one year every minute. Only you have the power to stop it before you become a baby or not even be born yet. (tick-tock-tick-tock…) At what age do you stop the clock and start forward again? Why have you chosen this age? knowing this is a clean slate, how will you change your life? What decisions will you make that you wish you had made? What about your current life will you maintain no matter what?

 

I hope you enjoyed this Wednesday’s Prompts and Inspirations.

Happy writing!

Dr. Seuss – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

This Wednesday, instead of inspiring you with writer’s games, prompts, and the tools of a writer, I offer you inspirational quotesSeuss-4 from the great Dr. Seuss! I selected these four quotes with care because I believe they apply to every writer.  As you read them, take a moment to discover the deeper meaning in each.

Seuss-3Seuss

Seuss-2

More Plot Twists — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-ALast Wednesday I offered five prompt ideas for adding twists to your plots.

This Wednesday, I decided to continue with five more twist ideas.

Ready?

1. Your main character is on vacation in her hotel room. It’s bedtime. She crawls into bed, and as she slides her feet under the sheets, she feels something.

Take a moment to think about the variety of things she might find. Your list could include something living to something the maid mistakenly made into the bed. Besides having your bed short-sheeted in college, have you ever found anything in your bed you weren’t expecting? 

2. Your main character is at the grocery store. The bag boy has loaded her groceries into bags. She arrives home and finds not only the items purchased, but….

Have you ever had this happen to you? Not that what happened to me could create a major mystery in a story, but around the holidays, I did come home with a hurricane lamp and set of candles I never purchased. You would think the store would be thrilled at my honesty in returning the items, but the manager simply excepted them without so much as a thank you. 

3. Your main character takes a taxi to his destination. As he gets in, a woman rushes over and begs him to allow her to share the cab. Her stop comes first. She pays the driver, bolts from the taxi, and leaves an item in a bag behind.

This item could be anything from a roll of large bills, doughnuts, a mask, drugs, party favors, or….

4. Your main character has been invited to a close relative’s home for (a birthday party, holiday party, or no special occasion at all) The relative surprises your main character and everyone present when she announces…

This could range from relocating to another country, a love affair with someone you know, a sex change, a career change, or…

5. Your main character has buried something, (a time capsule, a stack of secret letters, etc…) When the day comes when he needs the item, (because perhaps he is moving) the item is gone.

I’m recalling a scene from the movie, The Promise. Have you ever buried something or hidden something important only to find it missing when you returned to retrieve it? 

I hope these prompts and inspirations jump-start your brain and get you thinking of more ways to add a twist to your story plot.

 

Happy writing!

Leslie

That’s A Great Plot Twist! Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-ADo you need a twist in your story?

Have fun answering these questions.

Hint, hint…. Make sure to think outside the box.

 

1.  I thought I inherited a ruby ring from my Aunt Jenny, but when the package arrived, I found she left me…

This prompt was inspired by the movie, Baby Boom, in which the main character thinks she will inherit a pen from a poor relative that passed away. She instead receives a baby. When making your list of possible things one could inherit, consider how that item could change your main character’s life. This, after all, could be the perfect ingredient you story needs for a good twist.

2.  I bought a set of pottery maracas on vacation. They broke when I shook them and out rolled…

I confess this inspiration came from watching, Scooby Doo cartoons. In one of the episodes, Daphne purchases a mask in San Francisco in which jewels are hidden. Other interesting items could be a coded message, a map, a phone number, or address.

3.  I discovered a book beside a tree and stuck between the pages I found…

Actually, I opened a book at the library and found several amazing, unsigned sketches once. But for this exercise/example what was found in the book could be a letter, a map, or a hundred-dollar bill with a phone number on it. The important thing is to give your mind permission to go wild when considering answers to these prompts.

4.  Usually a businessman sits beside me on the plane and barely says a word, but this time I was seated beside _________________________ and his/her conversation opener took me by surprise. She/He turned to me and said…

I’ve been on many flights over the years. Usually, the person I’m seated beside stays focused on their book, newspaper, or laptop. It isn’t until the plane lands and we’re standing, slightly stooped beneath the low ceiling of the overhead luggage compartments, that we start our typical, mundane chit-chat.

“Long flight.” I sigh, gripping the handle of my carry-on bag.

“Yeah,” my seat partner remarks. “Are you visiting here?”

“No, this is a stopover. I’m catching another plane for California.”

You get the picture. So far, nothing that’s going to get those pages turning. But what if our main character’s seat partner is wearing a wedding gown? This could lead to all kinds of great conversation starters.

5.  I heard that tornadoes can lift houses and animals and set them down miles away, but I was stunned after that last storm when a _________________landed on my roof.

This inspiration came from a textbook back in Jr. High. Some things stay in our memories a long time. I read about a cow that got picked up by a tornado and set down, uninjured, miles away. But other things can just as easily be transported. Let your mind go wild.

I hope you will have fun with these plot twist inspirations. Perhaps you might find one of them sparks a fresh story!

I wish you happy writing.

Leslie

No More Procrastinating- Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AToday is January 7th. We’re one week into the new year. My daughter is back in school after Winter break, so no more excuses as to why I don’t have time to look over my list of resolutions, mark my calendar with my goals, and head full steam into 2015. So what’s stopping me? I gaze around the house at the few holiday decorations I missed that I still need to box and store away. As I do this, I notice a pile of holiday linens needing washing before I can store them. The refrigerator could use a good cleaning, too. I’m sure I caught a whiff of decomposing veggies. And despite that my fish are still alive, maybe their tank could use a filter change.

Why am I getting distracted and procrastinating?

Easy. I’m overwhelmed with my list of resolutions and can’t possibly do them all at once. Which resolution do I tackle first? Decisions, decisions… I have a feeling I’m not alone in my procrastination boat, sailing in circles around The Lake of indecision.

So what was on my resolution list? A little good advice I gave myself. Finish those UFO’s. (UnFinished Objects) It’s extremely challenging to give one’s full attention–distraction free–to a new writing project when partial projects lurk in a writing folder. Plus, we gain a feeling of accomplishment when we complete something. So, for the next month(s), I am going to find my inspiration in completing my UFO’s.

Are you familiar with the old line, The grass is always greener…? I think that phrase is at the core of some writer’s hearts…mine included. We begin a story, craft our characters, the plot, the scenes, etc… With great determination and focus, our story takes shape. Then we run low on steam around the same point our plot hits a wall. We can’t decide how best to move the story forward. So what do we typically do? We let it go for a while. We let our subconscious work on it. But shortly after, an idea for another story comes while we’re sitting in traffic. A new set of characters materialize in our heads, and a fresh plot unfolds. As soon as we’re in front of our computers, we are typing another story, despite our earlier story knocking around our thoughts, trying to find the path to completion. Result: we are writing with less than 100% focus.

As today’s Writer’s Prompt and Inspiration, I ask you to return to a writing project you started with great enthusiasm, perhaps a novel or short story in which you created a memorable protagonist who deserves to find life through publication. Re-read what you wrote with fresh eyes, attend to the problem spots, and edit, edit, edit to polish it up to “ready-to-submit” form.

Let’s get started!

Leslie

Character Soup – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-AAs writers, we all have a natural tendency to people watch. Each day we sit beside, pass on the street, get honked at, speak to, and get called on the phone by possible characters for our stories. Our world is a veritable character soup!

Some of my favorite places to jot details in my pocket notebook are coffee shops, train stations, and, nearly everyone’s favorite people-watching location…the airport.

Have you ever sat across from a group of people and absent mindedly stared at one person in particular? What was it about his appearance that set him apart? His advanced age? his dated clothes? Something resting on his lap or clutched to his chest? A look in his eyes filled with joy and contentment of having lived a good life?

Next time you’re wondering about someone, reach for your notebook and begin speculating.

Start by describing their appearance.

* The fashion-conscious woman–she wears the latest in Vogue, her gold necklace rests perfectly above the neckline of her designer dress, her carry-on bag matches her purse, and her polished nails match her lipstick and belt.

* The confident man– he wears a button-down, white shirt with jeans–worn at the knees. His back pocket is loosened at one corner and bulges with the outline of his wallet. He finger-styles his hair, and when he sits you notice his western boots.

* The homeless woman–she wears several layers of clothes, a torn garbage bag nests in the protection of the grocery cart she rests her hand upon. Her shoes have holes in the sides and the heels are worn. Her tangled, brown hair is pulled back under a frayed, knit cap.

What does the individual have with them? A briefcase? Purse? Stack of folders? A puppy in a pet carrier? A stroller with an infant? A letter? Absolutely nothing? What can you tell about the person from this?

What is this person doing? Checking e-mails on their mobile device? Scribbling details of you in their pocket notebook? (Yeah! A fellow writer.) Feeling in their coat pocket occasionally to check on something. (Hmmmm, possibly suspicious…)

If you’re at the train station or airport, can you speculate where the individual might be going, what awaits him/her there, and what they might need to do there? Are they returning home or beginning their journey? Who did they see? What business brought them to this point?

What about their activity can begin to paint a picture of their personality? If they are writing, do they crumple a sheet of paper with only a few marks on it, or do they use every possible writing space available on that page? Wasteful vs. Frugal.

BEFORE TODAY IS THROUGH, see how many new character sketches you can create.

And maybe one more…(?)

Observe yourself. Yes, you are a potential character for your stories, too. Do you know anyone better? How are you dressed today? What do your clothing choices say about you? What do you carry with you that others can observe? Is the tone in your voice irritated, hostile, happy, or pensive? When in public, what do you talk about that others might overhear? What do you say that a fellow writer in the crowd might document as an example of REAL dialogue?

And while you are creating fresh characters, keep in mind that the details you include are a fine exercise for show don’t tell.

Don’t tell us the man is old…show us his time-worn facial features, shaky hands, and dependency of his cane.

Don’t tell us the woman is stylish…show us her designer outfit, her long-legged, confident stride, and the shiny, silver heels of her black pumps.

Do you already keep a notebook for on-location character sketches? Have you ever been a character in one of your stories?

I’d love to hear from you.

Adding Another Level To Our Writing – Wednesday Writer’s Prompt and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-ALet’s start with a quote from the great Hemingway.Hemingway quote

My week is filled, same as yours, with all the daily to-do’s and little extras that wedge their way between an already full schedule. But somehow, when a friend calls to chat and asks what I’ve been up to, I quickly answer, “Same ole stuff. Not much is new.”

But that isn’t true for any of us. Lots of things happen each day.

Remember my Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration about recording the events of the day, including the many details involving your five senses?

This Wednesday’s Prompt and Inspiration will ask you to document your day again. This time, add your emotions. Instead of writing how the sticky bun felt in your fingers, tasted with your coffee, smelled, or looked on your plate beside your paper napkin (half scribbled over with ideas for your next novel), give your reader some of what’s going on behind the scene. And by the way, the sticky bun scenario is just an example… However, if you feel like dropping in at your local coffee shop, buying a sticky bun and a cup of coffee for this exercise, I wish you a bon appetite!)

Let’s keep going with an example of what I mean by “behind the scene.”

As you bring the flaky, honey-dripping, icing-coated, delicacy to your lips, the caramel-coated, almond slices touch your tongue. Your taste buds awaken. Unexpectedly, you find yourself reminiscing about a snowy afternoon at your Grandmother’s house when you were ten. You recall the red and white, checkered, oil cloth draped over her old, wood table. You can still smell the cherry tobacco from your Grandpa’s pipe as he sits in his favorite chair, puffing softly and thoughtfully. You can still see out the window beside you. Three of Grandpa’s cows are grazing under the Willow tree his father planted. And in addition to these cozy vignettes, you recall your grandmother setting a plate before you with a warm sticky bun, fresh from her oven with icing melting down the sides.

There is always more happening while we go about our daily to-do’s. Our thoughts are active and fleeting, but often the details provided by our memories can add a new level to our writing (or a nice way to work in a little piece of important back story).

Are you ready to grab you notebook and see where the day leads you?

As always, I’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI have a pen pal in Europe, a country where it seems the average job pays higher and offers better vacation days than America. Every letter from her speaks of grand vacations in which she takes in the opera in France, visits the coast in Germany, and shops for her clothes in Sweden. After reading each letter, I pour myself a glass of port and remind myself of my own, less than internationally adventurous, but valuable life. What saddens me most is that her letters lack something the writer in me craves.

Details.

I love to hear the stories people tell from their world travels, and I am often let down when what I receive compares to a shopping list.

“Do let me tell you about our most splendid vacation! We traveled to Italy, spent a day in Rome, lunched in Venice, took in the theater in Florence… Blah, blah, blah…”

How am I’m supposed to listen with anything but pretend enthusiasm? What I feel like saying is this…

Stay home! Send me on your vacation. I’ll keep a journal, take pictures, talk to the locals, and enjoy their cuisine. And when I return, I’ll have stories to tell that will captivate, mesmerize, and entertain you. Sadly, roaming the imported food aisle of the grocery store is as close as I come to sampling cuisine from around the world.

When my Dad was alive, we used to talk on the phone every night for an hour or so. He’d share his day, I’d share mine, and often we would laugh at old jokes. Friends would wonder what my Dad and I found to talk about every single day. They’d wonder what sort of amazing life we lived to have so much to share. In return, I wondered in reverse about their daily lives. Frankly, unless one stays in bed all day, staring at the ceiling, I can’t account for a lack of something to say. I think even if I stared at the ceiling all day, I could share the umpteen thoughts I knocked about.

The often ordinary life we live each day is, if we tune in to our five senses, remarkable in its details.

For this Wednesday writer’s prompts and inspirations, I would like you to record in a pocket notebook the details of the typical moments in your day. These are the details, after all, that find their way into our writing.

Suggestions for things to include:

Your thoughts when the phone rings, your thoughts when you see who the caller is on caller ID, your reaction to a conversation you overhear in the post office or at your job, your thoughts about the way someone is dressed, your reaction to the sweet smell in the bakery, describe the texture of something you eat with your hands, describe the flavor of that food, the familiar scent of a perfume you smell as you pass through a crowd of people, an incident that brings back a long forgotten memory, a sudden weather change, the way the weather alters your day, a package you weren’t expecting at your door, etc…

I would love if you shared some of your discoveries.