Thursday Writing Prompt No. 117

I took this photo in 2010 when we visited  Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

I took this photo in 2010 when we visited Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

It’s finally Thursday and time for this week’s writing prompt. Today I want you to think about the weather, specifically, about how it is used in writing to portray mood, show a landscape, or to give your two lovebirds reason to hang out in that old garden pavilion and avoid returning to the boring party.

Weather can be atmospheric, adding mystery and romance to the story, and no less a literary giant than Charles Dickens devoted the first page and a half of his novel Bleak House to describing the “implacable November weather” and the fog that hung everywhere.* Weather can also drive your characters’ actions or even dictate the entire plot of a novel, as in Sebastian Junger’s nonfiction book The Perfect Storm or in fictional movies such as Sharnado.

So, here’s a mighty task for you today: come up with a plot for a story based on the weather, where weather is not just central to the plot, but must drive the entire storyline. Be as serious or silly as you want; writing should always be fun even if it’s a lot of work, too.

*Charles Dickens, Bleak House (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005), 17-18.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 116


I’m angry right now. Yep, I’m trying to make a doctor’s appointment and I find myself caught up in automated answering machine hell. I detest these things as it is, but this one wants to sell me every medical procedure that this doctor’s office offers. Really? Really!

So, let’s write a complaint letter together! Now you might be thinking “I want to write fiction, not a letter!” But any kind of writing will help you hone your craft, and if you usually write fiction or poetry then writing nonfiction will be like cross-training for your writer’s mind.

Complaint letters aren’t meant to be negative, even though they are about something bad–or at least, something not as good as it might be. The key to writing a good complaint letter is to be very specific about what the problem is and what kind of remedy you want from the individual or company that you are dealing with. Avoid writing things like “this sucks” because it doesn’t really mean anything. What is the problem, and why it is a problem?

Here’s your scenario: you go to the grocery story and buy some frozen dinners, only to find once you’re at home that one of the boxes has been opened and the inner seal on the food is punctured. You try to return it to the store but the manager won’t give you a refund because you can’t prove that it came from the store this way.

You drive home angry, your foot pressed to the accelerator, and leap out of the car. Rushing to your computer, you look up the company’s website and find their contact page. Your fingers hover over the keyboard, itching to let loose. What do you write?

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 115

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about dialogue. During a recent writer’s group meeting one of my reviewers noted that my draft had a lot of dialogue tags. Those are things like “Sam said,” “she said,” etc. It’s good to have some of them to make sure that a reader can follow your character’s exchanges and know which of them is speaking, but too many tags draw attention to themselves and not the speech.

So that gave me a thought: why not write some dialogue that purposely uses too many tags, and then rewrite the entire piece with none at all? The point is to become aware of using tags by planting one on every line of speech and then seeing how many you can get rid of before it’s too difficult to follow the dialogue.

You can avoid dialogue tags by adding descriptors to the sentence that show action. For instance, in my novel Seacombe Island (I’m still looking for an agent — hey, is anyone reading this?) I have these two short paragraphs. On the first one there is clearly a dialogue tag to indicate that Jasper is speaking, but on the second one I’ve avoided having a tag by instead providing a descriptive bit about Tom:

      “You wouldn’t have jumped,” said Jasper, spreading his hands wide and stepping down off the stairs. “We had no time for niceties and such.”
      “I could have drowned!” Tom’s voice seemed strained to his own ears, as though he had been shouting for hours. “Did you even think of that?”

So there’s your inspiration. Write at least ten lines of dialogue between two or more speakers (of course, I’m assuming your character doesn’t spend much time talking to himself or herself). Copy and paste the text so you have two sets of speech. Now, on the first set, make sure you have a dialogue tag for every character every time they speak. For the second set strip out all the tags and rewrite as necessary to make sure the dialogue is clear.

Is it finally spring?

The weather has been so strange this year. Just a week ago it snowed. I went to the Mid-Atlantic Conference on British Studies in Baltimore and on Saturday afternoon we were treated to snow flurries. Plus, it was bitterly cold and windy. Walking from the conference center back to the hotel where I had parked my car was nearly unbearable. The only thing that kept me from running back to the garage was the thought that I would fall prey to cold-induced asthma, so I pulled my scarf over my ears and kept trudging.

Today the temperature is in the 70s and I’m ready to turn on the air conditioner. As soon as it gets warm here in the Washington metro area the humidity shoots up and it just gets gross. Of course, it rained today so the humidity is high, but pretty much from now until next October it’s going to be humid. Ugh.

On a positive note, it looks like spring is finally here. My lone yellow crocus survived the cold snap and has been joined by about twenty other crocuses in a variety of spring colors. I think the harsh winter gave me spring fever, because today I went to a local nursery and got a narcissus plant for indoors and a new planter for my African violet. And a pair of pink flamingos for the front yard. I may have spring fever, but it seems that I’ve been bitten by the retro bug, too.