Creative Writing Prompts to Awaken Even Dead Creative People

If you like a little foreplay to get your motor running, have some fun with these. Don’t say we didn’t warn you that they are what we like to call, “outside the mainstream” where we live. Who do you really, really detest? Why, and what might you do about it someday. Think up your own version of The Great Train Robbery and write down the plan. Then build a novel around the heist. Sure, heist stories have been written before

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If you like a little foreplay to get your motor running, have some fun with these. Don’t say we didn’t warn you that they are what we like to call, “outside the mainstream” where we live. You may click here to go to some prompts for younger writers.

  1. Who do you really, really detest? Why, and what might you do about it someday.
  2. Think up your own version of The Great Train Robbery and write down the plan. Then build a novel around the heist. Sure, heist stories have been written before. Hell, after Shakespeare put his quill down, as they say, it was all written. But with strong characterization, complex plot twists, and taut suspense throughout, you just might write something good. I detest people who pigeonhole genre fiction because the best of everything written could be placed in a genre, and then so what?
  3. What part of your brother-in-law would you fix if you could? Would you fix him and then maybe do the same favor for your immediate friends? How about your partner’s flaws? Would you fix them as well if you could? How far would it all go?
  4. Since we are living 7 billion to a planet made for 3 billion, how will we solve the overpopulation problem, the elephant in the room that one no one wants to talk about? To what lengths do you believe people will go to curb the birth rate?
  5. Have you ever cheated on your partner? Describe what would happen if you were discovered.
  6. Invent a character with a secret, make it a horrible secret, and then write about how far you would go if it were your secret to protect.
  7. Imagine that you awoke tomorrow morning in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya, and you are the appropriate ethnicity for the country you choose, and you can speak the language. However, you have no money, you are ignorant of even the simplest customs, and you are very old and very infirm, so much that walking out of where you are is impossible. Find a way back.
  8. You went out in the woods with some friends to camp and your buzz on, and whilst you were wasted, one of your party went missing. You all search but no matter what you do, you can’t get a phone signal, and you can’t find the missing guy. When you return to camp, your camp gear is gone, and the spot looks untouched. What happens next?
  9. The love of your life loves someone else. Your love will forever be unrequited. An opportunity comes up for you to buy the house next door to your unrequited love and his or her partner. What do you do, and how does it all shake out? Is it more painful never to see the love, or is it more painful to be apart?
  10. You have just hit and killed a person walking alongside the roadway in the dark. You are a little buzzed. You stop and learn your victim is dead. You tell yourself that it was his fault for being on the road, and you drive away. Early the next morning, the sheriff is at your door because the walker’s phone recorded everything, including your face and part of your license tag. What happens next?
  11. You are living in your car in a major city. You have a job, but you can’t get a place to live until you get a paycheck. There is a perverse rich man who patrols the areas where homeless people can park their cars to sleep in them without drawing attention from the police, and he finds people like you who don’t know how to be homeless, who have just had a setback this one time, and he tempts them because they are economically helpless maybe for the first time and vulnerable in a way they may never be again. What are you willing to do for this man to get a safe place of your own to live and shower in? What do you think this man could compel others to do in exchange for getting off the street?
  12. You are a talented professional dancer in the prime of your career. Yesterday, you were in a wreck and your legs had to be amputated. Your drunken partner was driving. You thought your partner was sober. What will you do next?
  13. My Cherokee grandfather told a story about two wolves. These two wolves live within us all. One wolf is angry, hungry, snarling, and quick to fight. The other wolf is calm, a reliable part of the pact in hunts, satisfied with the pieces of meat he gets, and quick to mend riffs in the pack. These wolves struggle against each other inside of us. When asked which wolf wins the struggle, Grandfather said, “The one you feed.” Write a beautiful poem or story about that struggle.

As always, thank you for reading, and use these prompts in any way you like, by Ricardo Verde.  

Here is the best book on creative writing ever written. Click on it to read or buy it.becomgwrt
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Creative Writing Exercises for Advanced Writers

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Creative Writing Exercises

by Gwyni L’Pouh Green

Beloved Fellow Writing Fanatics:

The following really difficult writing situations are designed to get you thinking about how to apply the salient plethora of writing tools and strategies you have to various pretend real life writing scenarios. I made the situations sticky, tricky, awkward and hard on purpose. To be effective writers, you must be able to select and apply your writing skills arsenal in ever changing new ways or the skills will be of little use to you. I encourage you to think way outside the box on these writing and thinking assignments. Take risks.

Writing Prompts

  1. (Thinking about audience/tone)  You have been caught streaking through the Tiger Fountain in the middle of campus during Homecoming Week. Photographs of you in the act of streaking have been published in the campus newspaper. Without question, you are guilty. You did it. Now, working within these assignment parameters, compose a letter explaining your actions to one of the following persons or groups: 1. your pastor; 2. your parents; 3. the president of ECU; 4. your buddies. Then, make this letter a flashback to college where your protagonist met his or her friend who changed everything.
  2. (Thinking about persuasion)  You are a firm believer in extraterrestrial life forms having visited and taken up residence here on Earth. You want to persuade the National Science Foundation that you are correct in your belief, that you are not insane, and that the Foundation should fund your research. Your research is aimed at contacting and exchanging information with aliens. Write a persuasive essay that contains at least three well developed arguments in favor of your contention, one demonstrating pathos, one demonstrating ethos, and one demonstrating logos arguments (if you want to, of course). Note that this has more or less been done since we do have SETI and a continual greeting broadcast from our planet. This prompt was intended as an introduction to a science fiction novel, or a contemporary story about being sane in insane places, the power of belief, the power of staunch disbelief, but it could go anywhere your imagination takes it.
  3. (Thinking more about persuasion)  You are an unfortunate victim of neurofibromatosis, the Elephant Man’s disease.  You are lucky because only your face and hands are covered with 100’s of small, marble-sized tumors, which are harmless and not contagious. Other than the superficial disfigurement of your face and hands, you suffer neither discomfort nor disability. However, your most cherished dream is to work as an advocate for a small, remotely located Native tribe called the No-Uglies. You need the tribe’s invitation to relocate to the Amazon Basin where they live. Your degree is in anthropology, and you know more about the No-Uglies than anyone alive. You absolutely love them, and although you have never met any of them in person, the No-Uglies have your heart already. The No-Uglies are a simple and charming people whom, you realize, need your help because their ancestral home, previously remote enough to protect them from exploitation by others, is about to become adjacent to a superhighway. The first obstacle you must overcome is to persuade the No Uglies to hire you in spite of the fact that the No-Uglies believe character weakness and/or demons cause illness and disease and that these same demons or flaws can jump out of one person and into another, spreading flaws and disease throughout the entire tribe. How can they trust you in light of your obvious physical condition?  How can they admit you into their living quarters? The second obstacle is that the No-Uglies value beauty and physical perfection above all else and consider physical imperfections extremely unlucky. Thus, not only are you a Typhoid Mary to them, you are also every unlucky omen combined and multiplied by 100.  Now, write a persuasive letter of application to the No-Uglies explaining why they should set aside their beliefs and hire you as their advocate and let you live among them. Go anywhere this one takes you! Although it is circa 2006, it reads fresh and resonant today.
  4. (Thinking about tone/style) You must write a condolence letter to the parents of your best friend whom you accidentally killed in a car accident while you were driving drunk last weekend. Humor won’t work here at all, so don’t use it. Try to puzzle out a unique approach, but if you fail to do so, then write in a serious, heartfelt style that convinces me you are sorry and realize the gravity of what you have done. Only you know that you were drunk as you were not ticketed, so you may decide for yourself how much you are going to tell these parents, whom you have known all of your life. What if the story started there. . . .
  5. (Thinking about persuasion) You must write to the Dean of Forgiveness for failing to carry a 2.0 grade point average for three semesters in a row. Be creative here and try to come up with solid reasons for all of the failing semesters and for your overall uninspiring performance.  Use tone and style appropriate for addressing a Dean who controls your fate at college. Opportunities for irony abound.
  6. (Obsessively thinking about persuasion) You must write a letter either to a charitable foundation that funds sex change operations or to the Head of the Bureau of Federal Prisons because you urgently need a sex change operation or you will surely die within 6 months for reasons unknown and unchangeable but certainly accurate.  However, you have two large obstacles preventing you from obtaining your surgery: First you are imprisoned for importing exotic animals into the US; and second you are blind in one eye and can’t see well out of the other so written communication is especially hard and slow for you. You need others on your side to win your sex change. The Chaplain has said he believes you need the operation while the Warden has said you are just a mental case. The prison doctor is also blind in one eye and nearly deaf, so you don’t know if she has recommended that you receive your surgery or not. Written long before Chelsey Manning was even out of grade school, this prompt doesn’t seem to age, either.
  7. (manipulation of facts) You must write a Dear Terry (formerly a Dear John Letter) to your fiancé, who is serving min Iraq. Your only reason for breaking up with him or her is that you have been caught seeing his/her sister, and so you know you will be informed on soon anyway. You started cheating even before your fiancé went away for his/her tour of duty.  In fact, you were never faithful. You are not a nice or good person, but you are a person who cares what others think of you, so you must find a way to justify your behavior in the letter while at the same time breaking up and making the break-up seem to be your fiancé’s fault. Wouldn’t this make for a rip-snorting romance novel just rife with spins?
  8. You must write a letter to John Deere explaining why you think they should replace a very expensive tractor you bought from them. Your brother got drunk and drove the tractor into the pond after which it wouldn’t run like a deere anymore. You have no money to repair or replace it. You also honestly believe it is the company’s fault because tractors should be designed for such use and you explain why. Perhaps, in the spirit of Eudora Welty, a writer could use this prompt as a point of departure for a family-centered novel.

End Note: JFYI I originally wrote these prompts for my college students to get them to both stretch their rhetorical legs and to painlessly instill a sense of consciousness about their own writing in them. I was trying for that sweet spot in teaching where you have pushed and peeled just enough to show them what they already know without leaving raw spots of resentment on them. I wrote just the first three or so and took the exercise into the classroom where it was so well-received and effective that I wrote a few more and made them a standard component of my composition sections. Later, I found that they work for all types of writers. I write all of this by way of an apology for the bossy, directive tone.
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How to do Persuasive Writing

Two more pitfalls, far more serious than a faulty premise or two, are fallacious argument and propaganda, both deadly poison to the successful persuasion. Currently, there is so much propaganda and fallacious argument in our popular culture. It would seem that it is the only kind of argument is the dirty, nasty, ill-mannered kind.

<span style=”color: #000000;”>Persuasive Writingspan>

<span style=”color: #000000;”>By Ricardo Verde, foreign correspondent

Would you enjoy having the power to turn your most hated enemy into your friend, your problems to opportunities, lead into gold? Well that is the power of persuasion, and you can learn to do it with a bit of effort and a small slew of words. Persuasive writing, also sometimes called argument, is the most difficult and most valuable type of writing because it persuades the reader to either agree with your point of view or at least to sympathize with it. The best approach to persuasive writing is to form a tentative thesis and then learn what the evidence indicates about your tentative thesis. If the evidence supports your thesis, then begin using the evidence to create a logical argument. Well-written, effective persuasion uses logic and evidence to structure a convincing argument. Persuasive writing should also anticipate audience objections, establish credibility, and maintain a reasonable tone throughout.  

Regarding topic selection, there are two pitfalls to beware of: 1. avoid topics that have become hackneyed (that is old and already exhaustively used) 2. and avoid beginning with too broad an argument. Additionally, even if a topic is suitably narrow and not trite, ask yourself if you can add anything to the discourse about the topic that has not already been written or said. If you have a fresh perspective, then write about it. If you don’t have anything to write about the topic beyond what you have already read and heard, search out another topic. Stale writing is painful to read and commits the sin of redundancy. Be original. Here are some topics to avoid as if they were the plague:

  1. Abortion
  2. Prayer in schools
  3. Legalized prostitution
  4. Legalized marijuana
  5. Internet pornography addiction
  6. Gender neutral bathrooms
  7. Immigrants
  8. Video games and violence

None of these subjects are inherently bad or good as topics, what makes them undesirable is that we have all heard and read about them so much that everything that can be said and written has been already. Make it fresh by using fresh material.

Persuasion is written using either an inductive reasoning argument or a deductive reasoning argument. Inductive reasoning is reasoning from specific data and then drawing your conclusion based on what the data indicated. Deductive reasoning is beginning with a general premise from which you draw a specific conclusion. Here is an example of inductive reasoning for further edification: 

According to our survey, 434 of the 500 households questioned say they would like to subscribe to cable television. Therefore, the majority of households in our city would subscribe if cable were available. (446)

This inductive argument is only valid if the survey research was properly administered to enough of the right people to get a random sample and if the questions were worded so as not to prejudice the respondents. So, when dealing with data in your inductive argument, be cautious and use the scientific method of gathering empirical data.

Remember that deductive reasoning draws a conclusion from two or more premises. The following is an example of deductive reasoning:

The police do not give speeding tickets to people driving less than five miles per hour over the limit. Sam is driving seventy-nine miles per hour in a seventy-five miles per hour zone. Therefore, the police will not give Sam a ticket. (447)

You see, the conclusion is only true if the premise that police only ticket drivers going more than five miles over the posted limit is also correct. If it is not correct, if police sometimes do ticket drivers for going less than five miles over the limit, then you cannot safely conclude that Sam won’t be ticketed. Again, caution and careful thinking are necessary. Persuasion can be tricky.

Now let us look at a syllogism, which is a three-part structure in deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, minor premise, and the conclusion.

  1. Anything that increases radiation in the environment is dangerous to public health. (major premise)
  2. Nuclear reactors increase radiation in the environment. (minor premise)
  3. Therefore, nuclear reactors are dangerous to public health. (conclusion)

The major premise is a generalization of a widely-held belief. The minor premise is a specific situation. We arrive at the conclusion by applying the major premise (generalization) to the minor premise (specific). You may be tempted write only a major premise and conclusion, skipping the minor premise. However, the careful reader will see what is missing, so use the whole syllogism.

Another common pitfall in using syllogism is to present a major and minor premise that your audience accepts but drawing a conclusion from those premises that your audience does not accept.

  1. The deer population in our state should be preserved. (major premise)
  2. During hunting season, hundreds of deer are killed. (minor premise)
  3. Therefore, the hunting season should be discontinued. (conclusion)

The conclusion jumps to conclusions. Readers may agree that the major and minor premise are true, but still not be convinced of the argument because killing hundreds of deer may not harm the deer population—what if there are millions of deer and only hundreds are culled by hunting? Make sure that your conclusion is logically supported by your premises. Getting the syllogism right will pay off tenfold in the writing of the rest of the paper.

A basic grasp of Aristotelian appeals will facilitate powerful persuasive writing. The assertions you make in your persuasion must be crafted with care. Aristotle (384-322) a Greek philosopher and student of Plato, wrote about logic, ethics, politics, poetics, and rhetoric. He pioneered the study of how people use language to persuade. He wrote, Rhetoric (360-334) and in so doing he invented traditional rhetoric, and the art of persuasion in speaking and writing. He believed that there were three “artistic appeals” used in argument or persuasion to engage the reader. These three artistic appeals, ethos, pathos, and logos, are called “artistic” because Aristotle believed the writer or speaker had to shape these appeals creatively.

The first and best of these appeals is the logical appeal called logos. In logical appeals the writer uses all the best techniques of persuasion: logical precision; factual evidence; reasoning from evidence; empirical research. Writers may use established, formal, logical conventions of claim and support, observation and conclusion, the logical acts of inference, proof, and reasoning. The guiding principle is that all human claims must pass logical tests before we accept them, no matter who makes the claim (ethos), or how much we feel the position is right (pathos). The focal point of a logical appeal is the topic itself, and the basic appeal is “Believe this claim because I present logical support to justify the claim.”

The next best artistic appeal is the ethical appeal, or ethos, which is when the writer presents him/herself and the subject so that the audience perceives the writer as informed on the subject, respectful of the audience’s needs, reliable, trustworthy, and competent. This can be thought of as the car salesman/brain surgeon appeal because it says, “Trust what I am telling you because you trust me not to steer you wrong,” and it is the second weakest type of appeal, but not so weak that you don’t need it. Sometimes a doctor or a car dealer do have the necessary and true information we need. The focal point of this appeal is the author’s credibility.

Lastly, the weakest of the appeals identified by Aristotle is the emotional appeal, or pathos. It is characterized by the writer’s use of language which engages only the emotions of the audience. This appeal relies heavily upon an acute awareness of an audience’s emotional vulnerability, recognizing that people are complex, having various desires, needs, values, hopes and fears. The focus is myopically on using language to manipulate the emotions of the audience. Pathos in persuasion is greasy and creepy, and unfortunately it works. The basic appeal of this type of argument is “Believe me and my claim because what I wrote made you feel that I am right.” Unfortunately, many people do not differentiate between feeling and thinking, and these people are the architects of most of the worst things humankind has done, and they accomplished all that horror with propaganda and logical fallacies.  

Two more pitfalls, far more serious than a faulty premise or two, are fallacious argument and propaganda, both deadly poison to the successful persuasion. Currently, there is so much propaganda and fallacious argument in our popular culture. It might seem that the only kind of argument is the dirty, nasty, ill-mannered kind. But the reverse is true. Whilst entertainment news programs and politicians bombard us with that kind of tripe, the clear majority of intelligent people still practice logic and decency in their thinking. That said, let us examine what persuasive techniques Hitler and other types of liars use to lie convincingly and fool the public.

The fallacious argument and propaganda are the tools of liars. They rely on specious reasoning, which means that the conclusions in these arguments do not follow the premises, causes, or effects. Like with a pathos based appeal, science, evidence, and reality play a role in these arguments only as props to be misinterpreted and misrepresented (making statistics lie is a good example of this) if they are used at all. Propaganda deliberately uses people’s emotions, prejudices, fears, ignorance, and shortsightedness to persuade them to believe and act in ways that are not at all in their own best interest. Sometimes, a propaganda argument may seem to be based on logic while it is actually based only on fallacious reasoning.

The horrid truth of the matter is that many, many people believe this kind of persuasion, as current events make apparent. The even more horrid truth is that people have been believing in, dying and killing for, hating for, and hurting for, ideas that someone who knew about propaganda and how to use it put into their minds (think scapegoating, war, prejudice, hatred—these were never spawned by truth and logic). Hence, it can’t be over stressed that writers and others who think for themselves must learn to spot and avoid the following propaganda techniques.          

Glittering Generalities— words that have favorable or unfavorable connotations without justifying the use of the terms: just war, super-predator, welfare queen.

Transfer— attaching a favorably connotative symbol to an unrelated issue: the American flag, babies, the national anthem.

Testimonial—attributing testimony or counter-testimony to a product or issue which the person testifying is not qualified to pass judgment on.

Plain Folks—appealing to the average person’s habits and values in a patronizing manner.  

Band Wagon—appealing to people’s desire to belong to a group.

Sex Appeal—playing on people’s vanity or gender.

Card Stacking—using a combination of the above devices to win support by deception, thus stacking the evidence unfairly.

Similarly, fallacious argument, an argument riddled with logical fallacies, is the second type of persuasive poison.  Logical fallacies are flaws in our reasoning, sometimes deliberate, and sometimes unintentional, but always wrong. Fallacious arguments will seem plausible, and usually have great persuasive power. Whether done intentionally or through ignorance, making even a single fallacious argument in your writing invalidates the entire argument. A writer’s failure to examine his or her own underlying subjective assumptions (often prejudices), failure to establish evidentiary support, or failure to use precise language, all contribute to logical fallacies in writing. Logical fallacy has its own set of techniques. Understand them and then avoid them.

Red Herring—begging the question, ignoring the context of the argument, or bringing in a false issue.

Begging the question—arguing that a claim is true by repeating the claim in different    words, also called circular reasoning.

Confusing Chronology with Causality—also called, post hoc, ergo propter hoc, e.g. “after this therefore because of this” is assuming if one thing preceded another it also caused it.

Argumentum ad Hominem—attacking the man rather than the issue.

Hasty Generalization—jumping to a conclusion without evidence.

Black-White or Either-Or Fallacy—stereotyping, drawing faulty or inadequate causal relations, or considering only two alternatives when others may be available.

False Analogy—forming comparisons between two or more things that should not be logically compared.

Equivocating—misleading or hedging with ambiguous word choices.

Failing to Accept the Burden of Proof—making a claim without presenting a reasoned argument to support it.

Non Sequituror “does not follow” is a drawing a conclusion that doesn’t follow logically from the preceding statements. 

Over-reliance on Authority—arguing that something is true based just on the opinion of one expert and ignoring research to the contrary.

Oversimplifying—giving simple answers to complicated questions and often doing so by cheap appeals to emotion rather than reason.

Slanting—also called cherry picking, this happens when writers select and emphasize only the evidence that supports the claim and suppress evidence that does not.

Slippery Slope—pretending that one specific thing always leads to another specific thing.

Sob Story—playing upon readers’ emotions to cause them to make unjustified conclusions.

Straw Man—Setting up an argument against a claim that no one has ever actually made and that everyone agrees is weak.

At this point, you may want to choose from that list of topics we advised you never to use and write a persuasive essay using as many of the logical fallacies and propaganda techniques as you possibly can. If homework doesn’t suit you, then read on for directions on how to structure a convincing argument.   

The last important techniques for convincing persuasive writing are concerned not with the people who already agree with your view, but with the ones your writing must win over to your view. To reach this part of your audience, you must anticipate the opposing arguments, refute those arguments, establish credibility as a trustworthy and knowledgeable person, and at all costs, maintain a reasonable tone throughout the writing.  

In anticipating opposing arguments, you may want to address these either by a fair summary of the opposing points, or by reviewing and contrasting the opposing views as you present your own. There is no official best way of integrating opposing views, but it must be done. Whatever way you decide to present the information, use the opportunity to establish common ground with your opposition where you can. Common ground reminds us that we are all ultimately on the same side in our desire to solve a problem although we may have different ideas about how to do so. People believe their side is supported by intelligent and decent people, and for them to change sides, they must continue to feel they are on the intelligent and decent side or they will not change their opinions. 

Another albeit ancillary benefit of presenting the opposing arguments and respectfully and meticulously refuting those arguments is that it establishes your credibility as a knowledgeable source. Use facts, cite research, establish your familiarity with your topic. Use a balanced cross section of sources so that you are fair and not self-interested in some nefarious way. Again, being fair and friendly helps the people who disagree with your position to like you and think of you as a reasonable person with whom they could agree, so take the high road in persuasion, and stay on it.

 

Since we owe so much to Aristotle, click on the image to buy his book.aristotle2

 

Many thanks always to these treasured books

Hacker, Diana. Rules for Writers: A Concise Handbook. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin’s 1988.

Baker, Rance G. and Billie R. Phillips. The Sampler: Patterns for Composition. Heath: Lexington 1979.