Every week, writer and writing coach Kate Johnston sends out to her TeamWriter Facebook group her Saturday Sentence Challenge. It goes like this:
As you can see, Kate challenges members of the group to take her provided “blah, grammatically incorrect, or just…really bad sentence” and tweak it into a sentence (or two, at the most) that encourages the reader to feel something. We can add or cut words and punctuation, change words, even add dialogue.
I love challenges like this because they’re short, simple, and often a refreshing change of pace from my current in-process projects. They offer an opportunity to step into another world or a different character’s shoes. This sidestepping, as it were, can even lead to new storylines, characters, and adventures down the road!
Last Saturday, Kate’s blah sentence prompt was:
The pie is really good.
When faced with a prompt, I let my brain romp freely until it stumbles over an idea with teeth. I don’t let it romp too long, though; with more than one longer-form project on my plate, I can’t afford to get too distracted. Luckily, Kate’s prompts come with enough leeway to go in lots of different directions, and I can usually find the direction I want to take within a few minutes. Tweaking takes more time, of course…but that’s what the challenge is about!
I’ve got a document where I keep these prompts, my process attempts, and my final results. It’s neat to be able to look back on them! And as I said before, I never know when a simple prompt idea might come back to me with greater force.
It didn’t take long for this latest prompt – The pie is really good – to tickle my brain. I usually try to keep my group posts and prompt shares on the safe side, but this one went in a naughtier direction. It seemed only fitting: I’m at a point in one of my larger projects where romance is coming to the fore, and my writing mind is working through that. Thus, this result:
If you’d like to join in on the fun of Saturday Sentence Challenges – and more! – check out Kate’s Facebook page!
This post was inspired by Kourtney Heintz’s list of the Best 100 Novels, a challenge initiated by Nathan Bransford, on his own blog.
I’ve been in need of a fun activity, just to get my head into a healthier place than it’s been over the last several weeks. Sure, I wrote a story based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 novels, because I enjoyed them so much, and that was certainly fun; and, I’ve been getting back into the rewrites of my own sci-fi adventure story. But some of the latest disheartening events on the global stage had really been wearing me down. At those times, I can take some refuge in my own creativity, but it’s even more comforting to bask in the light of others’ creativity, especially when those others have inspired, enlightened, or simply just entertained me.
Kourtney stuck to the hard rules of this challenge, which I’m sure was hard. I took an easier route, because I wanted this to be fun, not an assignment.
Now, I’ve read hundreds of novels over the years…but I knew any “Best” list would have some classics which everybody knows: Don Quixote, Sense and Sensibility, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, yadda yadda. Those are definitely great books, mind you, but I wanted to do something a bit different, here.
For my version of the challenge, I looked at only those books I’ve read in the last ten years or less. This would disqualify any book I read only for a class and vowed never to pick up again (such as On the Road or Catcher in the Rye; don’t get me started), while still offering some insight into how my reading tastes have changed over the years. As it turned out, not a whole lot.
My 100 Best – or, rather, Favorite – Books of the last 10 years
As for ranking, I would list them as:
- Ross Macdonald (18)
- Elmore Leonard (8)
- Douglas Adams (9)
- Craig Johnson (11…and counting; there’s a new one I haven’t gotten, yet)
- Edgar Rice Burroughs (4 – specifically, his John Carter of Mars books)
…with the rest of them falling into an ever-shifting heap, where, on any given day, Barker might leapfrog Allingham to take Maguire’s position while Glukhovsky choke-holds Sapkowski for a higher slot, and Mankell sits back to watch.
I admit: I cheated. Still, it was a fun diversion for an hour or so, to look at my favorite books over the last 10 years. As a side note, that third shelf represents most of my reading material from the last 3 years, minus the Glukhovsky, Hammett, Sapkowski, and Abdul-Jabbar.
A few interesting points about this group:
- I was never much of a Stephen King fan growing up – he was too much horror for my sci-fi favors – but on a cross-country trip, I found a tattered copy of IT sitting on my cousin’s Venice Beach bookshelf. In search of something to read one night during my California sojourn, I asked if she wouldn’t mind me borrowing it. She said, sure; she couldn’t even remember whose it was or how it got there. I read it on the entire flight back to New York and barely put it down for the next week until I’d finished it.
- Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always has remained on my annual re-read list for the better part of 20 years. It’s a much shorter novel than his others, and it’s written for a younger audience than his usual fare, but it has such charm and magic, it will probably forever remain my favorite from his pen.
- After finishing Elmore Leonard’s Killshot, I started a new book…then stopped, picked up Killshot again, and read it through a second time.
- Ross Macdonald. Many folks praise Chandler and Hammett for their contributions to the genre, but if you like crime stories – especially noir crime stories – and you have not yet read Ross Macdonald, correct that.
I hope Kourtney doesn’t take too much offense that I changed the nature of this challenge to suit my own parameters. Wuthering Heights is a beautiful novel, and it should be on this list…but I haven’t read it in at least a decade. ;)
Were you offended by my version of the challenge? If you were to put together your 100 Best Novels list, how do you think you’d do it? What would definitely be on your list?
Maybe you know Neeks? Well, if you don’t, this is a great introduction!
Over at her neekswrite blog, sweet Neeks has started a brand new contest of sorts, called “The Short and the Long of it.” Each week, Neeks will give her readers 3 words to use as prompt for a story or poem. It doesn’t matter how long or short the story/poem, though there are a few standing caveats regarding subject matter and word usage (specifically, no XXX, no swearing, no harming of children). For Week 1, we’ve been given these three words:
Plaid Moisture Defenseless
Now, my own judgment on what counts for XXX and harm is somewhat lapsing, these days, so I’m posting here instead of over at Neeks’s blog. Plus, my entry goes over 500 words, though only a bit. I’m also horribly mired in one particular story right now, so my mind couldn’t jump from these characters as readily as I might have liked. I did tweak them, though, but I think any readers of the sci-fi story will get ’em right away. Anyhow, here goes….
She pinned the clothes to the line, the sum total of her life: two denim coveralls, six colored shirts, three plaid miniskirts, and a pair of baggy trousers. Candy-cane-striped socks and boyshort underwear. And one lone dress, slender and colored crème, little more than a slip, really. But, it always made her feel a real woman. A fact everyone else on the planet conveniently seemed to forget.
Except for him.
Sure, twenty-seven wasn’t what she’d been looking for. But, she’d come to know him for who he was. More than just a hunter, grifter, or rogue. She knew him as a man. She’d heard it in his voice, felt it in his touch, tasted it on his lips. Against them, she’d been defenseless.
Sure, nineteen was young. But, he saw her for who she was. More than just a hacker, mechanic, or getaway driver. He saw her as a woman. He’d told her so in his whispers to God when they were alone beneath the stars, in the pattering of her heart when he’d squeezed her hand as they’d run, and in the tart need of his kiss before he’d made his farewell, followed by a hushed promise to return. Left with only that, she’d felt naked.
That had been a week ago.
Of course, she’d worried he’d been waylaid by roving scavengers or bandits. But, worrying didn’t make the time pass any faster. And, of course, she’d wondered if he’d been diverted by other, more…familial distractions. But, wondering didn’t make it true.
So, she waited. And tinkered. And washed. And put her clothes on the line, watching the dewy wetness in the creases dry beneath the desert sun…until she heard the rustle of tyres in the dirt.
The cloud of his stop was still hanging in the air as he jumped from the driver’s seat, with the spryness of a boy closer to her age than his. He scooped her up with a whoop and spun her about, hushing his own voice against her lips.
She laughed when they parted. “I can’t believe they let you go,” she said, smoothing her fingers over the scar at his temple, where once there had been the insignia of the hunters’ guild.
He grinned up at her, still caught in his arms. “Nobody’s gonna tell us what to do. Not anymore, and never again.”
She just laughed again, flicking away the moisture on her lashes with three quick blinks.
Her tear bounced to his cheek, making his grin soften. He squeezed his arms tighter around her, murmuring, “You ready to marry me, darlin’?”
She bobbed her head, a fresh slew of tears brimming on her lashes. “Just let me get my dress,” she said, and grabbed his face to kiss him again.
She spent her wedding day in that crème slip of a dress, but not her wedding night. That, she spent in his arms and a wind of rough motel sheet that kept them together for what felt like it could be forever.
“I love you,” she whispered during one relaxing lull.
His face, half-lit by the streaming moonlight from the window, smiled down at her. “I never want to be with anyone else,” he said, and bowed his head to hers.
She closed her eyes and waited for the press of his kiss, when something wet touched her lips. Again, wet.
She licked them. Salt.
She opened her eyes but couldn’t scream, despite the dripping blade sticking out her new husband’s neck.
Behind his head, she saw the black mask of a hunter, who muttered, “You won’t.” His eyes flashed to hers, as he added, “Daddy says it’s time to come home.”
This one took me to a place I hadn’t expected. So, I think I’ll borrow from Neeks’s own name, here, and end with… EEK!
Why not try your hand at Neeks’s new contest? It’s great fun!