Writing Prompt Sources

Like so many of you, I read the announcement last week that WordPress is discontinuing some of its regular features, including its Daily Prompts on May 31st. I haven’t been using their one-word prompts for a long time; nevertheless, this announcement sparked my curiosity. I decided to have a look at how many other sites on the net offer writing prompts.

Hello Mr Google… WOW! I could write a story a day for a hundred years with what’s available out there.

Some sites are maintained by publishers like Writer’s Digest. Some are blogs by published authors like Graeme Shimmin and John Matthew Fox. (For your convenience I’ve put their links at the bottom of my sidebar under Writing Help)

Searching specifically, you can find random first line generators, random plot generators, random character generators, movie script generators. There are prompt sources for teachers, for students, for songwriters. There’s one titled, “Twenty-one writing prompts to help you finish an entire novel this summer.” There’s even “80 Letter-writing prompts” from Compassion International.

Just for curiosity I clicked on THIS ONE and generated a random set of ideas; you can click the buttons and come up with a story line that suits your fancy. Much like WriterIgniter, a site I’ve used before.

Just for fun I clicked the buttons and this is what I came up with:
MC: A young man in his late teens who is very wise
2nd character: A woman in her late thirties who is very lively
Setting: The story begins in a nursing home.
Situation: something precious has been lost
Theme: It’s a story about justice
Character action: MC reluctantly becomes involved

This combination called to mind a real happening, back when I worked in a seniors’ home. Something precious really did go missing. I don’t know if the truth was ever revealed, so I’ll have to fake it. Stay tuned for my tale — with details changed to protect the guilty. 🙂

The Daily Post also has a free e-book of writing prompts that can be downloaded as a pdf. Get it HERE.

When I go to Amazon.ca and do a Writing Prompts search, again I’m bowled over by the 84 pages of books containing writing prompts — and I see a lot of these are “Read Free with Kindle Unlimited.”

The down-side of picking a prompt at random instead of using a central source like Daily Post Prompts is lack of the sense of community. You’re on your own; there aren’t hundreds of people using the same word or photo. For those of you currently connecting via the Daily Post will you miss this? Will you try another community like The Write Practice (link in side bar) or one of the various Flash Fiction groups going?

And for anyone reading this post, what writing prompts sources have you found useful?

Negative Self-Talk. Delete, Delete, Delete

A Reader’s Opinion

While I’ve been laid low with back problems this week, I took the opportunity to read a novel by P G Wodehouse. Like all his novels, Jill the Reckless is a great story! Six stars out of five. The author has created a memorable cast of characters and, like Agatha Christie, has such a delightful way with words and phrases.

Writers like D E Stevenson, Wodehouse, Sayers, Christie, etc., used strong story lines and an interesting cast of minor characters to showcase their heroes. There was a STORY in their story. Even in tales with a romance woven in, the overall focus was as much on the main character’s triumph over adverse circumstances as on their relationships.

Have modern genre formulas become like a corset, rigidly holding writers to a specific shape deemed to be attractive in our day? Stories tend to be so focused on the conflict between the two love interests. Furious outbursts, insecure characters full of negative self-talk, a lot of internal dialogue use up word count without adding variety. I read one novel awhile back where I’d estimate 75% of the word count was spent on the MC’s conversations with himself — basically why she’d never have him anyway so forget it.

I find almost no negative self-talk in those older novels. Miss Marple doesn’t constantly berate herself for snooping. Lord Peter may babble about his silly curiosity but the writer doesn’t devote long paragraphs to his self-chastisement. Wodehouse’s characters act and react in a lively way; they spend little time mentally rehashing their own actions and reactions.

In real life negative self-talk is usually destructive. It’s the devil on our shoulder that berates us for how we are without giving us any power to change. Sometimes we do need to admit faults and make changes, but negative self-talk rather tends to paralyze.

So, in our age of promoting self-esteem and ridding ourselves of guilt, why do we allow our book characters to indulge in so much self-criticism? Do readers really find it that appealing?

Imagine yourself standing in a long supermarket checkout line and striking up a conversation with the customer in front of you. You notice she has two boxes of Exquisite Caramel Ice Cream. You’re quite fond of it yourself. You say so, and she replies:

“I really shouldn’t be buying this. I know it’s not the best for me; it’ll only go to my hips and I really should lose weight. I can hardly resist the delicious taste but I know I shouldn’t indulge and it’s so foolish of me to be buying it. My best friend’s brother’s such a hunk and I wish some romance would take off between us but he makes fun of me for eating it and says I’m turning into a dumpling. Well I don’t like him anyway. But still, even if the taste is exquisite and I can hardly resist, I am just getting fat eating it every day. What kind of a wimp am I? I need to develop some backbone and not ever touch the stuff again. But then I might as well eat because no guy’s ever going to look at me anyway.”

Worse luck, every few days you visit that same supermarket, stand in line beside the Exquisite Caramel Ice Cream addict, with another two boxes in her cart, and hear her recite her insecurities again.

Welcome to the modern novel. No, not all. But too many. Recently read another one myself.

Let’s say you’ve been asked to edit some current book — your choice. So you open it in a new window, start at Chapter Two and delete all the negative self-talk. How much will be left?

Can you fill in those gaps with ACTION? An outside CRISIS they must deal with? Other issues going on apart from main character blow-ups. Maybe leave just a phrase here and there to let the reader know those feelings are still in the background. Once in every  chapter is often enough, IMO.

Can you add some ENVIRONMENT? In one story I read, the female MC and her parents had joined a wagon train. Though they would have been crossing amazing new territory, scenic description was scant. (Saves research, I guess.) Pages were filled with how she was attracted to/ couldn’t let herself fall for/ the scout or he was attracted to/ couldn’t let himself fall for/ her.

What about adding a new CHARACTER? A jolly old auntie or uncle to give readers a break from the intense focus on the lovers’ spats. Wodehouse added the smooth-talking, conniving Uncle Chris who squandered Jill’s inheritance in poor stock market investments, but was always ready to fleece some new lamb. The author devotes some paragraphs to Jill’s assessment and acceptance of her uncle’s nature and weaknesses; these in turn show Jill’s compassionate nature.

Maybe you could add a nosy neighbor? If the story already has one, write in another and have the two interact with each other and with the main characters. Sprinkle in their WRY COMMENTS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE and each other. Have them play “Pass the Rumor.” Display your hero’s nature in the way they deal with these minor characters.

I believe these subplots are what made novels so memorable and writers so successful in years gone by. As a reader, I’d like to encourage all writers to loosen the constrictions of formula and put more STORY in your stories.

Blogging: Using Categories and Tags

Some time ago I started dropping in on First Friday to meet and greet a few new bloggers. A lot of them are just learning the ropes and open to a little guidance, so I often leave some advice about categories and tags. I’m posting this here today in case these thoughts may help some other newbies and maybe some longtime bloggers who haven’t attached much importance to this angle.

Categories & Tags

…are very useful creatures. You can create them as you publish each post, using the sidebar on the right. Tagging our posts is how we invite other bloggers to check out what we’ve written. For example, if I create a Personal, or an Education, category or tag for my post, it will send my post title and a couple of lines to the Reader. Other bloggers searching for posts on Personal or Education will see mine listed and hopefully come and read what I’ve written.

Note:
WordPress says they allow only fifteen C’s & T’s per post. If there are more, their SPAM detectors will boot the post off the Reader. Like coming to a beach party in tux and tails, golden cuff-links and a flashy silk tie.“Too much is overkill; go home and change.”

Some bloggers use C’s and T’s; some may use only one or the other. It’s up to you. Both go to the Reader. However, categories and tags also become, over time, your blog’s filing system. I wish I’d understood better how they work when I started blogging. In fact, I started a brand new site last year and am slowly reposting all my writing so I can use Cs & Ts properly for each item.

For my own blog, I use Categories as the drawers of my filing cabinet. The big sections: Poetry or Fiction. Then the tags are like files within the drawer. Under Poetry you’ll find tags like: Nature, Seasons, Children, Inspiration, etc. Under the Fiction category you’ll find tags like Travel, Truth, Children, Relationships, etc

Among the Widgets there’s one bloggers can install that puts a list of Categories on your blog’s front page. You can put them in your top menu as I’ve done on this blog, or you can display them in your sidebar. Another option is to install the widget that gives you a Tag Cloud. You can choose how many tags will display.

To each his own, but in my opinion it’s better to limit the number displayed, or choose “Display as a drop-down list,” rather than having a list of seventy-five categories running down your Home Page sidebar. Generally speaking, try to make things as simple as possible for your visitors.

Be selective when choosing C’s & T’s. Pick something pertinent to your post, topics people are actually going to be looking for. “Aunt Sue” may be an intriguing person, but not a very compelling tag for someone who doesn’t even know who YOU are. Ditto with Flowers or My trip. Titling your post Cheap Vacation Spots and tagging it Travel, Adventure, River rafting, Timbuktu would be far more apt to draw visitors than Vacation. The specific English language tag will draw readers more than the general Grammar. For more ideas on what Categories and Tags to choose, check out the Reader:

One Sour Note:
When I first started blogging the tags were much simpler: Articles, Opinions, Home, Family, Religion, Books, etc. Thankfully these tags still show up, but one sad thing I’ve seen in recent years is some sites creating tags with their own (usually advertising) posts. So you get a tag relevant only to purchasers of, say, women’s t-shirts. As one example, right now I see a tag: Baby Bodysuit Designs. It appears that one site selling some of these outfits has published almost 3000 posts — most of them TODAY! Sigh.

Uncategorized Posts

I often see posts listed as Uncategorized. I consider this the waste of a perfectly good tag. Like dropping a luscious ice cream cone in a puddle.

Uncategorized is the default setting that comes with every new blog. It tells no one anything about your post. My advice: get rid of it.

A blogger can change their default by going to the left hand sidebar and selecting Settings. Next you see a screen where, across the center at top are four words:
General, Writing, Discussion, Traffic. Click on Writing
The first line under writing is for Categories. You’ll see how many you have and what the Default is.
Click on the arrow at right. Now you get to add more categories and also change the default to something that better suits your blog’s general theme. I’ve chosen Reflections.
If there’s a Save Changes button somewhere on the screen, hit it. You should be good to go.

And now I shall use as many pertinent categories and tags as possible, and hit publish. 🙂

When Cloud Banks Come Together

June 30, 1912

Citizens of Regina, Saskatchewan, a growing city on the Canadian prairie, sweltered in the sultry 100̊ F afternoon. The flags on display for the Dominion Day celebrations the next day hung limp on their poles. Folks sat on porches fanning themselves, longing for some ripple of breeze.

Some young folks and couples were spending the Sunday afternoon in Wascana park, or padding canoes on Wascana Lake a few blocks south of Regina’s business district. A flock of faithful Anglicans were gathered at St Paul’s Church listening to sermons by their local Bishop and Canon Hicks from London, England. Some women fainted because of the intense heat and humidity in the auditorium.

By mid afternoon storm clouds appeared in the south. Folks watched the cloud banks rolling toward each other, one system coming from the southeast and another from the southwest. At 4:30 pm the clouds were moving rapidly toward a collision. Folks began hearing rumbles of thunder; the sky took on a strange green glow; blue and red lighting bolts flashed along the ground. This phenomena was something prairie folks had never seen before. They had no idea what was coming.

The storm systems crashed into each other over the Saskatchewan Legislative Building beside Wascana Lake. There was a roar like two freight trains overhead and a colossal smoke-colored funnel dropped from the clouds. Packing a 500 mile-an-hour wind, skipping around crazily, the twister plowed a six-block-wide swath of destruction right through town, including the business district.

Reading in the book Great Canadian Disasters, © 1961 by Frank Rasky, one particular paragraph in the “aftermath” caught my eye:
Survivors today, with their varied memories, differ strongly on just about every aspect of the tornado’s aftermath: the degree of the onslaught, whether the government was generous (to victims), …the precise number of people wiped out by the catastrophe.

So true of any major event. Our own experience, our perspective on the scene, our general world-view, our position in society — all these make a lot of difference in how we process what’s going on, and later describe what happened, what helped, what hindered.

I’ve sometimes liken the Women’s Movement forming in the late 1800s to the two storm systems coming together over Regina. They came from different angles, when they united they formed a powerful force, and that force blew apart a lot of the status quo of their day. For better or for worse? Witnesses and historians don’t all agree.

I’d call one group the fore-mothers of the feminist movement as I knew it in the 1960s. Their agenda: universal suffrage; equal rights for women, including equal job opportunities and equal pay.

A lot of these women had graduated from women’s colleges in the Eastern States. They were sick and tired of the taboos of their day and did their best to prove these ideas false. I’ve lost my notes on this, but I recall that a number of these ladies met in Buffalo, NY in the late 1890s to form a group, establish their goals, and decide on a course of action.

Some of the misconceptions of their day were rather ludicrous. When trains were first invented some people raise the objections that women could never ride on a train because if women were to travel at speeds over 30 mph they would go insane, or mad with lust. Some “experts” of their day claimed girls’ educations should be limited to the basics because delicate female minds would shatter if forced to handle difficult mathematic equations. (I’m almost sad we lost that one — I’ve never been that good at math. 🙂 )

Some said physical training for girls was out because strenuous exercise would ruin their bodies and especially affect their ability to bear children. (That group should have rather taken a good look at the long term effect of wearing corsets.)

When you start setting up theories that can be so easily proven wrong, you can count on it that someone’s going to want to knock them down.

The other merging ‘cloud system’ was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As I’ve already written, this group sprang mainly from a Protestant Evangelical base. They had embraced the ‘Social Gospel’, which basically translates as ‘How Christians should fix the world.’ Their agenda: stable homes; healthy, happy families; reduction of crime; no more war. Each and every one a worthy goal.

As these ladies looked at their society, they concluded that laws were needed to ensure these goals. Thus voters were needed so political pressure could be put on to get those laws passed. Which meant their launching point was getting women the right to vote.

Meanwhile, over in merry old England, feminist suffragettes took a more dramatic approach. Up against a more rigid and long-established social structure, their struggle for the right to vote was long and bitter. They chained themselves to posts, went on hunger strikes, were force-fed.

They also adopted what they referred to as the politics of the broken window pane. Genteel-looking ladies would appear on business streets during a busy afternoon and station themselves in front of store windows. At a given signal they’d pull hammers from large handbags and start swinging. The damage was done before anyone could react and the ladies would make themselves scarce, leaving merchants sobbing.

I don’t know how much the WCTU influenced the women’s movement in Britain but I rather doubt Prohibition was ever a serious goal. In Europe and Britain so many women accepted social drinking and drank socially themselves. Also Protestant Evangelism was never as large or powerful in Europe as it was in North America.

To be continued.

Theories Can Crash and Burn–2

“We The People”
(Okay, Maybe 30% of Us)

A few days ago day blogger Jill Dennison posted an “Open Letter to Congress” dealing with a number of issues of relevance to the American people today. I’m going to snatch one of her thoughts as I continue my article about the Women’s Movement in North American and its fiery, hugely successful campaign for Prohibition.

Along with a requests to reign in President Trump and/or his policies, Ms Dennison asks Congress to do something to restrict the sale of firearms, a hot topic in the US these days:
“We The People have made it clear that we want stricter control over firearms in the hands of civilians. We want a ban on assault weapons, waiting periods, and stronger background checks that are actually enforced in all venues.”

Probably some — maybe a lot of — elected representatives agree with these “We the people” and would be ready to do something to prevent the mass shootings happening too often in the US these days. The trouble for politicians is, “We the other people” have to be appeased, too. Restricting access to firearms would involve a showdown with the NRA, a group with a powerful lobby in Congress. If I understand rightly, after the recent shooting in Florida, the National Rifle Association strongly resisted the idea of setting any age limitation for the purchasers of firearms.

And there are a lot of US citizens who cling to the Second Amendment as their only hope of defense, should a modern King George send his Redcoat army— now bearing powerful automatic weapons — to try taking over the US. Or should a Hitler-type dictator arise within the US and take control of the military.

Trouble is, elected leaders who turn into dictators usually are initially popular and successful. By the time things start going south, a lot of the potential resistance had been disabled. It takes time to organize an effective counter-assault — especially when part of the people don’t agree that it’s necessary or that it will work. And then, who will lead this resistance? That can be another battle!

Historians say Hitler was initially quite popular and had an appealing agenda — at least appealing to large group of German voters. Some people got nervous about what he was saying, but he was successful in turning the depressed German economy around. Our parents say his scheme even appealed to a number of German North Americans, some of whom packed up and moved back to Germany to be part of his new order.

The Americans have always referred to the US as a “melting pot,” but those of us looking on see some large lumps in the sauce, factions that could give problems, if push came to shove. Factions that may make a united defense difficult to organize.

Here in Canada, most of us understand the different factions that make up our people and the potential for division. The general “East versus West” sentiments; more particularly Eastern bureaucrats and manufacturing interests against Prairie Folk with an agriculture-based economy. (Though this is changing.) Some folks in British Columbia threaten to pull out and form their own country; Quebec has some strong voices for independence. And then there are various ethnic groups within the whole, not necessarily divisive, but having a voice and capable of taking sides.

When you start out on a political platform, it’s important to understand that you are NOT “We the people.” You are part of “we the people.” And “we the other part of the people” may see even the main issues in a totally different light. This was a reality the WCTU, comprised mainly of Protestant evangelical church women and their supporters, seemed to not grasp when they began their campaign for Prohibition.

They thought they were speaking for all women. When they finally realized that a lot of women wanting the vote were of a different mind-set, or world- view, the movement was headed in the opposite direction than they had envisioned.

To be continued.

Theories Can Crash and Burn

What Is Truth?

The two neatly dressed young men stood on my doorstep, ready to discuss various problems of society and offer their solution. They were well versed on issues of eternal consequence as well. Had I been open to instruction they’d have no doubt produced their Book of Mormon, ready to enlighten me.

Over the years I’ve observed a few things about human nature and beliefs, right and wrong. We talked a bit and I told them, “I believe if we really love the Truth above all — if we love it so much we’re willing to let truth delete all our pet theories and reasoning — God will show us what is true and we’ll make it to Heaven someday.”

One of my young listeners spoke up and quite sincerely agreed with me.

So there we stood, the Mennonite and the Mormons, totally disagreed on doctrine yet agreed on something vital. The power of God. The ability and willingness of God to enlighten seeking humans. Our ability to grasp it — if we let go of our own formulations.

Having just come through Easter season, we’ve been reminded of Jesus standing in Pilate’s Judgement Hall. Again we hear Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

He didn’t ask this because he really wanted to know. If you read the account you realize that Pilate knew full well what the facts were in this case. His question was really a sigh of frustration. a wish that truth would be more convenient for the situation he was facing.

This question has replayed through all ages, all issues, all human minds. Where in all this muddle of logic, feelings, rhetoric, and examples, do I find the truth?

Logic, Passion, Rhetoric, Reality

I’ve been pondering a variety of issues in the past few days, choosing certain avenues and exploring the adjoining side streets. What started this process was seeing a recently-published book on the Prohibition years in North America. In fact I bought it and am eager to read this writer’s take on the great experiment. A theory that should have worked — but instead crashed and burned.

Twenty-odd years back I did a study of the Women’s Movement both here and in Britain, mainly because of a friend who was really enthused about the subject. What we call the Women’s Movement today built up momentum in the late 1800s with a demand that the right to vote be extended to women. One arm of this movement, the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTM), threw their weight behind this demand and gave the movement a lot of its rhetoric. They did not give the movement its ultimate direction.

Once women gained the right to vote, the WCTM focussed on pushing through Prohibition laws. As my friend explained, “Their hearts were in the right place.” They saw how many women and children were victims of poverty and abuse because the father, the family breadwinner, was at the mercy of his “thirst.” The WCTU wanted to rescue destitute families and relieve suffering caused by alcoholism. Yes, their hearts were in the right place. And they used some powerful, logical rhetoric.

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
Etc.
From “The Ambulance Down in the Valley”
by Joseph Malins (1895)

Pondering the obvious failure of Prohibition started me thinking about the difference between Theory, Rhetoric, and Fact. Why so some things work so well in theory and not in fact? Skillful use of rhetoric fires people up, seemingly everyone gets on board, this is going to work — then what goes wrong?

To be continued.

Monday Morning Inspiration

Until I was thirteen I celebrated today as my birthday. My aunt said they took Mom into the hospital on March 26th and I was born that night. It wasn’t until I sent for my birth certificate that we learned I was actually born after midnight and my date of birth was registered as March 27th. In any case I’m thankful to have survived all these years. 🙂

MY MORNING MUSINGS

I went to bed early last night, so woke up at 5:30 am. Nice to get an early start to the day — I plan to get some sewing projects finished. And I read an inspiring article, perfect for a Monday morning.

When I first turn on my computer, the browser comes up with a list of suggested items for me to read. This morning Brianna Wiest’s article in Forbes Magazine caught my eye:
18 things You Need To Give Up To Become a High-Achieving Person.

Her list is a good one and she gives brief, practical explanations for each point. You can read the article here. Her advice isn’t new or surprising; I just hope young people going into their most productive years will take advantage of this wisdom. Trouble is, sometimes it takes a lifetime of living — and wasting precious time — before we really grasp these truths and their practical applications in our own lives.

One day I tried to persuade one of my teen co-workers to deal with her anger in a better way, she told me, “I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do. I want to make my own mistakes.” She went on to make some spectacular mistakes that broke her own heart as well as the hearts of those who cared about her. I’ve learned myself that falls can be painful and humiliating when life has to teach you the lessons you thought you didn’t need to learn.

One phrase in the opening paragraphs of this article caught my attention and I’m going to post it beside my desk as a great reminder for my years as a Senior. My energy is definitely limited these days. Oh, for the wisdom to spend it wisely!

Because our energy is limited each day, what we spend it on will define us in the future.
Brianna Wiest
WOMEN@FORBES

And we all know this one, which gives us the courage to change and hope for better days ahead:

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”