Friday Fun-Day Writing Prompt: Your Past Lives

Happy Friday, everyone. The weekend is finally here, but there’s no rest for the weary. I have to do some reading and feedback for my Master’s program as well as finish a book review. Still, I’ve come up with a writing prompt to go along with Implicit: Soul Invictus: writing about your past lives.

I believe in reincarnation but I know that not all of my readers do. However, you can imagine what your past lives might have been like without thinking that they ever really happened. In fact, this exercise isn’t even about “real” past lives; instead, it’s a method of character development using your own quirks.

Many theories of reincarnation argue that past lives can explain some of our stranger behaviors and traits in this life, everything from memories that aren’t ours and knowing things that we should not know to likes and fears that seem, to put it mildly, weird. It’s this aspect of reincarnation that I would like you to focus on with this writing prompt.


Image retrieved from Zodiac

Using your quirks as a springboard, imagine what one of your past lives might have been like. Who were you? Which economic class did you belong to? Where did you live? What was your job? How did you die? Write a character bio for this past version of yourself and be as detailed as possible.

Here’s an (incredibly rough) example of how this process might go:

One of my most bizarre traits is that I have an extreme aversion to anyone standing behind me with a knife. Not like a butter knife or a plastic knife but something that is actually sharp. Now that I think about it, forks also fall under that aversion. It doesn’t matter if I trust the person more than I trust myself; I could trust them with my life and I still will feel uncomfortable if they stand behind me with a sharp knife or fork. I even get a tingling in the lower left part of my back when someone stands behind me with a knife or fork.

If those theories of reincarnation are correct, what happened in my past lives that made me develop this aversion? It’s so specific that it can’t just be random, so what could have happened?

I could write that someone stabbed me in a past life in that particular area of my back. Maybe I was a lady or lord in Medieval Europe betrayed by a servant or knight. Maybe I was the victim of a serial killer or I was involved in some sort of crime spree and betrayed by my partner. Hell, maybe I was Julius Caesar.

I would choose one of these routes to take and develop a “past life” character bio based on it. I could elaborate by pursuing my fascination with Russia or alchemy, or I could incorporate my obsession with Tarot cards. The possibilities are endless.

I’m sure you get the idea. After writing the character bio, try and use the character and this “past life” as the basis for a story. Maybe a parallel between your current life and your past lives? You could even just write some historic fiction with this “past life” character at the center. The only limits are your imagination.

How did this exercise turn out for you? Do you know of any writing prompts that could help your fellow writers with character development? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and/or e-mail your prompts to thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com and I’ll make sure to use them in a future Friday Fun-Day post.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Friday Fun-Day Writing Prompt: Two Truths and a Lie

Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve been waiting anxiously for the weekend and not because I’m going out. I’m still sick, my entire household is sick, I started a longer-term freelance job this week on top of other projects, I’ve had to do a lot for school, and I’m just exhausted. I’d say I’m going to use the weekend to rest but, really, I’m going to be catching up on work I’ve let fall to the wayside. Despite all these time restraints, I was able to come up with a writing prompt for this week: two truths and a lie.

In truth, two truths and a lie isn’t a writing prompt by nature. It’s a game, usually used as an icebreaker in classrooms, at conferences or workshops, etc. It’s still fun and I think that writers, particularly fiction writers, could learn something from it.


Image retrieved from Slide Share

In this game, you have to tell to two truths about yourself and a lie. The trick is that the lie has to be so good that it’s almost indistinguishable from the truths. The other people playing the game then try and guess which of your statements is actually a lie.

Here’s why I think fiction writers could benefit from this game/exercise: we are, in essence, telling lies when we write fiction. Even if we base our work on something or someone we know or that actually existed (ex. historic fiction), we embellish quite a bit. In order to be good fiction writers, we have to be able to tell these “lies” convincingly. Even though readers know (or at least assume) that what they’re reading is fiction, they have to feel as though it can happen. Even fantasy, science fiction, and horror have to be convincing enough that the events seem plausible for the world that you have created.

Two truths and a lie helps strengthen this writing skill. If you can fool other players, you’ll be that much better at getting your readers to suspend disbelief.

Obviously you’ll have to play this game with others. That’s the only way to know if your lie is convincing. So, for this exercise, gather up some friends, family, co-workers, fellow writers, and play. The better the players know you, the bigger the challenge and the more your skills will be sharpened.

You can even leave your two truths and a lie in the comments below for people to guess, or on the Facebook group that accompanies The Writer’s Scrap Bin page, The Cork Board.

Do you have any ideas for writing prompts? Leave them in the comments or e-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com for a chance to have them featured in a future Friday Fun-Day post.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Friday Fun-Day Writing Prompt: What You Know for Sure

Given my earlier announcement about the Writer’s Market call for submissions, I think it’s only appropriate that today’s writing prompt be along the lines of an article or personal essay. In particular, we’re going to explore what we know for sure.

The Oprah Magazine prints a monthly column called “What I Know for Sure”. In truth, no one knows anything for sure. Even Oprah admits that she “knows” nothing (which I’m glad she admitted, considering wise men and women know that they know nothing). However, we all know at least one thing almost for sure.

We all have our expertise, whether it’s a career area, an academic field, or a slice of wisdom or common sense. My expertise lies in writing, migraines, Disney, and Harry Potter–although I’m still learning more about these subjects each day. You may not know what yours is but, trust me, it’s there; you just have to find it.


Image retrieved from Pinterest

Today we’re tapping into that expertise and utilizing it for creative productivity.

I want you to write an article or personal essay on one thing you know for sure. This can be anything–bike riding, knitting, surviving a natural disaster, nearly ruining your own life, anything. The twist is that I want you to write this article or essay as advice to people either looking to perfect your area of expertise or who have been in a similar situation and don’t know how to continue.

Don’t make your piece step-by-step instructions. Instead, make it personable, including details from your own experience, whether you’re writing an article or a personal essay. Imagine that someone is reading your work to find a kindred spirit who can help them succeed. What would you expect or want to see if you were that reader? What do you wish you had known earlier? What have you noticed about this area that no one else seems to notice?

Even though the work is a nonfiction article/personal essay, it shouldn’t be boring. Have fun with it, dig deep into your experiences and channel your emotions while keeping the facts straight. It may be about what you “know for sure,” but no one will believe you if your personal connection isn’t strong and your so-called “facts” are inaccurate.

How did this exercise turn out for you? Have you salvaged the beginning of a nonfiction book or an article to submit to a magazine? Have you learned that you know something or that you don’t? Did you revisit life experiences that you had forgotten about, stuff that not only renders fruit for nonfiction but for fiction and poems as well? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Friday Fun-Day Writing Prompt: Family Stories

Happy Friday, readers and writers! It’s been a long week with no real sign of slowing down. I know my days won’t slow down for a while but, in a way, it’s probably better that way. My mind drifts into odd or bad places when I’m idle. Anyway, today’s writing prompt may require a little research on your part, including calling any living older relatives that you can stand talking to. I’m talking about telling family stories.

With a few exceptions, most people have family stories to share. I know that both sides of my family have their fair share of out-there true tales and flat out fabricated lore. My mom especially has many stories to tell; she’s obsessed with genealogy, after all. Of course, I usually just want to listen to my mom’s stories about her and her uncle getting into trouble during church. (Lester!) Yet there’s more than just personal amusement behind our predecessors’ ramblings.


Every branch of the family tree has its own story.

Image retrieved from Discover Downtown Bangor

Even writers don’t often recognize the gold mine in these family stories. Better yet, they may be afraid to tap into them for fear of backlash from relatives. As far as the latter goes, you’re probably going to upset at least one relative with the views you portray in your work or if they even think that a character with negative traits is based on them. There’s no way to avoid that, so you shouldn’t let all that potential go to waste.

Others, however, truly do not realize that family stories could make for a better book than the most convoluted fiction. That’s where this writing prompt comes in.

As I usually do, I’m leaving this prompt pretty open-ended. All you have to do is pick your brain–or a relative’s–for a family story that a grandparent, great-aunt/uncle, parent, or aunt/uncle has told you time and time again. Once you find the right tale, turn that story into a short story, essay, poem, novel aspect, whatever you want. You can change the names but try and keep core facts the same, like setting, emotions, events, etc. Feel free to embellish some (that’s the best part of carrying on family stories) but maintain as many of the original elements as you can without copying down the story you were told word-for-word.

This exercise is relatively easy, and for a reason. I’m not trying to stretch you as a writer today. Instead, I want to stretch your imagination and your ability to recognize a good story when you come across it. Writers always struggle to find inspiration, but sometimes the inspiration has been in front of us all along; we just never stopped to look at it.

Please feel free to share your family stories in the comments below. I love hearing them and if you share yours, I have a few whoppers of my own to share.

Until then, have fun writing and remember to give a big hug and thanks to any relatives who go the extra mile to share their life stories with you.

Do you have any ideas for writing prompts? Want to share one of your works on this blog or want to tell others about available contests and publishing opportunities? E-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Friday Fun-Day Writing Prompt: Fleshing Out Stereotypes

Good day, fellow writers! Friday’s here once again. Next week marks the beginning of the second year of my Master’s program, so I’ll be busier than ever. What else is new? After all, I often border on being a walking, talking example of the workaholic writer stereotype, always happiest when I’m busy. Self-destructive but too busy to notice. Speaking of stereotypes, that’s exactly what I want to focus on with today’s writing prompt.

Dictionary.com defines the sociological term “stereotype” as “a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group”. We’ve all been crammed into a stereotype at one point or another, whether it be an occupational stereotype, cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, religious, social clique stereotype, etc.

It’s a destructive, divisive practice which should have no place in modern society but, much to the world’s chagrin, it still exists. More than exists; it thrives, no matter how hard we try to squash it.


We all reflect a shred of one stereotype or another, although it’s not always the one you think. Stereotyping is a plague on the modern world and literature, which is why we must develop characters beyond stereotypes and acknowledge that there’s more to real people than their stereotype.

Image retrieved from Storify.

Unfortunately, the very fact that stereotypes are used in real life means that they are also used in literature. Sometimes they’re used to make a point and sometimes the writer doesn’t realize that’s what they’ve written. We often associate stereotypes with flat, static characters. However, they can also be characters who seem to be well-rounded and dynamic but still follow the patterns and characteristics of either a literary stereotype or a real-life one.

For today’s writing prompt, I want you to choose the stereotype which annoys you the most and create a character from it. The stereotype is at the character’s core but you will flesh it out so that it doesn’t seem like a stereotype anymore. While the core features will fall in line with the stereotype, you will add characters, background, interests, and so on which will take the character away from the stereotype.

Once you’ve created your character, written down his/her background and other defining features, write a scene in which you keep the stereotype in mind but develop the character beyond it.

I know that this exercise sounds a little counterproductive. After all, why would you want to keep any stereotypical traits in a well-rounded character? And how can a character be well-rounded and a stereotype?

Real-life people conform to at least one stereotype without realize it. When I was younger, I was a straight-A nerd. Nowadays, I’m an odd mix of the workaholic writer stereotype and the couch potato stereotype. Still, I’m a well-rounded person, as indicated by the fact that I am mix of two stereotypes. I work hard, vegetate hard, am a book nerd and a TV junkie, am kind but temperamental, and am basically constructed of a wide range of contradictions. Nevertheless, stereotypical traits such as overworking myself and being a bookworm are at my core.

We try and reflect real people in our characters. If we want our characters to truly be realistic, we can neither make them stereotypes nor reject stereotypes outright. We must strike a balance, make our characters well-rounded stereotypes, which is exactly what this exercise is for.

When you’re finished, feel free to share what you learned in the comments below. Did you find it hard to keep the stereotypical traits as you developed your character beyond them? Did the stereotype threaten to overshadow the unique characteristics? Have you come to realize that any of your other characters are stereotypes or are so “unique” that they’re unrealistic?

Have fun tinkering with your stereotype and have a productive, relaxing, writing-filled weekend.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011