Thursday, October 15, 2020

Writing Prompt: Characters in Detail

One of the trickiest aspects of writing is creating believable characters.  Some authors immediately layer on the details about a character--their jawline, their nose, their eyebrows, and the details of their dress.  Others provide mere suggestions of what a character looks like and allow the details of their character and background to trickle out throughout the story.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade
It can be a delicate balancing act between an information dump of character detail and a story so sparse that the reader has to fill in the details from their own imagination.  One of the most amazing things about language and storytelling is that both approaches can work just fine.

For today's writing prompt, 

write two short passages describing one character.  

In one passage, layer on lots of description and in the other tease out aspects of the character through dialogue and very sparse description.  See which one you like best.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Writing Prompt: The Secret Agent

Over the years, one profession has captured the imagination of millions:  the secret agent.  From Mata Hari to James Bond and Jason Bourne, secret agents have captured the imagination.  Whether they operate in the glamorous casinos of the French Riviera, the tense environment of Cold War Berlin, or in the complex Middle East, the secret agent is up to something that's worthy of a being in a story.

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© Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons
The secret agent is also capable of being portrayed in many different ways.  Even James Bond has been portrayed in ways that have changed over the years.  He's been everything from a cold-hearted womanizer to a more sensitive partner to a tortured soul.  It's fun to notice differences in his smoking, drinking, and relationships with women.  As writers, we have a lot of freedom to create secret agents that are products of their times.  A modern secret agent can be realistic or fantastic and conventions can be played with in many ways.

For today's writing exercise, write a short piece of fiction that introduces us to a --

Secret Agent


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Writing Prompt: Steal the Dragon

This is the Chengdu J-20.  It's a fifth generation fighter aircraft commonly known as China's Stealth Fighter.  The aircraft is reportedly capable of Mach 2.  Development may have benefited from American stealth fighter plans.  In addition, favorable foreign trade balances and China's rising economic power have made it easier for China to build an arsenal that includes these aircraft.  There are a lot of mysteries about the J-20.  It's a plane that the intelligence agencies around the world are very interested in.  It could easily lie at the heart of an espionage or military thriller.



Chengdu J-20 Stealth Fighter - Kaboldy / CC BY-SA (

I could easily imagine some thrilling adventures around this aircraft.   For today's writing prompt, you have a mission:.  

Steal this plane!

Steal this plane and take it somewhere for study.  You can steal this aircraft in a thrilling piece of flash fiction or a short story.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Writing Prompt: Set in the Museum

From art heists to haunting to archeological mysteries, museums are an interesting setting for fiction.  You'll find characters from Indiana Jones to Thomas Crown in the halls of the world's finest museums.  They are quite simply cool places to hang out and enjoy arts or artifacts.

The Richelieu Wing of the Louvre Museum in Paris - photo by User:Gloumouth1 / CC BY-SA (

Unfortunately, in this world of COVID, we've all been either shut out of museums or found ourselves more than a little reluctant to visit busy public places.  Fortunately, we're writers.  We can take readers anywhere.  For today's writing prompt create a piece of short fiction that takes place in a -


For further inspiration, here are 75 of the Best Virtual Museum Tours from


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Writing Prompt: Cooking up a MacGuffin

Every quest needs an objective.  A hero has to go look for something.  However, the role that the object plays in the story, the importance of such objects, and even the existence of the objects can vary widely depending on the tale.  Contemporary writers have often called these objects MacGuffins or--in Science Fiction-- by the related term Big Dumb Objects.  I found the Wikipedia entries on these plot devices to be great reading.  However, the innocent reader in me doesn't like that these objects of value, awe, or power are just plot devices that manipulative storytelling types are using to hook us into their narratives.

For today's writing exercise, we have to think about the objectives of our character's quests.  What are they looking for?  What do they need to find it?  What history, power, and value does it have?  What do they need to do when they find the objective of their quest?  Is the object of the quest even revealed in your story?  Do they ever even find the objective?  Is it snatched away at the last minute?

For today's writing prompt, create and describe the --


The Chalice of St. Remigius - photo by Buster.laroux / CC BY-SA (

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Writing Prompt: The Villain

If any character is underappreciated in a story, it is the villain.  The villain makes things happen by directing or taking action against the innocent.  The villain has a world view and is willing to make the world comply with it.  The villain is very busy making threats, engaging in malevolent diplomacy, orchestrating minions, and doing dastardly deeds.  Sometimes, it's enough to make a villain want to take a long nap in his tower. Plus, villains clearly have few friends and confidants.  Why else would a villain take a long break from the pressing task of killing a hero to explain the entirety of his evil scheme?  Clearly villains have feelings, have complex motivations, and have reasons to think that they are on the right side of history.  Perhaps the saying that "hurt people hurt people" is right?  The villain is a crucial character that no one seems to love, or understand, or even extend a hug towards.

However, today is different.  Today, we will appreciate the villain for the important role he plays in propelling stories forward.  For today's writing exercise, create a short piece of fiction where  --

the villain is central to the story!

A forboding castle tower like this one on a corner of Britain's Warwick castle is often home to a villain.  Warwick Castle - photo by DeFacto / CC BY-SA (
Warwick Castle - Warwick Castle - DeFacto / CC BY-SA (

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Writing Prompt: The Influencer

Today, the title, Influencer, is applied to someone on social media who influences others to do things and particularly to buy things.  In the social media sense, it's a limited role and, when applied to selling products, it's kind of shallow.  However, in business, history, and literature, the role of influencer is key.  An influencer is someone who makes things happen.  An influencer is the one who organizes and motivates people to make things happen and move the story forward.  The influencer often sets quests into motion.

Tony Robbins - motivation speaker - photo by Brian Solis / CC BY (
For today's writing prompt, write a short piece of fiction that includes one or more characters trying to --

persuade someone to take action.

Writing Prompt: Characters in Detail

One of the trickiest aspects of writing is creating believable characters.  Some authors immediately layer on the details about a character-...