Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CWC's Writing Prompts

Last night, our CWC meeting was devoted to a bit of literary goofing off. It was a blast. Our homework for the month was for each person to bring in two writing prompts/exercises. For each prompt, the designated person read or explained the prompt, then we wrote for approximately five minutes. When Mary told us our time was up, we took turns reading what we'd written. After each person read, we spent a few minutes talking about what they'd come up with. Since we knew we were winging it, the comments weren't really focused on critique, but there were a lot along the lines of, "Ooh, that's a great opener for a story."

At the end, given all these, "I so want to read the rest of that," comments, Jenny gave us homework. For next month, along with the regular submissions, each of us is going to submit a short story/poem grown out of one of the prompt responses from last night. I'm looking forward to it. The especially cool part is going to be seeing the finished draft of a work that I was there for the birth of. It's a neat thing, to be involved in someone else's process like that, and to see the pieces come together.

Without further ado, I give you the prompts:

1. I went first. I'd been thinking of Frank O'Hara's poem, "Why I Am Not a Painter" and how the absence of things is a theme of it. So, for my prompt, I read the poem and then told everyone to write a scene without using any visual description.

2. Jenny told us to think of a bumper sticker we've seen. Then, thinking of that bumper sticker, we had to write something about the person who'd drive the car that bumper sticker was attached to.

3. Mary opened her iTunes on her laptop and played us a recording of Amy Beeder's poem, "Yellow Dress." It was really interesting to see how everyone responded to a different idea, image, or phrase in the poem.

4. Deb's prompt made us think of two antagonists, either from our own work or someone else's, and then write a conversation between them where they complain about their protagonist.

5. Shane told us we had to write a descriptive narrative without using adjectives or adverbs. We had to rely on choosing just the right nouns and verbs to convey ideas without using modifiers. Boy, talk about tough.

We got a very cool collection of prompts to try out and we all had a ball. Being forced to wing it created some fun and unexpected results. The nice part about responding to prompts is that it's very low stakes. It's a good way to get your inner editor out of the way - it's timed so you don't have time to muck about with thinking too hard about what you're writing, and you've only got a few minutes to come up with something. It doesn't have to be gold, it just has to relate to the prompt. It's liberating.

If you're curious, I'm posting one of my responses. This one is what I came up with for Mary's prompt. The part of the poem I responded to was the idea of looking at a prone body, and, if you know me at all, what follows shouldn't surprise you much. Fair warning, there's some gore, so if you're squeamish, proceed with caution.

June pulled the collection wagon to the side of the road, tugging on the horse's reins to slow it and stop. Here was another one to add to the pile in the back of the wagon. It was especially ripe, too, all oozy and reeking. Once upon a time, it looked like it had been a teenage boy. Now it just laid there and twitched a little when she got close, its jaw opening and shutting in a feeble mimicry of biting.

“There, there,” June said softly, pulling out her machete. The two crusty holes where it used to have eyes turned toward the sound of her voice. The thing flailed weakly, little more than sloppy skin outlining a stick skeleton. A tear in its flesh along its rib cage tore open a little wider with the movement, gaping like a second mouth trying to bite her. June leaned over and swung the machete. The mouth stopped biting as the head rolled off a few feet and its body went limp. June tossed the body into her wagon. One more for the compost heap.

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