Prompt: The Roles We Play

Living up to roles, the things I’m “supposed” to be. Some are not welcome, some have been around so long, they are a part of us. Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond, brought in the prompt:

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
From My Fair Lady, “A Hymn to Him” sung by Henry Higgins, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

Your prompt is to address the issues of roles, be it why a woman can’t play the roles of a man, or any roles we play in life.

Prompt: Mortal Enemies

Remember a mortal enemy in your life, how did you deal with this person. Did you use humor? What did he or she teach you? Are you grateful? Are you saying thank you, or thanks a lot, fellow?

This week, write about such an encounter, and consider the lessons learned in the process.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

So the saying goes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you have no excuses for writing those thousand words during NaNoWriMo.

Before or during NaNoWriMo, look for pictures to represent your character, places, scenes, things, or events and add them to your research collection. When you run out of steam, turn to them for inspiration.

Look for what is in the picture to inspire you, but also look outside the frame. What is the person wearing? Why? What does that outfit do for them? Is it a uniform? Does it work with their recreational activity, or possibly work for their best-dressed work uniform in a corporate office?

Where are they? Do their clothes match the environment they are in? Why are they there?

If it is a place, go inside the picture to see what it beyond the bushes or trees, through the doors, around the edges in your mind so you see the whole picture.

Visual inspiration may come from a variety of forms. A picture in a magazine might trigger memories or concepts while having nothing directly to do with them. Add those to your collection to stimulate your imagination.

Also take advantage of Image Search on Google and other search engines. Type in a word or phrase and switch to the image view and scroll to find an image that catches your imagination. View the image alone and print it to add it to your collection if necessary.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Prompt: The Anti-Hero

The following is a tutorial and prompt for Writers in the Grove by Lorelle VanFossen and Patti Bond.

“Casting someone who people love to hate is absolutely critical.”

Bravo-TV’s Real Housewives producer Andy Cohen spoke on CNN’s “Why Donald Trump is the Perfect Real Housewife:”

If reality stars are going to make it big, they’ve got to amp up the drama – and by drama, I mean totally insane behavior.

Donald Trump is the perfect Real Housewife — the perfect villain — in the sense that some of us cannot stop talking about how much we freaking hate him. We can’t stop retweeting his deranged rantings. We cannot stop fact checking his obviously false statements. We cannot keep looking at each other — whether in real life or on a comments board — and asking, Can you BELIEVE this guy!?

In short, we cannot look away from the specter of Capital “C” Crazy before us, even if we shove an entire basket of deplorables over our heads. If Trump had a “Real Housewives” tagline, it might be, “Hate me all you want. I’ll be back for more.”

This is not a discussion about politics, but a look at a fascinating type of character often found in fiction as well as the real world: the antihero. Antiheroes are fascinating and compelling characters, and often set in the fine line between hero and villain.

The article offered a shortlist of reality TV casting requirements, which define well the concept of an antihero.

  1. 1s the character willing to say or do just about anything to be famous?
  2. Is the character polarizing among other characters and viewers?
  3. Is the character highly charismatic, yet highly offensive?
  4. Is the character predictably unpredictable?
  5. Does the character live in their own world, out of touch with reality (delusional)?

Like watching a car accident or train wreck, we can’t tear our eyes away from them. This is what makes a good antihero character for television, film, theater, or fiction. (more…)

Prompt: Generalizations

The prompt this week was on stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. The comment “all red heads have fiery personalities” labels all red heads, but when applied to the individual may not be true.

We discussed stereotype and sweeping generalization examples and how and where they are applied.

In writing, the inclusion and use of stereotypes and sweeping generalizations are also called characterization frames. When used well, the adjectives that define these stereotypes help the reader to make quick judgment calls about the characters. When used expertly, generalizations set the character up for conflict, with others and themselves. An Asian student struggling with the Asian F demand by parents and culture to get only A or A+ (and anything less than that like an A- is considered an F), may uncover a learning disability which puts the character in conflict with expectations of scholastic achievement within themselves, with their family, with the school system expectations and assumptions, and within their society. A fiery redhead who becomes a quiet librarian, encouraging an antagonist to “light the fire within.” A redhead deals with societal preconceptions and expectations on a daily basis, and such pressures are felt internally as well, as they attempt to live up to those assumptions.

Stereotypes are typically defined by the following:

  • culture
  • expectation
  • adaptation
  • conflict
  • dos/taboos

Culture sets attitudes and expectations about behavior, manners, etiquette, and relationships such as no sex before marriage, the wearing of the hijab, length of skirt, bowing as greeting or handshakes, language usages, etc. We expect certain behaviors within groups and societies, as a large encompassing group or within a small social circle. As we enter a new group, we use cultural norms to start, the expand what are acceptable behaviors within that group, such as a group of high school girls hanging out in the bathroom smoking, trusting the others not to tell on them. People moving into those circles must adapt, or conflict, avoidance or the accepted response in a conflict situation. Teens outside of the smoking girls group learn quickly how to behave around them, even though they are not part of the group. They support the group behavior. Thus, it becomes a social norm and expectation, and conflict arises when they are challenged.

The dos and taboos of a group or society dictate attitude, behavior, and define those social norms. These come in many forms from the innocuous, the choice to wear white shoe in winter, to the dangerous and threatening like road rage.

A character’s actions often define stereotypes, as does their language and thought process. How you choose to use these helps to craft and frame your character.

The prompt is to find a character that is part of a “group” and write about them. What group are they a part of? What are the expectations, behaviors, dos/taboos, and cultural impositions about that group? How does the character behave within that framework? Let us see them in a situation where these sweeping generalizations are challenged, helping us see deeper into the character’s story and development.

The Dancer Still

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Lorelle VanFossen, and is based upon the Prompt-a-Month: Dance.

Texturized art effect of ballet dancer on pointe in arabesque.Toe pointed. Leg elongated. Feel the burn through the calf muscles as they push the reach even further. Thigh muscles combine to lift and stretch the leg beyond the normal range, a straight arrow pointed toward the floor away from the body, toe not touching, every line straight and arched in all the right places as if coaxing the toe longer a little more. Just a little more. Reach, strain, stretch, push, tighten, balance, yet relax. Don’t let them see the pain. Head tilted down at an angle, shoulders pulled back, arms thrust forward reaching but hesitating, palms up, thumbs wide, fingers closed, curled, begging. The other leg bent, knee aligned in the direction of the other, heel down, glued to the floor, a stable foundation. An illusion of stability. A brush of wind would knock her over. A forward step paused in mid motion. Make it look effortless. Make it look like it is a gentle yearning, a pleading with the body to take just one tiny step in that direction, ahead but holding back, cautious. It is a dangerous step. One that leads to another, and another, and another step forward into the unknown.

Elaina kept this position for as long as she could, keeping the tension in her body in a tug of war between relaxed and tight, straining with the effort. She didn’t hear the clock ticking in the hall, the purring of the cat wandering nearby, nor the roar of cars outside the door on the street. She heard pain, a sweet familiar pain, ringing through her body, buzzing in her ears, knocking against her heart begging her for release. She felt the warmth of a spotlight against her closed eyes, the moment frozen, ready to burst out onto the stage with the unheard embrace of the music’s thrust.

She ignored the fact that it was only the morning sun through the front window peaking through the pale blue curtains. Through the rushing noise of the passing cars, she heard the gasp of an audience at her entrance, one step, then frozen in this pose, waiting for the music to queue that next step, but held, anticipating the moment she would take that next move, ablaze in feathers, sequins, and chiffon, disguised as a worn-out house dress.

When her body could no longer hold the moment, the audience straining with her now, feeling the tension, breathing with her, on the edge of their seats, she took that step forward, placing her right foot on the carpeted floor, pushing herself forward over the toe, leaning down and up into the move, her body straightened, head up, arms lifted higher, her other leg straight out behind her at a point. She held this for thirty seconds, allowing the clanging to quiet in her head, the body now in a more stable, relaxed state.

Her cat wandered by and wound around her standing ankle. Elaina opened her eyes and looked down into those wide golden eyes framed with soft gray hair. The cat meowed, the open mouth turning into a yawn with a whining sound as she completed another rotation then headed off toward the kitchen where she knew food would soon appear. (more…)

Prompt: Same Place, Same Bad News, Different Characters

Write two scenarios. Make the two scenes different even though they are in the same place with the same bad news.

Scene One: Someone is giving and another one is receiving bad news.

Scene Two: Same as above, but use different people. You can switch or one or both of the characters must change. The same news in the same room, but different characters.

Prompt: Fear

The prompt today is to write a short scene where someone is afraid.

The example came from Ken Follet’s book, The Hammer of Eden:

Judy had been in one major earthquake.

The Santa Rosa earthquake had caused damage worth $6 million—not much, as these things go—and had been felt over the relatively small area of twelve thousand square miles. The Maddox family was then living in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and Judy was in first grade. It was a minor tremor, she knew now. But at the time she had been six years old, and it had seemed like the end of the world.

First there was a noise like a train, but real close, and she came awake fast and looked around her bedroom in the clear light of dawn, searching for the source of the sound, scared to death.

Then the house began to shake. Her ceiling light with its pink-fringed shade whipped back and forth. On her bedside table, Best Fairy Tales leaped up in the air like a magic book and came down open at “Tom Thumb,” the story Bo had read her last night. Her hairbrush and her toy makeup set danced on the Formica top of the dresser. Her wooden horse rocked furiously with no one on it. A row of dolls fell off their shelf, as if diving into the rug, and Judy thought they had come alive, like toys in a fable. She found her voice at last and screamed once: “DADDY!”

From the next room she heard her father curse, then there was a thud as his feet hit the floor. The noise and the shaking grew worse, and she heard her mother cry out. Bo came to Judy’s door and turned the handle, but it would not open. She heard another thud as he shouldered it, but it was stuck.

Her window smashed, and shards of glass fell inward, landing on the chair where her school clothes were neatly folded, ready for the morning: gray skirt, white blouse, green V-neck sweater, navy blue underwear, and white socks. The wooden horse rocked so hard, it fell over on top of the dollhouse, smashing the miniature roof; and Judy knew the roof of her real house might be smashed as easily. A framed picture of a rosy-cheeked Mexican boy came off its hook on the wall, flew through the air, and hit her head. She cried out in pain.

Then her chest of drawers began to walk.

It was an old bow-fronted pine chest her mother had bought in a junk shop and painted white. It had three drawers, and it stood on short legs that ended in feet like lions’ paws. At first it seemed to dance in place, restlessly, on its four feet. Then it shuffled from side to side, like someone hesitating nervously in a doorway. Finally it started to move toward her.

She screamed again.

Her bedroom door shook as Bo tried to break it down.

The chest inched across the floor toward her. She hoped maybe the rug would halt its advance, but the chest just pushed the rug with its lions’ paws.

Her bed shook so violently that she fell out.

The chest came within a few inches of her and stopped. The middle drawer came open like a wide mouth ready to swallow her. She screamed at the top of her voice.

The door shattered and Bo burst in.

Then the shaking stopped.

* * *

Thirty years later she could still feel the terror that had possessed her like a fit as the world fell apart around her. She had been frightened of closing the bedroom door for years afterward; and she was still scared of earthquakes. In California, feeling the ground move in a minor tremor was commonplace, but she had never really gotten used to it. And when she felt the earth shake, or saw television pictures of collapsed buildings, the dread that crept through her veins like a drug was not the fear of being crushed or burned, but the blind panic of a little girl whose world suddenly started to fall apart.

Why is this so effective? What makes you know a six-year old is terrified?

Create a scene in which someone is terrified.

Prompt: Truth

The following questions were asked this week for the Writers in the Grove Monday morning workshop prompt in Forest Grove, Oregon:

What is truth?
How do you know?
Does it make a difference who says it?
Under what circumstances?
If it is printed, heard or seen on TV or radio, spoken by someone, does it matter who that someone is?
Did your parents teach you to believe in the tooth fairy? Why?
How did you feel about them later?
Can truth be stretched?
Are there absolutes or only relatives?
Can something hurtful but true do more or less harm than a comforting lie?
Who gets to decide?
What criteria should be used?
Should all people use the the same criteria?
If not, whose should be used and why?
Should you teach your children to believe in Santa?
When you write, what do you owe and to whom?
Why is this a dangerous discussion?

Lost Child

The following is by Veronica Weeks-Basham, a member of Writers in the Grove. It was inspired by Prompt: Being Brave.

I have decided that I don’t exist.
That person died when my parents refused to accept or even see
The person that I was discovering myself to be.
That person, like the mythical Atlantis,
Sank beneath a sea of criticism, disregard and approval
When my being reflected back their own comfortable version of themselves.