What ELSE Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A writing prompt from Alex Hiam, author of the Silent Lee series We all know that riding-for-a-fall feeling when someone says, “What could possibly go wrong?” (Uh, right. Haven’t you heard of Icarus?)             As writers, we often let our protagonists charge ahead, overconfident, riding for a fall, then help them struggle to recover. The idea behind this writing prompt …

May I Interest You In A Deception?

It happens like this: A well dressed man in an expensive car is talking on his cell phone as he pulls up to a stop sign. He doesn’t notice a kid on a skateboard zipping into the crosswalk. Bang! Kid runs into car and falls across the hood.             As the horrified driver jumps out, a nearby pedestrian also rushes …

North Star Teens Pen Appalling Openers

In Making Writing Exciting, we reviewed recent winners of the Bulwar Lytton Prize, which is awarded to the most atrocious first sentence of a bad imaginary novel in the spirit of Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, the English author most famous for contributing the cliched ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ phrase to our literary canon. Specifically, he began his …

PROMPT: Write About Weather as an Obstacle to Getting Home

The weather looms large in the plots of many of the greatest stories. In War and Peace, the ice and snow challenge all the characters and set the mood. In The Odyssey, weather seems to be fully under control when a friendly god puts all the winds into a sack and gives them to Odysseus so that he can use …

The Journey: Plotting and Writing Your Short Story

(Most writing prompts produce some paragraphs, but not a whole story. This one is designed to generate entire short stories. That’s why it’s longer than my other blogs. Oh, and do print out the PDF. It’s got some fun graphic art to help make this inspiring for writing groups!) _____________________ Here is a structured approach to rapidly writing a short …

Enter An Impostor

“Are you so dazed by this man’s hocus-pocus, that all the world, save him, is out of focus?” asks Cléante, addressing Orgon in Moliere’s play, Tartuffe. Orgon is indeed taken in by Tartuffe, who disguises himself as a priest and worms his way into the household. Blinded by his own desire for religious approval, Orgon makes Tartuffe his heir. Through …

Hunter and Hunted: The Most Primal Plot Device

Something Comedian Paul Rodriquez said about hunting is often quoted, although it doesn’t stop anyone who likes hunting from doing their thing: “Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they’re in the game.”             You can play around with this concept by only slowly revealing the hunter, so that the hunted are initially unaware of …

Boldly Embracing Plot Clichés

As any English Prof will tell you, avoid clichés like the, well, plague. It’s an instant F to start any story with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Similarly, overused plot devices are literary anathema. Here are a few of the most overused plots in human history: It was all a dream (and the protagonist wakes up in a …

Gaslighting as a Plot Device

The 1939 play that gives us the term ‘gaslighting’ is set in a building in which several floors of apartments share the same gas supply for their lights. Gas jets were widely used for indoor lighting at that time. Like water pipes, gas pipes have only so much supply and if lots of lights are on at the same time, …

Expelled: The India Landry Story, and Yours!

India Landry was expelled from her public school in Houston because she did not stand for the pledge of allegiance. To introduce my writing students to her story, I created a handout with a news photo of India and a story from BuzzFeed (9/25/18). The news story includes these quotes: “Principal Strother upon seeing this [that India did not stand …