My son’s less-than-serious response to my writing “crisis.”
My son’s less-than-serious response to my writing “crisis.”
Have you ever tried writing prompts? They can be helpful in all sorts of ways, from writing your way out of writer’s block to keeping your writing sharp when you are between projects. If you like to have everything planned out when you write, using prompts might help you loosen up and become more spontaneous. Plus, you never know where an idea might take you.
Today I’d like to share the writing prompts I used with a writing group at our local library.
The first writing prompt came from Writing to Change the World: An Inspiring Guide for Transforming the World with Words by Mary Pipher (around page 33, depending on the edition).
Mary Pipher describes a project to write a poem by starting each new phrase with “I am from…” Although designed to be a project to reveal things about yourself, it would also be equally useful to write from one of your character’s point of view, for a character study.
I am from New England stock, hardworking and stoic,
All about ideas and problem solving
Emotions hidden, feelings invisible.
I am from Lois and Kent,
Sheldon and Beulah,
James and Mabel.
I am from pancakes and eggs,
Fried chicken and mashed potatoes,
Garden fresh tomatoes and green peas.
I am from trees, forests, deer, and lakes,
Winding two lane roads,
Weather and seasons,
Dairy farms and vineyards.
I am from New England Stock,
Deep roots, cut free.
For the second writing exercise I read a bit of Elizabeth Berg’s section about plotting from Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.
Elizabeth Berg is a “pantser,” that is she doesn’t plan out her books in detail beforehand. As part of the process, she collects objects, photographs, and sayings to spark her work. She keeps these “found objects” in a special project folder.
Inspired by her system, I collected one word from each participant and the challenge was to incorporate all the words in a story. Our “found words” included: open, ecstatic, confused, cat, amazement. We had 12 minutes to write. Much to my “amazement,” some of the participants were able to incorporate the words into nonfiction stories.
Since it was the first day of fall yesterday, I suggested we write about fall and try to use as many senses as possible.
If you use one the prompts and post your work, feel free to tell us about it and leave a link in the comments.
Author Harry Kemelman is best known for his mystery series featuring Rabbi David Small, but he also wrote short stories featuring a college professor named Nicky Welt. The Nine Mile Walk: The Nicky Welt Stories of Harry Kemelman is a collection of these short stories.
In all his stories, Kemelman’s protagonists use logic to solve crimes, but nothing beats the pure logic of “The Nine Mile Walk” (text available online).
Modified slightly, the short story is also available as in a two-part video.
It is a short, but highly-entertaining mystery.
Have you read Harry Kemelman’s books? What do you think of them?
Interested in writing or reading mysteries? You might want listen to an interview from Talk of the Nation (NPR) with Tana French, author of In The Woods and The Likeness,
and Louis Bayard, author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye.
I love Tana French’s statement about how crime novels are a barometer of society.
You can find a transcript at the NPR website.
What part of the interview resonated with you?
Photo via Visualhunt.com
Are you a J.A. Jance fan? To accompany our last post about J.A. Jance, here is an in depth interview with Mark David Garrison.
She is such a wonderful storyteller!
Love the story about becoming J.A. instead of Judy, and P.D. James being “her neighbor on the shelf.”
What do you think?
A friend who lives in Arizona recently recommended the David Mapstone series by Jon Talton. Because I am reading mysteries as a way to study the craft of writing, this will be more of a discussion of writing techniques than a general review.
This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.
Let’s start with Camelback Falls, although it is the second in the David Mapstone Mystery series.
Main character David Mapstone began his career working in the sheriff’s department of Maricopa County, Arizona. After a detour to train as a historian, he found himself back in the sheriff’s department. When the newly elected sheriff who has been his mentor is shot, Mapstone must find out who did it and hopefully clear his mentor’s name.
The first thing I noticed when reading was the rhythm of Talton’s words. Even though he sets his stories in the Sonoran desert, the cadence reminds me of the uneven staccato of the rain on pavement. I have to admit it took me a couple of pages to adjust to his voice after having just read the slowly ambling prose of Elizabeth George. Once familiar with it, however, the driving beat was compelling.
Many mystery authors write using a third person point of view, but Talton writes in the first person. The distinct advantage of first person is that there are no confusing shifts in voice or perspective. It can be limiting, however, because it only tells one person’s story. It also can be difficult to show action because the main character must always be involved. Talton adroitly overcomes the limitations by adding certain characters with a wider perspective of events and by moving Mapstone around to follow the action (even though as acting sheriff realistically he might have been trapped in his office). Kudos to Talton, because that is hard to pull off in a mystery.
One intriguing pattern in this novel was that most of the male characters tended to be either mentors or adversaries. Few men were neutral or friends. As Mapstone interviews the women characters, on the other hand, they impart many of the clues to that help wrap up the mystery. I wonder whether the choice of helpful females was a conscious decision as a way to define Mapstone’s character or an unconscious choice by Talton. Because he is an experienced journalist, I suspect the former.
In any case, Camelback Falls is a enjoyable mystery to read, and delving more deeply, an informative case study of the writing process.
Have you read any of the David Mapstone mysteries? What did you think?
Why a new blog? I have been blogging for years about children’s books at Wrapped In Foil blog, but the time seems right to move on. Please join me for a conversation about reading and writing mystery/thriller suspense novels. We may even throw in a television series or movie discussion now and then.
Are you ready to get started?
Do you read mysteries? Who is your favorite mystery author this month?