Tag: prompt

Writing Exercise #1: Character Development

I’ve recently joined a local writing group. We start most of the bi-weekly meetings with a quick writing exercise. This week’s task was to select a random picture from a stack, imagine that the person was in front of us, and write his or her backstory. I’ve been thinking about my characters for NaNoWriMo, and so I decided to write about one of them.


Houston Jones sits across from me, his gaze darting around the diner.

“Want a drink?” I ask, hoping to calm him down.

He shakes his head. His hands, at first clasped tightly in his lap, clutch the edge of his chair, then drum a beat on the table.

“So…” I prompt him.

“It’s tough, ya know?” My expression must say clearly that I don’t know. “Being here. All this.” His hand sweeps at the patrons, the tables, the whole city.

“You need a job.” No sense wasting time. His agitation is only increasing, and I don’t know what will happen when he reaches his breaking point.

“We didn’t have cell phones. The internet. Think about that. You wanna meet up with someone, you call from a payphone. Plan ahead. Now everything is available, immediately. People ain’t planning no more. They’re in such a hurry, but they ain’t got nothing to hurry to. I learned, the last thirty years, there’s never nothing to hurry to.”

He takes a deep breath, as if to go on, but remains silent. His chest heaves slightly, like he’s been running, and maybe he has, only it’s his thoughts been running for the last thirty years he was locked up, and now they’re out but the world has changed and maybe he’s right; where do you run to?

“I need that job. No more running. I lost thirty years. I ain’t got no time to waste being like this.”

“It’s working in a garage, hauling scrap, general maintenance. Think you can do that okay?”

He laughs, a biting sound that hurts my heart. “I ain’t got much choice.”


This book will be about five people coming together in the face of tragedy. I’m toying with the idea of making it twenty-five short stories, almost like episodes of a sitcom, that are loosely linked and come together with the equivalent of a season finale. Thoughts?

Stories based on songs

Ever since a Scribophile writing contest a year or two ago, which asked us to write a story based on the song “The Riddle” by Nik Kershaw, I’ve developed a bit of a crush on the guy and his music.  I’m not sure why, exactly – everything I’d heard by him was early 80’s pop, which isn’t the most remarkable music.  And let’s not even mention his hair.

As I listened to more of his songs – really listened, paying attention not just to the sound but the lyrics and themes – I decided it would be fun to write a story based on each one of them.  Maybe stick them in their own collection someday.

I mentioned it in my writing group, and the other day I received an email about the project:

I was wondering if you would be able to give me some answers re writing stories based on songs.

You said in a thread not too long that you’re currently attempting to write a story for every song Nik Kershaw has ever released. (That’s so cool, btw). That’s something I’ve been intrigued by (with?) for quite some time and I’ve also attempted something similar for NaNo 2010. So, the questions:

  1. What about those songs that don’t tell a story you can use or don’t inspire one? Do you just keep listening to the song until you think of something?
  2. Do you listen to the song while writing the story? 
  3. In your opinion, how much does the song has to affect the story? For example, a story having just the same theme/atmosphere as a song… would that qualify? 

Rather than just email him back, I thought I’d share my answers here.

  1. I planned to listen to each song multiple times, write a story, and then move onto the next song.  I started with his first album, The Riddle.  I listened to “Don Quixote,” and I wrote a story.  Then I moved onto the next song, “Know How.”  I had an idea for a story, and characters, but not enough of a plot.  So I stopped listening to that album.  Then the car adapter for my iPod died and all I had to listen to was the same songs on the radio, or the same songs on his 15 Minutes album.  A couple songs gave me ideas right away, and others after listening several times.  Some I’m still not sure about.
    As this is a project that’ll probably take forever to finish, and there are over 100 songs to listen to, I think it’s better to just write as inspiration hits, since forcing myself to write results in crap.
  2. I have a hard time writing when I don’t have complete silence, which is why I tend to do most of my writing late at night when no one’s awake.  I’ll listen to the song several times before I start writing, as well as look at the lyrics.  And it might take me several times of listening before I get a story idea.
  3. The first story I wrote, “Wise Men Fold,” was based on a song that Kershaw admits makes no sense.  So for that one, I just pulled out a few pieces.  For “Don Quixote,” the second one, I tried to stick with the theme of the song – a guy who considers himself a hero but is actually pathetic.  And I threw in details from the song.  For another I’m currently writing, “Billy,” about a guy who’s been emasculated by his wife, the story is what happens after his drinking buddies convince him he’s whipped.  Another, “God Bless,” pulls out just one line – “Praise be this coffee machine” – to become a satirical prayer to the almighty coffee god. 

    I think with over 100 songs, there’s a lot of room to change things up.  And, of course, the fact that no one I know has ever heard of Nik Kershaw, let alone his songs other than maybe “Wouldn’t It Be Good.”

Have you ever written stories based on songs?  Any tips you’d like to share?

The First Date

Another tip for character development – outtakes!  Write a short story using your main characters, and look at it as fulfilling a duel purpose – get to know your characters, and practice your writing skills.  Maybe even enter it in a short story contest or something.

In the first chapter of my novel the main characters reminisce about their first date.  When I came across an amateur writing contest requesting a 1500 words-or-less story about “a date which ended with a good night kiss, and how that came to be,” I realized that my characters’ date would work perfectly.  So, here it is, my first outtake.


       Kasey checked her watch again.  Seven-oh-eight.  David had said he would pick her up at seven.  Why was he late?  Maybe he’d spent too much time picking out the perfect shirt.  Maybe his car bad broken down.  Maybe he had found himself a more attractive date while driving across campus to pick her up.  Kasey gave herself a mental shake.  First dates always made her nervous.

         And then he was there, in front of her dorm, illegally parking an older Honda Civic next to the doors.  She hurried out to meet him before campus security noticed him.  Sometimes it seemed like they had a sixth sense for parking violations.

         “Wow, you look great!” David’s brown eyes took in every detail as she sat got in and pulled the door shut.

         “Thanks.” Kasey blushed and looked down at her hands in her lap.  She had picked a short black skirt, white silk camisole, and thin gray cardigan, with her dark thick hair pulled into a low ponytail.  David had been secretive about the restaurant so she had aimed for something that would work no matter where they went.

         “Is Italian okay?” David asked as he pulled away from the curb.

         “Yeah, that’s fine.  Anything beats the dining hall.”

         “At least it’s all-you-can-eat, which works great with the one-third rule.”

         “The one-third rule?”

         “Yeah, one-third of the stuff you put on your plate is edible.”

         Kasey chuckled.  “True.”

         “I’m glad you said yes.”  David reached over and squeezed her hand, then quickly put his back on the steering wheel.

         “What do I have to lose?”  She grinned at him.  “It’ll work out or it won’t; either way I’m getting a free meal.”

         David pulled into the parking lot of Carducci’s, a small upscale Italian restaurant.  Kasey was impressed; most college guys she had dated were more the Olive Garden type.  As the waiter led them to a candle-lit table in a secluded alcove, Kasey mentally promoted David to a new league far above the others.

         “How’d you get this table?” she asked him.  It was a Friday night and the restaurant was packed.

         “Can’t a guy have his secrets?”  He grinned at her.  

         They made small talk as they ate the freshly-baked bread and roasted garlic and waited for the main course to arrive.  Kasey worked at their university library between classes as a way to earn extra money, and David, as a pre-law student, spent a substantial amount of time in the building.  His casual flirting as he checked out materials had gradually grown into long conversations, and finally he had asked her out to dinner.

         As they finished the bread, the conversation died.  Kasey tried to think of something to say, something interesting, but nothing came to mind.  This was just David, she told herself, the same guy she talked to all the time at the library.  But somehow being in the restaurant, on an actual date, transformed him into someone else, someone foreign to her.

         David, perhaps sensing the growing awkwardness as well, regarded her seriously.  “It’s at this point in a date that I have to ask you a very important question, a question that will determine our compatibility and, ergo, whether there’ll be a second date.”

         Kasey swallowed hard.  She liked David and didn’t want to mess things up.

         “The big question: Batman or Superman?”

         “Batman.”  No hesitation.

         David exhaled.  “Good answer!  You really had me nervous on that one.”

         Kasey threw her straw wrapper at him.  “You’re a jerk sometimes, you know that?”

         “Yeah, but it only adds to my charm.”  He grinned and she shook her head, helpless to keep from smiling back.

         At that moment their food arrived.  David had ordered shrimp scampi, and Kasey the house lasagna.  As the waiter climbed the few steps to their alcove he tripped, spilling his tray of food onto Kasey’s lap.  She gasped as the food stained her clothes, then reddened to the color of the sauce as she realized the entire restaurant had turned their eyes to her.

         David jumped up.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he forcefully demanded of the waiter.  “How could you be so clumsy?”

         “I apologize, sir,” stammered the waiter.  “It was an accident!”

         “My date’s outfit is ruined!”

         “It’s fine, David,” Kasey said, knowing full well that the white shirt, at least, would never come clean.  “Please sit down.”

         “No, it’s not fine.  We come here expecting high standards, and having our dinner dumped on your lap is not part of that!”

         “I swear, sir, it was an accident!” The waiter dabbed at the edge of Kasey’s lap with a napkin, and she swatted his hand away, preferring her own administrations over those of a stranger.

         “Be that as it may,” David continued in a loud voice, “her clothes are ruined!  Something will need to be done about that!”

         “I’m trying, sir!”  The waiter, near to tears, again attempted to wipe off Kasey’s skirt, and she again swatted him away.

         A short balding man approached the table, hands clasped in front of him.  “I am so sorry!” he said in a heavy Italian accident.  “This should not have happened.  Lucas, run and tell the chefs to remake their meals as quickly as possible.”

         The waiter dashed off, relief visibly written on his face.

         The bald man turned back to Kasey and David.  “Of course, sir and madame, we strive for the best possible dining experience.  Your meal tonight will be on the house.”

         “Thank you, sir,” said Kasey.  The other patrons were still watching her table closely.  She wished they would focus on their food rather than the spectacle that her date had become.

         David remained standing, jaw clenched.  “David, sit down please,” she told him.

         “What about her clothes?” He waved his hand at Kasey.  At that point she had managed to clean the chunks of food off her lap, although an enormous red stain remained.

         “That is unfortunate, sir.  Would you like me to have your meal put in a box for you?”

         “No, I would not like it boxed.  Her clothes are ruined because of your waiter.  I want you to pay for the drycleaning bill.”

         “Sir, as I said, the accident is unfortunate, but you are getting the meal for free.”

         “David, it’s fine.  Please sit down.”

         “No, it’s not fine!  I want Mr. Carducci here to pay for the drycleaning!”

         “Sir, I must object…”

         “Really, it’s fine. Really.”

         “No, it’s not.  Pay for the drycleaning.”

         “David!” Kasey pleaded as his voice grew louder.  She wondered if she would fit under the table.

         “Please, sir…”

         “Is this how you treat your customers?”

         Kasey leaned her forehead on her hand and groaned softly.  She could feel the eyes of everyone in the restaurant upon her.  She wanted to melt onto the floor.

         The bald man sensed it as well.  “Very well, sir.  Send us the drycleaning bill and we’ll pay it as well.”

         “Thank you.”  David smiled and sat down.  “Could we get some more bread while we’re waiting for our food?”

         Kasey was quiet on the drive back to her dorm.  As soon as possible she wanted to change into pajamas, fall asleep, and pretend that night had never happened.

         “That didn’t turn out quite like I’d hoped,” said David as he pulled up to the doors of her building.

         “Well, I guess it’s a small relief that you didn’t plan for me to wear dinner.”  Kasey gave him a weak smile.

         “I did however have this planned.”  He leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips.  She closed her eyes, delighting in the warmth that spread through her body.  He gently placed his hand on her cheek and pulled her closer to him.

         She didn’t know if the kiss lasted a second or a minute; she just only knew that David’s lips felt perfect on hers and she didn’t want him to stop kissing her.

         The moment was over too soon, however, as seemed to be the case for most perfect kisses.  A tap on the window broke them apart.  David turned away from Kasey, regretfully it seemed, and rolled down his window.

         “Sir, you can’t park here,” said the security guard standing next to the car.

         “Alright, fine, I’m almost done,” David told him.

         “For tonight.”  Kasey smiled.  “Should we try burgers tomorrow?”

Your town in 150 words


The view driving down the road outside town.

Someone on a writing site forum issued a challenge to describe your town in 150 words (or 5 lines if you’re feeling poetic).  Descriptions, anecdotes, sights, smells, whatever you want.

Here’s mine:

Shining provincial town in the middle of an empty prairie.
Overwhelming to the uninitiated but a sorry excuse, barely enough for those who know better.
Cultural gems hidden around if you know where to look but I don’t want to look.
This is not my life; this is a pit stop I’m making the best of.
I’m frozen here, buried here, waiting for the thaw.

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