Creative Writing Exercises

The Mother of Books is Prompt (And So Can You!)

They say that it takes 10,000 hours or 1,000,000 words (or some combination thereof) to master the craft of writing.  But who has time for that?  We got bills to pay, habits to feed, college loan statements to file away, the list goes on – which is why I’ve picked today to use a special technique I learned in kindergarten.  It’s called “Let’s Pretend!”

For those of you from China unfamiliar with this game, “Let’s Pretend!” is one of the first tasks drilled into the little heads of foreigner children matriculating in pre-school and kindergarten.  They use their imaginations, pretending they are bourgeois scientists, astronauts, cowboys, capitalist roaders and sometimes, even low or non-paid workers such as bakers, farmers, and housewives.   The great thing about such a game is that children can pretend to be anything they want – except other children.

Now that I have finally realized that I am grownup, I thought it would be a great idea to play “Let’s Pretend!” once again for old time’s sake.  This time however, I’ll pretend to be a writer – and that I have already met all those lousy prerequisites experts tout as totally necessary to becoming one.

There are only two problems.  The most obvious one first:  as a make-believe writer, my make-believe publisher demands  a 500 word synopsis about my make-believe bestseller – you know, the one I had always wanted to write as soon as I got enough practice.  The make-believe publisher needs this synopsis ASAP in order to decide if he should trash my make-believe manuscript or give my first make-believe chapter a peek.   To make matters worse, my make-believe publisher indicated that he’d be a bit peeved – regardless if my piece unlikely be totally fucking awesome – should it be even one syllable over the maximum word count.

This brings us to a dilemma just as bad, if not a full blown humanitarian crisis.  This idea for next week’s prompt seems to be 340 words more than permitted for all Bookworm Café Writing Group prompts.  But the good news is that this prompt really ends after the word “clippers.”  Everything else is just clarification for those foreign to the game of “Let’s Pretend!”

Now l’ll do whatever it takes to get on bookstore shelves anywhere, preferably sandwiched between Toni Morrison and Alice Munro.  So I’ll pretend I’m a real writer and write the 500 word synopsis of the book that I have always wanted to write, the one that’s been fermenting, cross-pollinating, and fornicating  since the day I first played “Let’s Pretend!”

There is only one additional rule for this prompt:

I must use the following 4 random words* in the synopsis (randomly chosen from a set of tables containing 1,296 words) – and NO!  They cannot be added to my 500 word limit:





 *This “random input method” will help me laterally think about my novel idea for a future bestselling book.  According to Edward de Bono, this method’s inventor, I shouldn’t just look for connections between these random words nor make simple associations, but rather work in concepts, values and new directions.

For example:

If “China” were one of my random words, then I shouldn’t jump to the simple association of “angry” as in: “China suggests communism; communism suggests red; red suggests anger—so let’s use the word ‘angry’ – if that was okay, then why not jump into bed with whatever rhymes with China?”).

On the other hand, what if I was planning a story about a foreigner creating a new restaurant in Chengdu and one of my random words was “Cloak?”

What are my immediate thoughts about the word “Cloak”?

…a Spy versus Spy theme; customers use plastic daggers instead of plastic chopsticks

…the story’s setting is cloaked in smog, lack of credentials, cigarette smoke, diffusion of responsibility

 Further thoughts:

…understated conflict or plot; the whole story is about avoiding those things (they are cloaked)

…the restaurant’s dining room is dark; customers can’t see their food

…the location is obscured like a 1920s American speakeasy

…local officials truly believe the restaurant to be a CIA operation

…the restaurant is really a whodunit Cold War era spy-thriller dinner theater (and the acting is cloaked in mediocrity?)

…the restaurateur is hiding something (His GF is an official or gangster’s mistress?  He is in the closet?  He is only pretending to be a restaurateur?  Etc., etc.)

…the restaurateur’s love interest waitresses to escape from her gangster/official BF/arranged marriage

…his love interest is a migrant worker bus boy from Aba

…the big plot point revolves around getting a fair price for bulk purchasing the wait staff’s thematic uniform from a local tailor

 This writing prompt was inspired by Edward De Bono’s Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas (19-23).  The idea of the “random input method” belongs to De Bono.  The words used to describe his idea are mine.  So your deadline for sending this synoptic prompt or any hate mail is September 18, 2012.

One Comment

  • Matt

    Well, I had a week to whip something up.  Apparently, I disobeyed the rules of my own exercise and ended up using simple association in order to incorporate the 4 random words:  laser, screw, belt, clipper.  This is what I came up with:

    The Unhinged Life and Times of Miles Passyn

    In the early days of the War on Terrorism, while traveling across America, Marine war veteran, med school dropout and unemployed Miles Passyn is hurtled into a phantasmagoric journey that will change his life forever. 

    Bildungsroman, metafictional magical realism, travelogue, and post-American manifesto all rolled into one epic quest, The Unhinged Life and Times of Miles Passyn is based on factual details from the eponymous hero’s life and narrated by Mr. Miyagi, the ghost of Passyn’s pet dog. 

    This narrative zooms at light speed – between experimental pharmacology and H.D. Thoreau, black helicopters and aggressive Wal-Mart door greeters, Madonna and Lord of the Rings, and at least one haunted house – like the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid belt while being gunned down by Imperial TIE Fighters, laser cannons blasting.  Tracking one man’s spiraling descent into the Simpsonsesque underworld of contemporary America, The Unhinged Life and Times of Miles Passyn explores just how he barely manages to keep his pants on with the thread of life clipped a few notches longer than usually allotted.

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