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Well, friends, I had wanted to offer you all something profound for this last prompt. But as it often does– more so lately–life got in the way. I developed an ocular migraine which made it impossible to read or write. It left me exhausted. Tapped out. Drained. I sat in my tiny basement office with the window facing my backyard and watched the snow fall heavily, weighing down the branches of the freshly leafed out trees. I worried about the destruction a heavy, wet, spring snow might bring them. I thought of how nature sometimes is unpredictable and unwieldy and…terrifying. But this spring snow will melt and soak into the earth and the greenest grass imaginable will emerge from it. There is an artfulness to chaos even when it make us uncomfortable.
I love this quote by abstract expressionist artist Helen Frankenthaler:
So for today, what if you simply write? Without a word bank or first sentence or situation supplied to you (i.e., “a man and a woman argue in a crowded cafe without saying anything…include a purple chapeau”). Okay, use that if inspires you! But today, I’m granting you permission to write freely, without direction or rules.
Consider this wisdom from Rebecca Solnit:
“Write. There is no substitute. Write what you most passionately want to write, not blogs, posts, tweets or all the disposable bubblewrap in which modern life is cushioned. But start small: write a good sentence, then a good paragraph, and don’t be dreaming about writing the great American novel or what you’ll wear at the awards ceremony because that’s not what writing’s about or how you get there from here. The road is made entirely out of words. Write a lot. Maybe at the outset you’ll be like a toddler—the terrible twos are partly about being frustrated because you’re smarter than your motor skills or your mouth, you want to color the picture, ask for the toy, and you’re bumbling, incoherent and no one gets it, but it’s not only time that gets the kid onward to more sophistication and skill, it’s effort and practice. Write bad stuff because the road to good writing is made out of words and not all of them are well-arranged words.”*
I’ve always believed the best “ideas” spring organically from the act of writing itself. So go write. Set a timer for 15 minutes and keep your hand moving across the page. Maybe turn it sideways. Scribble. Write with a crayon. Make a huge, glorious, chaotic mess.
That’s it, my friends. Nancy and I will keep these prompts here for you to access any time you need them. For now and always, I’m sending you well wishes, strength, and love. ❤
Read the strangely beautiful “The Two-Headed Calf” by Laura Gilpin, generally considered a poem, but it feels like a microfiction to me:
The Two-Headed Calf
Tomorrow, when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.
But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass.
And as he stares into the sky, there
are twice as many stars as usual.
Now write your own micro (try for 75 words or fewer), perhaps involving a strangely beautiful creature, real or fictional, and emulate this structure: “Tomorrow…(then) “Tonight…”
I’ve been struck lately by how many events have had to be cancelled due to lockdown. We humans LOVE to plan for things. The anticipation is often just as fun as the event itself. At any rate, the old saying, that God laughs at your plans, seems particularly apt these days.
For Day 26, your prompt is to write a flash about plans gone horribly awry. There’s a lot of tension and conflict to exploit in that idea alone. Examples:
To heighten things even further, let’s say one character is extremely STUBBORN and INFLEXIBLE and the other is low-key and happy to go with the flow. I’m thinking of Neil Simon’s The Out-of-Towners. Write into the humor and tension that occurs when two such characters must face a carefully planned itinerary that’s botched by a series of accidents, mishaps, and misfortunes. How your characters deal with adversity says a lot about them. Do they prevail in the end? Remember that “trouble” is inherently interesting to your readers.
Powerful dialogue. It’s one of the most important craft tools in the writerly toolkit. Yet writers are often stymied when confronted with the task of writing good dialogue, so they simply leave it out. Dialogue can be direct or summarized, but the best, most potent, revelatory, tension-filled dialogue ought to be given directly. Why deny your reader the pleasure?
Screenwriter Maggie Sulc, in this article, advises to take our cues from actors when writing dialogue, to examine the character’s desire:
“Your language can be poetic and lyrical or blunt and straightforward, but if there isn’t a clear desire behind it, then there’s no reason for it to be spoken and, therefore, it shouldn’t be dialogue.”
Today I want you to write a conversation that features underlying or overt tension. Perhaps like Jo and Laurie in Little Women your characters want different things. Or one wants something the other can not or will not give to them. You can do anything you want with this, but I want all the window dressing to be pared down.
Focus on ACTION and DIALOGUE. And make every word sing.
Leave stuff out. Often the most telling aspects of dialogue are what the characters are NOT saying.
Don’t make this a ping pong match. In real life, people don’t always answer questions. Real dialogue is full of unfinished sentences, of non-sequiturs and detours.
Make your characters sound different. This is very important. And a great way to characterize. Does one speak in full sentences while the other murmurs fragments? Does one of your people have some sort of vocal tic?
And how do they move about? Use body language to its fullest advantage.
Fill it up with subtext, undercurrents of emotion. What do these people want that has gone unspoken?