Writing Prompts and Challenges
Over 200 hundred years ago, a cluster of renown and wealthy creatives gathered at what we modern folk might call a posh Airbnb in Geneva, Switzerland. Pleasure-seeking and relaxation might have been their bent, but a soggy rainstorm trapped the revelers indoors. They set themselves a challenge to write a scary story which was to be read that evening.
Mary Shelley’s story about Dr. Frankenstein and his monster sewn from cadaver bits not only terrorized her fellow creatives, but also went on to establish the all-new genre of science fiction. It has haunted its readers ever since.
Recently, my virtual writers’ group assigned a challenge inspired by the Frankenstein origin myth.
Before our next monthly meeting, each writer had to generate a scary story. We all accepted the challenge and signed off the Zoom call.
Writing groups not only help solitary writers enjoy social time with peers who comprehend the oddities that come with living an imaginatively audacious life, but also they invite regular prompts and challenges.
Writing prompts and challenges are an ingenious way to overcome writer’s block. They also ignite new ideas and fresh approaches to writing. And when they come from a group you meet with regularly, these challenges totally topple the false assumption that you’re too busy or too tired to write.
I have found it’s really hard to shirk a deadline set by my friends and fellow writers.
As the ensuing month unfolded, I did in fact find time unusually scarce as my job situation radically changed. Specifically, I went from working as a freelance writer for multiple local businesses and nonprofits to working as a full-time marking director AND freelancing for multiple local entities. Add to that the hours I invest producing a rip-roaring children’s mystery podcast and yeah…I was definitely feeling like I was too busy and too tired to write.
Having spent decades of my life devoted to writing, I know that the most crippling aspect of the craft often boils down to all the decisions a writer must make to formulate, craft, and complete any story.
Who is the story about? Where and when will it take place? What will happen? What about tone and style? Narration: omniscient or limited? First, second, or third person point of view? Prose or verse? Oh and then there’s the audience to consider. Who is the story targeted for, young people, teens, adults? What about the title? The opening sentence? The final word?
So. Many. Decisions.
Pressed for time, I realized that if I could cut down on some of the decision-making, then perhaps the writing would not feel as intimidating or overwhelming. As a Connect Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I regularly host generative writing sessions for children’s writers in my area. Just like with my virtual writers’ group, the Connects offer writers both the time and opportunity to write, experiment, and push their creative powers through writing prompts and challenges.
From my trusty bag o’ tricks, I pulled out a restriction exercise that I love assigning at Connects:
WRITE A SCENE WITHOUT VERBS.
This devilish dare always seems impossible until you try it.
Pick two characters from a work-in-progress who have a conflict. Or if you don’t have a WIP, imagine two people you know who have a conflict. Without using any verbs, write a scene that depicts their clash and a resolution.
Now, my assignment for the virtual group was to write a whole story rather than just a scene, and I knew that all stories revolve around conflict, so I focused on simply writing a story without any verbs.
Here’s what I came up with and shared with my creepy-peeps…
It’s not polished.
It’s not perfect.
That’s not the point.
It was riveting to write. Engrossing to outwit the restriction. And so much fun to work on even when I was so beleaguered and worn out from work. No wonder Mary Shelley accepted the prompt!
The Verb-less Story
The Graveyard Contest
Pumpkins, costumes, candy!
Trick or treat!
Round moon, white ball, soft stone
Pale as a soul
Round moon, white ball, ghost beacon
Blue shadows long
Little lights, misty kites
Spirits and geists
First like dew drops, then like rain
“Full moon on Halloween
Rare event, oh so rare!
Therefore a contest
An ancient contest.”
50,000 screams before sunrise
Neither gasps nor eeps
Nor shouts nor squeaks
Bona fide screams
Nothing, the grandest nothing ever
Afterlife freedom. Goodbye grave. Goodbye world. Goodbye memories. Goodbye pain.
Hello, death. You cozy blanket of nothing, nothing, nothing
Any winners ever?
Rumors: maybe five
None, according to In Loving Memory of William Joseph Burkett b. 1862 d. 1878
Definitely none, also according to Lucy Manzaneras, Loving Wife and Mother, b. 1940 d. 2020
None. This from Delia.
Delia with the woodland grave
Lone stone marker
No b. No d.
Beloved Forever Delia
Impossible. 50,000 screams before sunrise?
Impossible. 50,000 screams before sunrise!
Time time time