Exploring the hidden parts of your neighborhood.

This is writing prompt is taking inspiration for PS Books newest title, “Forgotten Philadelphia”.

 

You want to look around your neighborhood and start researching it. Is there a building you’ve walked by a million times but have no idea what its former purpose was before it became a backdrop for graffiti?

That’s the kind of thing you want to look for. Try using the library to find out the history of the building. See if you can interview someone who was around when the building was bubbling with activity.

Then, you want to write the history of the building as if the building were a person. What has that building be a witness to? What secrets does it hold?

Today’s writing prompt involves some technology. You might want to grab some headphones and Google your favorite free internet radio.

 

In order to play around with tone, I want you to Google music you are not familiar with. You want the clip of music to be fairly long. Look for music that runs about 10 minutes and has no words (so a strict instrumental piece).

Your job is to listen to the music for the first three minutes. Don’t write; don’t think. Listen.

After the three minute mark, you want to start a mind dump. Write about how you are feeling, what emotions are invoked by the music, and maybe even think about where someone would listen to this music?

Once the music is done and you have your mind dump, you want to start drafting for about 15 minutes. Take two characters and put them in a situation. Maybe they are running late for a movie or dinner reservations. One of your characters should be in the mood which comes up the most in your mind dump.

Let the scene with the two characters play out.

After reading this article on the National Writing Project website called “Episodic Fiction: Another Way to Tell a Story” (http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/202), I thought it would be interesting to explore this way to write.

The basic idea in episodic fiction is the writer composes brief little snippets of a story with one object appearing in every one of the episodes.

These rules are in the article mentioned above and I feel they help explain this more:

1.The work involves a dynamic character, one who changes in fits and starts throughout the course of the story.

2.Episodes vary in length.

3.Episodes are roughly chronological, but not specifically so.

4.A single unifying device runs throughout the story, appearing in each episode.

5.Episodes are not related directly by cause and effect; instead, all are related to a central theme.

6.If a traditional short story is a movie, moving in a linear fashion from beginning to end, an episodic story is more like a slide show or a music video.

7.And finally, to borrow a rule from George Orwell, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

 

Today’s prompt asks you to take a single object and weave it into different moments in time. Maybe you want to take a pair of scissors (They are sitting next to me. Which makes you wonder why I have scissors next to me, but that’s another story). In one scene, the scissors are being used to cut thread so the character in the story can start making a baby blanket. In the next scene, the scissors are being packed in a box by the character because he or she is moving. Basically the object is the catalyst for the story and the character grows as the object continues remains the same.

A friend of mine once said every person resembles an animal. Ever since she said those words, I started seeing animals in people.

Today’s writing prompt is inspired by a chapter in Ted Hughes’ book, Poetry in the Making called “Writing About People.” Hughes discusses how people are generally nosy by nature and when writers first describe someone, they tend to describe people in generic specifics (i.e. she had blues eyes and wore brown on Mondays).

In my opinion, poetry is the genre in which a writer can really play with words and images.

For the exercise, take a person in your life (could even be a famous person you admire) and write down all their physical details. What color are their eyes? What kind of mouth do they have? What’s their body type?

Now, just like in last week’s prompt, I want you to cross out the things everyone has in common (i.e. the eye color). Take only those details of the person which are unique to him or her. Start looking for an animal who shares those same kinds of details.

Lastly, start crafting a poem in which you compare the person to the animal.

One of the biggest challenges people face when starting out in creative non-fiction is trying to find the true story in the tragedy. Everyone has felt the pain of a lost love; everyone has someone very important and special who died suddenly (or died of cancer).

Since we all have those stories in our life, they aren’t the ones you want to write because you want to give your reader an answer to the questions, “why this story?” and “why this point in the story?”

Also, from my personal experience writing about my life, I can never get the story on paper (or computer screen). The prompt I propose for today gives a person a way to walk around the tragic event.

Today’s exercise asks you to make a timeline of the event. Once you have the timeline done, start crossing off events everyone has in common. What you are left with are the events specific to you and in those events is your true story.

 

(Inspired by Kyle Minor’s Chapter, “The Question of Where We Begin” in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction http://http://www.rosemetalpress.com/Catalog/FGWFNF.html)

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