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!
One of my recent Timehop memories was a #TBT
to my very first 100 Word Challenge for Grown-Ups, from February 2012. At the time, I was deeply entrenched in writing the first draft of “Fearless,” which remains one of my hope-for novels. (It’s currently in draft 2.5, for anyone wondering.) That long-ago 100-word entry was titled “Everyone Loves Neville,”
and, if you’re interested, you can see the original at the link. That first writing challenge started me on a path of picking up more over the years. Through those challenges, I learned a lot about the value of words.
There’s a lot in that first foray that I like. There’s also room for improvement. Here’s a second take on that effort, hopefully for the better:
The girl lingered beside him, her chest heaving even though they’d been out of the water for ten minutes. “Thanks for the lesson, Nev.” Her wet lashes flickered at him. “If there’s ever anything I can do…?”
“Just practise,” Nev said, before sending her on her way.
Ross sidled to his shoulder, to stare after the girl swaying up the shore. “You lucky bastard. Everyone loves you!”
Nev looked at him: his friend with the wide, luscious smile and eyes so deep and blue he often dreamt of drowning in them. He sniffed and picked up his board. “Not everyone.”
I tried to set myself to a 100-word story-a-day challenge this past May, but it didn’t pan out. I did manage a few short vignettes which ended up being pretty good, but the lack of readers and feedback quickly deflated my excitement.
There wasn’t much reason to go back and “fix” this bit of short challenge writing, except that Ross, Nev, and the others have been on my mind again, of late, and that Timehop reminder of my first 100WCGU challenge prompted me to revisit sweet, lovestruck Nev. Of course, I can never stop at rewriting just one thing. As it so goes, I’ve also been working on rewrites for lots of my “Finding Mister Wright” short stories (including the one I just sent in for 4amwriter’s Dare to Write summer challenge!), and Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens, the big sci-fi/action team novel from 2014’s NaNoWriMo. But, that’s an update for another day….
Who else out there remembers the 100WCGU challenges? Have you ever challenged yourself with a writing-limit goal? Working on any interesting rewrites, lately? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know I’m not doing this alone. 🙂
I try to keep my eyes on various writing challenges around the Web. Some I’ve bitten, while others I decided to forego, for one reason or another. Here are three I’ve done in the last few weeks.
1. Scottish Book Trust runs a 50 Word Fiction contest. The prompt for this particular one was “takes place at a birthday party.” As with all prompts, I like to go with my first gut reaction, and I try to keep the effort to no more than an hour, since I’ve got other projects to work on. I did end up submitting this one.
As a side note, I got the heads-up for this particular contest from the Limebird Writers’ Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest from January 13, 2014. These are updated weekly, so take a look if you’re interested in any kind of challenge, big or small.
Momma’s Come Home
He’d wept her first day, as her baby smell filled his nostrils. Six years later, when he’d cradled her broken body at the icy roadside. And today, her tenth birthday, when her mother returned, leaving him with only the haunting squeak of an empty swing, and his aching, lonely tears.
2. Neeks’s The Short and the Long of it blog has been running a 3-word prompt fiction challenge. For this one, the words were “beginning, ending, life.” I didn’t stick perfectly to this one, and I felt it ran a bit long and rambling for the challenge, so I decided not to submit. Still, it was fun to look at somewhat familiar characters through a different lens.
In the beginning, he’d had a dream. A perfect dream of perfect logic, where choices led to consequences, actions forged results, research brought conclusions.
She’d been a perfect mentor for him, teaching him well with her professional dedication and insistence on probing background checks, thoughtful interviews, and detailed evidence reports. Together, their clearance rates went unmatched in the department.
It was a good life, if solitary. Because no woman ever lasted. None could do, not against the tugging allure of the next murder to catch, the next criminal to convict, the next opportunity to show his pompous, prideful captain how very, very good he was at his job.
“Because of me,” Susan always reminded him with a smirk.
“Because of you,” Luke always admitted, equally smirking.
A good life, if solitary. Until that one stakeout, when a shaft of streetlamp light shining through the window struck her face in just the right way to make him realize his clearance rate, his success record, his whole life was nothing at all, without her.
She’d drawn back from his kiss…for a moment. Then, with a sigh, she’d put her arms around him and joined him in his clandestine desire.
She was more mentor to him in that cramped hotel bed than for any case they’d ever worked, though she’d always told him he was a fast learner, and he made sure to prove that to her. Again. And again.
He should have just stopped then, because endings weren’t something he’d ever done well. But he’d wanted her to know all the foolish, short-sighted mistakes of his youthful heart had been only that: missteps taken too quickly, too recklessly, for suppressed want of the only woman who’d ever taken the time to understand and know him as anything more than a fact-checking drone.
“Susan,” he whispered before a kiss, the rest of the words from his heart ready and willing at the tip of his tongue.
Except this time, the cringing drift of her lips was more than a moment.
“This can’t ever happen again,” she muttered, and shifted up from the bed to dress. Professional. Solitary.
He never kissed her again, or held her in his arms, or made love with the same tender, honest feeling as he’d done that night.
Except in his dreams.
3. Lillie McFerrin runs Five Sentence Fiction, where, each week, she gives readers a one word prompt for inspiration. The prompt for this next one was “Moonlight.” I…don’t know why I didn’t submit this one. I think it was too late (each challenge runs for one week). I had fun writing it, though, which is mostly why it appears here.
Nobody Does it Better
He watches in a stare as her blades slice, hissing and precise, scattering snow in their wake. She leaps and lands, one slender line carving its cutting edge deep. Turning, now, she races through a cloud of breath straight toward him, moonlight kissing her white-as-ice smile, and he thinks, even if he dies tonight, he’ll go happily, for this glimpse of her grace set free.
“I’m not going to just let you watch,” she says, as he’s blinded a moment by a fountain of flakes. “Come skate with me.”
Most writing challenges seem to be designed for people who want to write but don’t have a work in progress or current project on their plate. For someone who is working on a standing story, challenges and contests can offer a distraction from the heavy thinking of a draft or edit. Or, they can be an excuse to procrastinate. No matter how you choose to view them (both perceptions are valid), I can’t deny they often let my brain venture into new areas I might not consider while working on a larger project. And, sometimes, I just like to procrastinate a bit, too.
Everybody needs a break now and again. What’s your favorite way to take a break from your writing? Do you try a challenge? Free write? Take a walk? Have a dance party?