Tag Archives: writing prompt

Letting Your Story Marinate

I can’t believe two months have flown by since my last post. In my defense, I had two work events – the one where I wrote my last post and another one in November. And by then we were sailing straight into Thanksgiving. And now, we’re tumbling right into Christmas and the New Year.

On the plus side, I DID write as planned at my work event in October.  Sadly, I haven’t written a word since I’ve gotten back.

But I’ve read that just as much of the writing happens in your head when you are not writing as happens when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Sometimes the story needs to sit in your head and marinate for a bit.

When I was figuring out how to bring my main male character back home after he walked away, it took a bit to come up with a satisfying story line to explain his absence. And then I had to find a way to bring him back because he needed to get sick and die. It’s what causes my main female character to take some chances. To get up out of the rut she has allowed society to box her into and make some changes in her life. It’s her chance to grow. His death – caused in part by the society they lived in – will give her the strength and determination to rise above. After all, she has children to raise. And she wants to be an example for them to follow. Her babies are the first generation born free and she will not allow them to accept being treated as slaves.

In any event, I had written myself into a place where I needed some time to mull it over and find a way to bring him to the illness to which he succumbs. A diphtheria epidemic rolls through Charleston and their youngest child becomes ill.  In working with the general idea that illness generally is hardest on the young, the elderly and the weak, it’s going to take him and the young child. This is going to be the most painful thing my main character has ever gone through (even having been born into slavery) and it’s going to be the fuel she needs to make changes.

Don’t ask what those changes are, because right now, I haven’t a clue. I have to wait for the story to get that far so I can see what direction she wants to take. Will she leave Charleston? Will she stay and fight for her rights? I expect she will stay, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process is that you can never assume you know what your character wants to do until she’s right there, having to take action.

Word count 38,068

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April 2015 Writing Prompt

This month’s prompt was: What would you find in an accountant’s trash? 

It’s midnight. The night is inky black and I can’t see my hands in front of my face. Along the coast, all the rich folks keep their outside lights off so hatching baby sea turtles don’t mistake the artificial lights for moonlight and head away from the ocean by mistake. This works to my advantage because I’m about to dumpster dive in one of the rich bastard’s trash cans.

My name is Rita and I work for the local newspaper. We’re working on a story about a local big name accountant who wants to run for public office. You know how it is. A run for public office usually means skeletons you thought were long since buried can resurface overnight. They almost always do. I’m one of the reasons why.

That’s not to say I don’t get some information honestly. I talk to people. I stare at my computer well into the night entering words and phrases into search engines that have always led reporters to pay dirt on even the seemingly innocent among us. Everyone has a history. Everyone has something they would be embarrassed for the world to know. You just have to dig deep enough to find the kryptonite that will bring down the monster.

A story like this could make my career.

Opening my backpack, I pull out a pair of latex gloves and a flashlight. Peeking around the side of the garage, I make sure all the lights are out inside the house. Shining the flashlight into the garage window, I see his Lexus so he’s not going to show up and catch me midway through the remains of his Chinese takeout and a week’s worth of the Wall Street Journal.

Word on the street is his accounting firm is going under. The office phone number recording confirms the “phone number is temporarily unavailable,” email messages sent to the company return undeliverable and during a weeklong stake out of his offices he didn’t show up at the office once. Not once. And it’s tax season.

This is a small town and his family goes way back. He’s old money and everyone in town knows it. His parents wanted him to have a real job. They believed he should work for his money and learn to appreciate it before they hand over the keys to the castle. Most of us joke that the job is just a front for his illicit activities – something to get mommy and daddy off his back so he can do what he wants.

Digging around in the recycling, I find boxes of business cards and letterhead for his company. Either they are relocating, or dissolved. Further down I find late notices and disconnect bills of all kinds. Proof he’s been kicked out of the office space and his phone disconnected. Only for the business. Any bills that might relate to his beach front brothel are missing or shredded. Or those bills go to Mommy. Probably it’s Daddy’s name on the mortgage.

Underneath all the rest of his business paperwork is a framed certification from the University of South Carolina. Also a membership for the South Carolina Board of Accountancy, the local licensing board.

I move on to the trash cans. Removing the lid, I feel as if I’ve walked into the corner bar well after close but before the cleaning crew has arrived. I shine the flashlight on a few of the bottles.

“At least he spends Daddy’s money on the good stuff,” I whisper to myself.

Underneath the bottles I open the first trash bag to find a handful of wadded up napkins. Shining the flashlight on the pile, I can see writing on one of them so I pluck it out and smooth it out.

Susanne 843-438-5678

I smile. I’m familiar with this trick – in fact, I’ve given out that phone number myself. Instead of looking like a bitch, it’s easier to give a guy you aren’t interested in a fake number. 438-5678 spells GET LOST on the phone keypad. The number is actually the number for a local pawn shop. They’ve gotten to the point where their voicemail says, “this is not the girl you met last night, this is…”

A lot of women give out this fake number around here. Beach towns have a lot of tourists. Many of those tourists are men. Many of those men spend their vacation drunk. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of admiration from a drunk man, you know that if you turn them down, they try even harder. You’ll have a lot more fun with your friends if you just give the idiot a fake number. He thinks he’s won and he leaves you alone.

Some women give out the number for the sanitation department. Some give the number for a phone sex line. Some even give the number of a friend they aren’t speaking with. By the looks of things, this idiot has gotten more than his share of blow off phone numbers on high-end establishment napkins. He might have better luck at the corner bar. Unfortunately, the rumors of his reputation precedes him in society circles. Middle class women with a dream of marrying into money would be easier game. Nice Southern society girls wouldn’t be caught dead with him and his baggage.

Moving to the last garbage can, I lift the lid to find a photo. Sitting right on top of the pile, it’s almost like he left it there on purpose. Looking more closely, I can see him standing on what I assume is his boat in the harbor next to the day’s catch. Some type of shark (probably a bull shark) hangs from a line next to him and he’s surrounded by four other guys. All of them are smiling, two of them are flexing their muscles for the camera, like they are some kind of bad ass. Poking out of the trash next to the picture is a fishing pole. I pull out half a fishing pole broken right above where the reel would have been.

I open the first bag in this can and find empty fertilizer bags. Lots of them. Stuck between two of them, is a receipt for acetone.

“Bingo.” I don’t know for sure that our accountant is making meth, but he’s got two of the ingredients right here. If I take the bag with me, I can get a better look during the day and I might be able to get the items in the bag tested. I’ve got a friend at the lab who owes me a favor.

My gut instinct: I’ve found the kryptonite.

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March 2015 Writing Prompt

This is the piece I wrote for the writing prompt: “Wanted: Dad”  A little dark, but I wanted to go away from the obvious and try something different.

Melody was itching. The high from the last ad was wearing off. She sat in her apartment, staring at the TV but she had no idea what was on. She sat perfectly straight, feet on the floor, toe tapping the carpet, fingers drumming on her thighs, and her heart beating as if she’d run a marathon. Most evenings, the TV was the only light in her apartment. No one could see in if the lights weren’t on.

She jumped up and started pacing, tripping over Chloe’s chew toy.

“Damn dog.”

Melody kicked the bone across the room, watching it bounce off the wall.  Her hands flew over her mouth, her eyes popped out of her head, expecting the neighbor to beat on the wall in retaliation.

“Under the radar, stupid!” She whispered to herself. The last thing she needed was people noticing her in the hallways. If people started to notice her, they would see her at the market or the post office and want to say hello. Pretty soon, she was no longer moving along the edges of society – she would be smack in the middle.

You can’t kill people if everyone knows your name.

To that end, Melody went out of her way to blend into the scenery. She ran her own website design company from home. Most of her work was handled by phone and email, so most of her clients had never seen her face. She ordered groceries online.

The dog was long gone. Her mother thought a puppy would make her feel better, but the damn thing barked and whined and, worst of all, needed to go outside. In public. Sometimes during the day.

“Mother should have gotten a cat.” Melody tended to keep third shift hours. She could leave the apartment more often under cover of darkness. A cat would happily sleep all day and poop in a box. Easy.

Sitting down at the computer desk set up in what should have been a dining room, she went to the local newspaper’s website and placed a new ad: Wanted: Dad 312-555-1234.

She paid for it with her mother’s credit card. Melody hated taking advantage of her mother but she certainly couldn’t use her own card. Her mother was now in a nursing home after taking one final blow from her husband. It was the only way Melody escaped.  He was thrown in jail and the abuse finally stopped. The authorities would never believe this woman who no longer remembered her name or her child could have harmed anyone. They would assume the card was stolen. Certainly her mother was safe.  Certainly, so was the daughter no one knew.

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Cleaning Out My Desk Drawer

Most of the time, procrastination is bad. Very bad. But this time, procrastination turned into a gold mine of writing nuggets.

My one desk drawer, full of hanging file folders stuffed beyond capacity, held everything from article drafts to tax papers. For the past 3 years, I’ve been cramming random bits of paper into these folders until they were overflowing. This wouldn’t normally bother me but on this particular day, I was on a mission.

In addition to my sometimes lackadaisical focus on writing, I have similar problems with my diet. For several years I’ve see-sawed 10-15 pounds on both sides of a base weight I’m not happy with in the first place. Right now, my end of the seesaw is up in the air so high that jumping down might result in a broken bone. I’m feeling unattractive and unhealthy. A few weeks ago I clipped a 7-day smoothie cleanse from my Dr. Oz Magazine. Now I can’t find it.

I’ve looked everywhere. I checked my cookbooks, my recipe binders, and my work tote. I’ve dug through the piles on my desk, looked through my blog folder and the bookcase. No luck. I started eyeing Ralphie the cat, completely able to imagine him hiding my “go directly to your skinny clothes” card. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

He looks innocent, but trust me, he's naughty enough to run off with my smoothie diet.

He looks innocent, but trust me, he’s naughty enough to run off with my smoothie diet.

Frustrated, but not yet ready to give up, my eyes fell on the desk drawer. I sighed, rolled my eyes, and started pulling things out of the drawer. Distracted from the smoothie diet, I decided this drawer needed a serious purge session. I threw away expired coupons, recipes we would never try, duplicate, triplicate and quadruple copies of stories in progress, maps for towns we didn’t live in, and travel brochures for places we’ve already been to (and scrapbooked).

Image courtesy of nuttakit at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of nuttakit at freedigitalphotos.net

One of the folders labeled, “Writing Prompts” was so full it was spilling over. Scraps of paper had worked their way underneath the hanging folder, waiting patiently on the bottom of the drawer. The scraps still in the folder had crumpled and tore under the pressure of all the scraps stuffed in after them.

I dumped the folder on the dining room table so I could sort them and gain control of the beast.

Some of the prompts were creepy: Follow a random person through a store, write down everything they put in their cart and then write a story where they use the items they are purchasing. This prompt must have been decades old – back when following someone through a store wouldn’t get you arrested or beat up.

Most of the prompts sound like fun. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten all about this folder full of creative kick starts. Then it hit me – my BFF is also a writer. We live a thousand miles apart. Wouldn’t it be fun to take one of the prompts each month, write something and then share with each other? Yep, you could call us English Major Nerds. No offense taken. We wear it proudly.

So, we’re doing the prompts. March prompt is ~ An ad in a newspaper contained only two words, “Wanted: Dad,” and a phone number. Who would place such an ad?

I’m hoping the prompts will spark my creativity and my efforts will spill over into my novel. As an added bonus, it’s a fun way to keep connected to my BFF. I’ll post them as we go, for those of you who want to play along.

Stay tuned!

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