Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘writing prompts’

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Get Writing: Scene and Summary, Minimalist and Maximalist

I have a problem telling stories. Sometimes in my excitement it’s difficult to gauge how much detail a friend, or a reader, actually needs to know. Because while not all details are important to understanding the events, to me, often the details are the most interesting part. So, if I’m trying to describe how late the train was, so late that it made me miss my doctor’s appointment, instead I might end up talking more about the argument I eavesdropped on while waiting for that train, and the maroon, bedazzled pumps of the woman who was hissing at her partner. […]


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Get Writing: Stolen-Form Stories

As part of our teaching theme this month, we’re sharing some of our favorite exercises in our “Get Writing” series for classroom (or personal) use. Enjoy! Last week, Michael Rudin suggested that stealing a first line can help you overcome that new-story inertia. Here’s another larcenous twist: instead of stealing a line, steal a form. For this exercise, write a story in the form of some other piece of writing—a grocery list, an obituary, a set of instructions, liner notes, the back of a cereal box, a help wanted ad, a press release, a weather forecast… The less literary, the […]


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Get Writing: Steal on the First Pitch

In our “Get Writing” series, we share some of our favorite exercises for classroom (or personal) use. Enjoy! You’ve played your most inspirational music. You’ve flipped through your most weathered paperback. You’ve stood on your head, gone on a jog and even cleaned your apartment. Twice. But if that first sentence just isn’t coming to you, don’t force it. Borrow someone else’s. The secret to this writing prompt is not having access to that second sentence. With two, you’re just a reader enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor. You’re going down their path. But armed with just one sentence, […]


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Get Writing: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I love perspective shifts. The British mini-series “Collision” does this with a giant car accident on the A12 highway outside London. I’m just now embroiled in Colum McCann’s gorgeous Let the Great World Spin, which also refracts one moment in history through multiple lenses. One place that always takes perspectivism in unanticipated, fresh directions: poetry. Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a classic. It allows the reader’s imagination as much air as poet’s own creation. It’s a series of docks jutting out into the lake, with you all sun-warmed in your swimsuit, merely disguised as a […]


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Get Writing: Resurrecting Elvis

This week’s challenge: take a tabloid headline—the wackier, the better—and write a short story taking the headline completely seriously. For example, you might check the Weekly World News‘s website or search for images of its front page (as it’s sadly no longer being printed). Or you might sift through the News of the Weird or the pages of the National Enquirer for inspiration, or spend some quality time perusing publications in the grocery-store checkout line. (Hey, it’s research!) Here are a couple more to get you started: But remember, your story should treat the headline seriously. Often, tabloid stories get […]


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Get Writing: Beautiful Sentences

Whether I’m reading poetry or fiction, I’m always looking for beautiful sentences, the kinds that make the hair on my arms stand up at their deftness, their grace. Take these three examples: For a moment she stared at the darkness as though it were the surface of a pond into which someone she loved had disappeared, head to heels. — Elizabeth Knox, The Vintner’s Luck The simile in this sentence is apt enough: darkness figured as the surface of a pond, but it’s the last three little words that make it beautiful. How else would someone dive? And diving is […]


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Get Writing: Cross-Out

Sometimes, when you’re faced with a blank page, the thought of filling that page with even one word of your own is Just. Too. Daunting. Here’s an exercise for those days. You won’t need to write a single word—you’ll be taking words away. Find a paragraph of someone else’s writing. It can be a passage from a story or essay, a section of a news article, whatever. Cross off or delete words and create a mini-story (or story fragment) of 60 words or less from the remaining words. For an extra challenge, keep the original paragraph’s word order. Here is […]




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